By Arun Srivastava
While Indians are stretching and splitting their hair to make out the inference of home minister Amit Shah’s suggestion “chronology ko samjhiye” (understand the chronology), the international media is agog with the information that it was Narendra Modi who during his first visit to Israel in 2017 had roped in NSO.
But the UK based leading newspaper The Guardian exposed that the Israel prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu had abetted government abuses by granting NSO an export licence to sell software to countries that use it to suppress dissent and “the selection of Indian numbers largely commenced around the time of Modi’s 2017 trip to Israel, the first visit to the country by an Indian Prime Minister” and a marker of the burgeoning bilateral relationship, including deals between Delhi and Israeli defence industries.
“Modi and the then Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, were pictured during the trip walking barefoot together on a beach. Days before, Indian targets had started being selected,” the UK newspaper said. Incidentally the picture was tweeted by Netanyahu in July 2017, showing him and Modi on the beach in Haifa. “There’s nothing like going to the beach with friends!” Netanyahu had tweeted.
Questions were raised at that time about the urgency of Modi’s visit, but government refused to come out with a categorical reply. However an attempt was made by a section of the media to correlate the anti-Muslim stand of the two leaders.
Ever since Modi came to power he has been abusing Congress to present himself as a clean and pious politician though he is not tired of claiming to create a Congress mukta Bharat. In the wake of the Pegasus expose Modi has been accusing Congress. Only on Tuesday he said the Congress had been reduced to being in power in just “two-three states” but had a misplaced sense of “entitlement”. Shockingly instead of clearing the air on the Pegasus snoop scandal, why Pegasus snooped on Indians and whether his government was involved, he has shown his ultra-concern for covid at the meeting of his MPs and leaders. This obviously implies that he lacks moral power to confess that he was behind the scam and it was at his bidding NSO has carried out the operation.
Ever since he became the prime minister, he in association with Amit Shah has been resorting to criminalisation of the politics. Beneath the veneer of abusing Nehru and other Congress leaders, he has been patronising the criminal elements to pursue is divisive politics.
Amit Shah as usual was raising his accusing finger towards the opposition, especially the Congress, for raising the issue of Pegasus and hampering the functioning of the parliament. Shah treats the people of this country as fools and idiots else he would not have dared to divert the issue. Under attack he called the Pegasus report “by the disrupters for the obstructers”. He questioned the timing of the leak and said it was done to create disruptions on the first day of the monsoon session of Parliament. When the people are protesting against intrusion into their privacy and government spying on them, he was surprisingly presenting it as a trivial issue, an attempt by the opposition to disrupt parliament session.
For hiding the crime he even moved one step forward and said; “Disrupters are global organisations which do not like India to progress. Obstructers are political players in India who do not want India to progress. People of India are very good at understanding this chronology and connection”. If he is sure that there are some disrupters behind the move who intend to humiliate India, then why is he not ordering a JPC probe as is being demanded by the opposition? Why is he opposing this demand?
Revelations about the use of spying tools sold to governments by NSO Group has already sparked furious political rows across the world after evidence emerged to suggest the surveillance firm’s clients may have sought to target their political opponents. It is worth taking note that NSO claims its surveillance tools are sold to carefully vetted government clients who are only permitted to use them for legitimate investigations into crime and terrorism. In the backdrop of this explanation of NSO, Amit Shah as the home minister owes to the people of the country to clarify how the operation was carried out? Who is the person or the organisation?
In fact in 2019 itself the Modi government had admitted snooping via Pegasus in Parliament on November 28, 2019, contrary to Monday’s denial of spying by new information technology minister Ashwini Vaishnaw. On that day the then IT minister Ravi Shankar Prasad had told the Rajya Sabha that the hacking of 121 telephones had been reported and a notice issued to NSO.
