By Sushil Kutty
The Pegasus is a mythical winged horse which with a blow of its hoof knocked a spring out of Mount Helicon. The other day the Modi Government got kicked by Pegasus, Israel’s military-grade spyware, and set phones ringing all through India, from Agartala to Agatti, Kashmir to Kanyakumari. Called to defend the Modi Government, Union Home Minister Amit Shah could only write a blog in which he told MPs “Aap Chronology Samajiye”.
But what was there to ‘samajhiye’? The chronology dated back to a year before the 2019 general elections and the Pegasus spyware targeted politicians and journalists; bureaucrats and judicial officers; select ‘Who’s Who’ of India.
Pegasus infected mobile phones and remained undetected till a global consortium of 17 entities broke through and unearthed a spying extravaganza. Part of the conspiracy was to infect 300 Indian mobile phones with Pegasus.
The needle fell squarely on the Modi Government. Israel’s NSO Group, owner of the Pegasus spyware, said it sold Pegasus only to “vetted governments”. But “hackers” say Pegasus is available on the “dark web”, for a hefty price.
The Modi Government should come clean, admit or refute whether it bought Pegasus from NSO Group. The company has washed its hands off the hacking scandal, threatening to sue the 17-member global consortium with defamation.
So, it boils down to the Modi Government. Did it buy Pegasus from NSO Group? The Modi Government is avoiding answering the question, hiding behind the argument that it was a move to embarrass India on the eve of the Monsoon session of Parliament.
All that there was from Amit Shah was obfuscation, which prompted people to ask whether ‘snoopgate’ was India’s ‘Watergate’, President Richard Nixon’s Waterloo? Amit Shaw cracked and wrote a blog, alleging that the Pegasus revelations were based on a “report of the disruptors for the obstructers.”
To fit the narrative Shah said that the “Congress (was) trying to derail anything progressive that comes to Parliament”, and that “people have associated the phrase ‘Aap chronology Samajhiye’ with me in a lighter vein, but that ‘disruptors and obstructers’ won’t be able to derail India’s development trajectory with conspiracies.”
Meaning ‘Pegasus’ was a plot to target Modi on the eve of the Monsoon session and “derail anything positive and progressive that comes to Parliament.” Of course, it didn’t gel, his statement that “disruptors, obstructers will not be able to derail India’s development trajectory.” Who was defaming India and who was disruptor and obstructer was not for Shah to decide, declare.
The Opposition cannot be expected to let go a chance to derail the Government if an opportunity comes, as it did on Monday, July 19, when Pegasus kicked the ground from under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s feet, the third time Modi found himself in hot waters in three months – first with the West Bengal defeat, and second with the Covid-19 mayhem.
West Bengal was a huge failure for Amit Shah, no longer Chanakya! By the time the last vote was counted, Shah was a wobbling wreck. And if poll-strategist Prashant Kishor’s phone was indeed hacked with Pegasus, we know why?
Amit Shah and Narendra Modi are post-Pegasus on the back-foot. Shah’s “report by the disruptors for the obstructers” statement clearly a display of his frustration, and aimed to strike at the Congress, which had more than enough reason to go for the BJP’s exposed jugular.
The much vaunted Amit Shah couldn’t do better than Modi’s IT minister Ashwini Vaishnav who said the list of “potential targets” of Pegasus was “baseless” and “purposely published a day before Monsoon session.” The counter-question: What would Shah and Modi have done to a Congress government caught in a similar fix?
India’s citizens are not babes in the woods. They know “snooping on citizens” by governments have ramifications and there are dangers involved. Governments can mount surveillance on the “enemies” of India – terrorists and child killers, women molesters. But governments cannot spy on common folk and political rivals.
Shah and Modi cannot hide behind “give us evidence”. The Centre is duty-bound to order an inquiry, an independent investigation under a sitting judge – get to the bottom of the hacking and snooping. The Modi-Shah election juggernaut should come clean, emerge clean. Alternatively, the hacked people should take the matter to court.
Amit Shah has questioned the “timing of the selective leaks”, stating that while “global organisations” are disruptors which do “not like India to progress”, “obstructers” are “political players in India who do not want India to progress”, adding that the Indian people “are very good at understanding this chronology and connection.”
Of course, the newly voluble Shah, the writer in him flowering just when the narrative is slipping out of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s grasp, refused to even mention Pegasus, quite aware that a repeat forensic inspection of the 300 smartphones might disrupt the lifespan of the Modi Government. The Modi-Shah duo probably do not know that the mythical Pegasus is “indifferent to the good’, “unfriendly to the neutral” and “hostile to the evil” one! (IPA Service)