New Delhi: The BJP is preparing a strong defence over the Pegasus spyware issue as the Opposition parties are blaming mainly Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah for targeting their leaders along with journalists and others. However, it is the inclusion of BJP’s own ministers in the list of potential targets that has landed the party in a quandary.
While the central government has alleged that the controversy was a conspiracy against India, the fact that phone numbers based in several other countries were also tapped makes the argument hollow. Shah and IT Minister Aswini Vaishnaw had said that the issue was deliberately exposed just before the start of the monsoon session of Parliament. However, of the around 50,000 phone numbers targeted by the spyware, only about 1,000 are based in India. Again, of these 1,000, a mere 300 have been identified.
At the same time, France has initiated legal measures over the issue. Meanwhile, international journalists who took part in the investigation that exposed the phone tapping have ridiculed the Indian government’s allegation linking the timing of the row with the Parliament session.
Ministers among targets
IT Minister Vaishnaw and another minister Prahlad Singh Patel are among those whose phones were tapped. Similarly, certain RSS leaders and senior ministers are others who were the likely targets of the spyware.
While Vaishnaw denied that the Indian government was involved in the tapping, former IT minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, during whose term the spyware was reportedly deployed, questioned the need to create a controversy in India alone as the spyware was used in 45 countries.
According to the Israeli intelligence firm NSO, which created Pegasus, it sells the spyware only to governments. As a result, it is for the Indian government to reveal whether the software was deployed in the country. BJP leader Subrahmanian Swamy, who had earlier alleged that the phones of RSS leaders were tapped along with others’, on Tuesday asked the Central government to come clean on the issue.
“NSO is a purely commercial organization. It is for the Modi government to reveal who paid it money from India,” said Swamy.
BJP meet skips issue
Even though the spyware issue has flared up, it received only a passing mention at a parliamentary party meeting of the BJP. “The Congress, which is in a coma after a series of electoral defeats, cannot digest the fact that the BJP is in power,” said Modi at the meeting.
“BJP MPs should effectively defend the false propaganda unleashed by the Congress against the government,” he added.
Modi said that even though the government had an open mind on discussing all matters with everyone concerned, the Opposition took an irresponsible stand.
Minister Prahlad Joshi, who described the proceedings of the meeting, said Modi spent most of the time replying to the allegations raised by the Opposition against the COVID-19 control measures adopted by his government.
“The pandemic is a once-in-a-century phenomenon and has to be treated as a humanitarian issue and not political. However, the Congress is still playing politics,” said the prime minister.