If the Modi government had really taken up the issue with the NSO, the latest cases of snooping of the phones of Abhishek Banerjee and Prashant Kishor, coinciding with holding of assembly election in Bengal, would not have taken place. It obviously implied that the operation are still being carried out under the watchful eyes of Modi and Amit Shah. Once the cat is out of bag, they are looking for a scapegoat. It is unfortunate that the current IT minister who has been a suspect in the eyes of these two leaders and whose phone ws under surveillance, has been trying to defend them. The Wire reported that the phone number of IT minister Vaishnaw was among the potential targets between 2017 and 2019. Minister Prahlad Singh Patel’s name also figures in the list.
In fact former finance minister P. Chidambaram had contested Vaishnaw’s claim, made in the Lok Sabha on Monday, that illegal snooping was impossible in India. Chidambaram putting the fat straight said; “NSO Group, the owner of Pegasus, has said that NSO sells its technologies solely to law enforcement and intelligence agencies of vetted governments. It is unfortunate that minister Vaishnaw has started his innings on the wrong foot. “In his statement, the minister has omitted to quote the crucial part of Pegasus’s statement. The services that are ‘openly available to anyone, anywhere, and anytime’ refer to HLR Lookup services, not to Pegasus. The minister should answer a simple question: Did the government acquire the Pegasus software/ spyware?”
Though the issue has yet not been mentioned through a petition to the Supreme Court, it can intervene suo motu as the revelation has smeared the public image and credibility of the judiciary. Damage has already been inflicted on the highest office of the judiciary though not so glaringly. Yet another factor must attract the attention of the apex court is, languishing of 16 intellectuals in the jail for simply satisfying the ego and pride of Modi and Shah.
The apex court is aware of the fact that how the rulers have been misusing and distorting the provisions of the sedition law. Though the law has been in the statute book for decades, during the reign of Modi it has been used against 700 persons. The framing of the such huge number of people under sedition raises one important question; why so many of people have turned anti national during the rule of Modi?
The Editors’ Guild of India has approached the Supreme Court to initiate independent inquiry into these snooping charges. According to Guild “the inquiry committee should include people of impeccable credibility from different walks of life–including journalists and civil society — so that it can independently investigate facts around the extent and intent of snooping using the services of Pegasus”.
Nevertheless if they are not involved or have not permitted for this operation it is their duty and moral responsibility to unearth the largest spy operation in the Independent India. No government worth credibility could allow this situation to persist. It attains huge nature of seriousness for the reason that it involves name of the former CJI and two ministerial colleagues of Modi. One would certainly like to know why has been feeling nervous.
Pegasus spy operation exposes the obnoxious aspect of the politics being practiced by the Modi and RSS in India. It is also confirmed that the Bhima Koregaon conspiracy case in which 16 intellectuals and academics who have been falsely implicated is part of the nasty design of the Pegasus operation. It is now established that the NIA framed these people in the false case at the instruction of the rulers of the country having a criminal mind set.
The Congress leaders Mallikarjun Kharage and Adhir Ranjan Choudhary have rightly demanded that Amit Shah should be sacked forthwith if the government had any pretensions to morality. The role of Modi also need to be investigated. On Monday, the Congress released a report by Cert-In, a department under the IT ministry, that had on May 17, 2019, said: “A vulnerability has been reported in WhatsApp which could be exploited by a remote attacker to execute arbitrary code on the affected system.”
The Pegasus “snoop” is making Nixon’s Watergate look like an amateur operation as far as the modus operandi is concerned. The only big “IF” comes into play on whether India will be able to hold accountable those responsible as America did by compelling Richard Nixon to give up the presidency half a century ago. Nixon had used the full weight of his office — the most powerful in the free world — to fight the evidence against him. The collective effort to hold Nixon accountable succeeded because the media, judiciary and the legislature did their job.
The Washington Post had investigated Watergate disgrace it is also probing Pegasus scandal. In case of Pegasus it is part of a collective of media houses across the globe probing the use of the Israeli spyware by various governments. In the Watergate scandal, Nixon and his aides were found guilty of extensive wiretapping that involved breaking into the Democratic National Committee’s (DNC) headquarters in the Watergate Office Building, Washington DC, to bug the premises, and the President himself recording all the telephone conversations in his office. (IPA Service)