By Nitya Chakraborty
The Supreme Court order on Wednesday morning appointing an expert committee to look into the allegations of unauthorized surveillance using the Pegasus software is nothing but a Watergate like moment for the Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his BJP led NDA government. The observations made by the learned bench led by the Chief Justice of India N V Ramana prima facie confirms what the petitioners have said in their allegations that the ruling administration at the centre is stonewalling any probe into the allegations which are hitting at the fundamental rights of the citizens including politicians, journalists, human rights activists and even the senior officials of the centre.
The probe panel is scheduled to submit its report to the Supreme Court after eight weeks meaning by the end of December this year. Then the hearing will take place. It is apparent that since the last week in December is holidays in the apex court, the hearing will take place in early January 2022. This January and February will be the most hectic months for the campaigning by the political parties including the BJP for the coming state assembly elections to the five states — Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Goa, Uttarakhand and Manipur. The Pegasus issue will certainly be used as a major issue by the opposition parties in the poll campaign.
In 1972, the Watergate scandal led to huge controversy in the United States politics and finally President Nixon had to resign from Presidency. That also had relationship with spying on the opposition and tampering with the official documents. The two leading journalists of the US papers pursued the scandal and finally there was no escape route for the President. If the probe panel after going into the all documents connected to the engagement of Pegasus software can come to the conclusion that there was deliberate attempt by the top government people to encourage espionage on citizens of the country that had nothing to do with national security, that will be an attack on the fundamental rights of the citizens and the Supreme Court can take action on that.
As of now, the political situation has again turned against the BJP in the country following the Supreme Court order despite fissures among the opposition camp on some vital issues. The main problem of the BJP this time is that the entire focus of the Pegasus issue is on the Prime Minister, the PMO and the National Security Adviser. It is not so much to do with the BJP as a party but it is to do with the Prime Minister and the agencies on which he has full control. The Supreme Court observations mean that the judges have no belief in what the Government lawyers have told them about denying a detailed affidavit to the Court on the plea of national security.PM is the mascot of BJP campaign and if his image as a fighter against corruption is sullied, that will have impact among the general voters on the eve of the state polls.
In 1989, the BJP was the main party which carried a ceaseless campaign against the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi before the Lok Sabha elections at the end of the year on the issue of Bofors pay off which was nothing compared to the present Pegasus scandal. That was an amount of Rs. 64 crore which could not be proved in court while after 32 years, this Pegasus snoopgate is something which deals with the government bid to trample the provisions of the Constitution regarding personal freedom and fundamental rights. The opposition parties including the Congress will certainly make full use of this discomfiture of the Modi Government in the coming campaign for the state assembly polls which should prove decisive in determining the course of the future political battle in the country.
In the name of national security, the Modi government has arrested a number of rights activists and they are suffering in jail for months and years. The UAPA provisions are being imposed on anyone who challenges the present government. Criticism of the government is being taken as the criticism of the nation. In this milieu, the Supreme Court through this Pegasus order has come out strongly against the Modi Government’s continuing stance on privacy issues by citing national security.
The CJI observes “The state cannot get free pass every time by raising national security concerns. No omnibus prohibition can be called against judicial review. Centre should have justified its stand here and not render the court a mute spectator.”
“There has been no specific denial by the Centre. Thus, we have no option but to accept the submissions of petitioner prima facie and thus, we appoint an expert committee whose function will be overseen by the Supreme Court,” he added.
In its judgment, the SC underlined the importance of privacy and technology, saying that while technology can be used to improve the lives of people, it can also be used to invade privacy. It said certain limitations exist when it comes to privacy, but the restrictions have to pass constitutional muster.
Thus the Modi Government got no escape route. Its devious ways to bypass the Constitutional provisions have been detected and the bench this time has been strict in enforcing its duty as per the provisions of the Indian constitution. The Court has done its duty and now it is up to the opposition parties how they unitedly can carry on this interim legal victory to the electoral battlefields in February/ March 2002 by taking on the BJP. The Opposition can lose this golden opportunity only to its peril. (IPA Service)