By Arun Srivastava
Prime Minister, Narendra Modi resorting to querulous and whining intrigue to hide behind the silly argument that the information sought by the Supreme Court about the Pegasus was “sensitive” in nature and concerned “national security” is a devious plan to indulge in the game of one-upmanship and also prohibit the Supreme Court from accomplishing its Constitutional responsibility to unearth the Pegasus scam and protect the fundamental rights of the citizens of the country.
On August 17, the Modi government had assured the three member bench headed by the CJI Ramana to file a fresh affidavit. But shockingly just a month after on September 13, it retreated from its assurance. And this it did on the plea to preserve the security of the country. In a way it can be inferred that Modi government wanted to tell his BJP-RSS cadres and supporters that apex court was not concerned in preserving the interest of the country.
This is simply an outrageous act. How could a government try to project itself as more patriotic and nationalist than the Supreme Court? As Modi and his battery of legal experts claim that no element of conspiracy is involved, then why they are obstinate not to come out with the facts and truth. Their entire approach strengthens suspicion that Modi government had hired Pegasus to indulge in snooping and keep track of his political detractors.
Strange enough the Narendra Modi government has no qualm in relying on some individuals who will constitute the expert committee, to probe the Pegasus spyware snooping controversy but he is not ready to hand over the information to the court. Modi has faith in the nationalist quotient and patriotic claims of his so called nationalist friends but is not ready to believe the words of the honourable judges. This is nothing but purely an attempt to disrespect the highest judiciary which is responsible to preserve and protect the Constitution of the country.
In a way Modi is showing his utter contempt to Constitution in his pursuit to preserve his political agenda. It is sad for the country that Modi treats his political agenda superior to the authority of the Supreme Court. On the government’s move to set up the expert committee, the court wanted to know how a technical committee would check what authorisations were given for use of the spyware, if it was used at all, and who issued permission and the sanction to procure it. To this, solicitor general Tushar Mehta has said the committee will comprise eminent neutral people and the court can invoke its extraordinary power to lay down a mandate for it.
It is beyond comprehension why Modi government is reluctant to comply with the directives of the Supreme Court? It is interesting to note that in its affidavit, the ministry claimed the petitions are based on “conjectures”, “surmises” and “unsubstantiated media reports” or “incomplete or uncorroborated material”. If this be the fact, according to the Modi government, then why it is unwilling to provide the information sought by the apex court? In fact the petitioners have also rejected the government affidavit, saying it did not reveal whether the Centre used the military-grade spyware — made by an Israel-based firm called NSO Group.
In the absence of a clear stand, the petitioners said, the government should not be allowed to set up a probe committee. In fact the bench headed by Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana had told solicitor general Tushar Mehta “Whatever you want to say, why don’t you file an affidavit? We will also get a clear picture”. Mehta responded by posing a question. “Will they (petitioners) take their pleas back if I file a detailed affidavit. This is a question I ask myself,” the law officer said. This prompted the bench to comment that Mehta was reluctant to file a fresh affidavit and it remarked: “We see you do not want to take a stand.”
There is no denying that the government must come clean on this Pegasus issue.It is really a matter of concern that pillars of democracy; judiciary and media; got infiltrated through the spyware. The manner which Modi government is obstructing the flow of information to Supreme Court, it raises questions about the judicial independence. It is a known fact that judicial independence is a necessary condition for democracy since it acts as a check to authoritarian power.
The stubborn attitude of Modi government will not do good to the country and its people. The people have lost faith in the government. The material evidences available make them not to subscribe what Modi or his government says. The Supreme Court has provided enough time to the government to make up its mind and come with the information. Recently the apex court asked the Modi government to ‘stop beating around the bush’. If the government misses the deadline, the apex court will have the option of forming a special investigation team (SIT) for a court-monitored probe.
The bench of Chief Justice N.V. Ramana and Justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli handed the ultimatum to solicitor-general Tushar Mehta, who had persistently maintained that the Centre did not want to file a fresh affidavit. It was after Mehta said the government was instead willing to appoint a committee of “independent” to investigate the allegations, Chief Justice of India N V Ramana had said: “Mr Mehta, beating around the bush is not the question here….”. He also said; “We are not interested to know about national interest issues; we are only (concerned with) allegations that some software was used to snoop on certain citizens like lawyers, etc. We wanted to know if it’s done and, if so, to see if it is permissible under law. We also don’t want security issues to be put here.”
The CJI made it clear that even if a government-appointed expert committee conducted the probe, it would still have to hand in its report to the court and “everything will be in public”. Justice Kant told Mehta; “We were only expecting a limited affidavit since there are petitioners before us who say their rights have been infringed by A or B agency. You had to say whether it’s done lawfully or unlawfully…. National security is not a part of present proceedings”.
When Mehta maintained that revealing details “will not serve national interests”, Justice Ramana remarked: “We are going back to, again and again, the same issue. We are not interested to know what you are doing to protect the interests of the country, etc, etc.” Justice Ramana then said: “Now they don’t want to file an affidavit. So we will pass an order — what to do?”
One thing is absolutely clear that Modi is trying to politicise the Pegasus case. He intends to use it for winning the future election by presenting himself as the victim. This is the most dangerous game the BJP-RSS are planning to play. The move of the Centre to hide the information makes it absolutely clear that the Modi government, its bureaucrats and also some ministers are involved in the conspiracy. Had it not been the case, then the government had no reason to adopt such an obstinate stand. An international media consortium has reported that over 300 verified Indian mobile phone numbers were on the list of potential targets for surveillance using Pegasus spyware.
The Supreme Court bench expressed enough annoyance at the last hearing at the centre’s tactics of denying to the Court the requisite information through a detailed affidavit and now, it is the duty of the honourable judges to show the Government its place and go ahead on its own to probe into the Pegasus snooping issue. The Country is awaiting from the Supreme Court that historic order in defence of the privacy of the citizens guaranteed by the Constitutional. (IPA Service)