New Delhi: The issue of "snooping" using Pegasus spyware snowballed into a massive political row in Parliament and outside as various parties demanded a thorough investigation and sacking of Home Minister Amit Shah, while the government maintained it had nothing to do with it.
The Congress accused the government of "treason" and held Shah responsible for the snooping and hacking of phones of journalists, judges and politicians, and demanded a probe into the "role of the prime minister" in the entire matter as well.
The demand for a probe came from opposition parties, including the Congress, TMC, NCP, Left parties, RJD and Shiv Sena.
The BJP hit back at the Congress and claimed "there is not a shred of evidence" to link either the ruling party or the Modi dispensation with the matter.
BJP leader and former IT minister Ravi Shankar Prasad questioned the credentials of those behind the story as well as its timing, coming a day before Parliament's Monsoon Session that began on Monday, as he accused the opposition party of hitting a "new low" in making baseless allegations.
The government, on its part, categorically rejected the charges, with IT Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw asserting in the Lok Sabha that illegal surveillance was not possible with checks and balances in the country's laws, and alleged that attempts were being made to malign Indian democracy. Vaishnaw's name also figures in the list.
Home Minister Amit Shah also lashed out at the opposition Congress and international organisations, saying such "obstructers" and "disrupters" will not be able to derail India's development trajectory with their conspiracies.
The issue also rocked Parliament, where opposition parties raised the issue and disrupted proceedings of both Houses. Several opposition members gave adjournment notices to discuss the issue, but were rejected by the chair.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi took a swipe at Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the matter, saying, "We know what he's been reading -- everything on your phone." Gandhi wrote this as a reply to his own tweet two days ago in which he had asked people, "I'm wondering what you guys are reading these days."
The Congress and Gandhi termed the BJP "Bharatiya Jasoos Party" and tweeted, "One feels like laughing at 'his' fear".
The CPI(M) accused the government of engaging NSO for carrying out surveillance and said it had raised the issue of this "dangerous spyware" in Parliament two years ago.
"The central government must come clean on what is its engagement with NSO, what are the terms and how much of our public funds have been paid for this," the party asked.
RJD's Manoj Jha, Shiv Sena's Sanjay Raut, AAP's Sanjay Singh and NCP's Nawab Malik demanded a thorough probe and action against those involved.
Addressing a joint press conference, Congress chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said the party's first demand is Shah's immediate dismissal.
He said the Congress will take all opposition parties on-board over the issue and decide on whether to ask for a judicial or parliamentary probe in the matter.
He said the minister is responsible for deployment of this illegal spyware Pegasus.
"Our first demand is the immediate sacking of Minister of Home and Internal Security Amit Shah and a probe into the role of the prime minister in the matter," he said.
Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge said Shah should immediately resign as he "does not deserve" to occupy the position he holds.
Kharge said the Congress along with other opposition parties will raise the issue strongly in Parliament.
Leader of Congress in Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury said, "Modi ji promotes digital India, but what we are seeing is Surveillance India".
The Congress also asked a set of questions to the PM, including why Shah, the in-charge of the country's internal security, should not be sacked immediately.
"Does this not warrant a full investigation into the role of PM, HM and others involved," the party asked.
Terming it an attack on democracy, Trinamool Congress MP Saugata Roy said, "This is a black day for democracy. This is shameful that the Union government is using spyware to snoop on phones of politicians, journalists, activists. This only reflects the authoritarian mindset of this government. The Union government should come clean on it. We condemn it."
"Two minutes of silence for the sore losers. Despite allies like ED, CBI, NIA, IT, ECI, BJP's money+might and PegasusSpying Mr Amit Shah couldn't save his face in BengalElections2021. Please come prepared with better resources in 2024," Abhishek Banerjee tweeted.
Terming it a very serious issue concerning national security, Congress leader Shashi Tharoor said since the government has said that it has not done any snooping, this should be probed.
"I feel that there should be a thorough independent judicial inquiry or one by a joint parliamentary committee. We cannot just brush it under the carpet," he told reporters.
An international media consortium reported Sunday that over 300 verified mobile phone numbers, including of two ministers, over 40 journalists, three opposition leaders and one sitting judge besides scores of businesspersons and activists in India could have been targeted for hacking through the spyware.
Gandhi, BJP minister Prahlad Singh Patel, as also former election commissioner Ashok Lavasa and poll strategist Prashant Kishor were among those whose numbers were listed as potential targets for hacking, the consortium reported.
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