BJP says snooping story cooked to demean India; Congress demands SC-monitored judicial enquiry

Union Minister of State Meenakshi Lekhi said the owners of the spyware Pegasus as well as Amnesty International have denied the claims made in the reports.
Union Minister of State Meenakshi Lekhi. (File Photo)
Union Minister of State Meenakshi Lekhi. (File Photo)

NEW DELHI:  In a spot over media reports of alleged extensive surveillance, BJP on Thursday countered by accusing the Opposition of stalling Parliament on the basis of the “data bank sourced from yellow pages”.

Union Minister of State Meenakshi Lekhi said the owners of the spyware Pegasus as well as Amnesty International have denied the claims made in the reports. Within minutes, Amnesty International asserted it stands with the Pegasus Project findings. Amnesty International, the human rights group, is associated with the Pegasus Project.

Addressing the media at BJP headquarters, Lekhi said the onus to prove the claims made in the media on surveillance is on Forbidden Stories, which collaborated with multiple media houses to reveal the extent of alleged presence of mobile phone numbers of politicians, journalists, judges, activists and others. 

She argued that a “fake story has been created for fake narrative against India to undermine Indian institutions”. She said the claims have been made at a time when the Parliament is likely to take up the data protection bill, drafted after extensive deliberations by a joint parliamentary committee. She claimed this has been done with an aim to ensure that the Parliament doesn’t enact this bill to protect the privacy of citizens. 

She alleged that the “fake” list is like a collection of mobile numbers drawn from yellow pages and those have been used for “yellow journalism”. She was referring to news reports about the suspected snooping of people, including politicians and journalists, in India and several countries.

Meanwhile, BJP chief J P Nadda slammed attempts by Opposition MPs to heckle the Union Minister for Information and Technology (IT) Ashwini Vaishnaw, saying that the incident is against democratic values of the country. Amnesty International said it stands by the findings of the Pegasus Project and that the data is irrefutably linked to potential targets of Israel-based NSO Group’s spyware.

Meanwhile, Congress' state units held protest marches to Raj Bhavans in different states protesting the "blatantly unconstitutional and ruthless phone hacking incidents".

Congress workers organised marches as well as sit-in protests at Jammu, Jaipur, Kolkata, Vijayawada, Patna, Ranchi, Bengaluru, Chandigarh, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Chennai, Thiruvananthapuram, Raipur, Lucknow and Dehradoon, the party said in a statement.

Congress leaders and workers demanded the immediate resignation of Shah, an inquiry into whether Prime Minister Narendra Modi had a role in the matter and a Supreme Court-monitored judicial inquiry.

"There is tremendous outrage amongst Congress leaders and workers against the report of the tapping of phones of former Congress president Rahul Gandhi.

People have taken great exception to the cowardly and deceitful act of snooping which includes many journalists on the surveillance list," the party said.

The Congress sought to know from the government whether these hackings were done on the direction of the Modi government and if not why isn't the government ordering an enquiry to find the people or organizations behind the spying of Union Ministers, judiciary as also many opposition leaders.

"The deeply shocking news reports, disclosing illegal and unconstitutional hacking of cell phones of Constitutional functionaries, Union cabinet ministers, present and former heads of India's security forces, senior leaders of the opposition, journalists, lawyers and activists have shaken the faith of the people in the BJP government," the Congress said in the statement.

The Congress also organised press conferences in all ot state units to register their protests and highlight the issue in the media over Wednesday and day before.

Reacting on the reports of alleged snooping, Rahul Gandhi had said, "It is an attack on the democratic foundations of our country. It must be thoroughly investigated and those responsible be identified and punished."

Plea seeks probe under Supreme Court

Advocate ML Sharma on Thursday approached Supreme Court seeking a probe into the Pegasus snooping scandal.

His plea stated that the matter concerns national security and judicial independence. It seeks directions to form a special investigation team under SC.

(With PTI Inputs)

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