Simply put, the charge on the Modi government is that it lied to the Parliament about buying Pegasus spyware and it must respond

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Simply put, the charge on the Modi government is that it lied to the Parliament about buying Pegasus spyware and it must respond
Considering the seriousness of the charge, it would be fair to expect that the Prime Minister would have defended the government in his Mann ki baat address to the voters today. But he didn't.
  • More than a day has passed since the New York Times report saying the Indian government bought the spyware from Israel and there is very little in terms of response from the government.
  • It shows that either the government doesn’t take lying as a serious charge or it has little material to defend itself and neither of the two is a good show on an elected government in a democracy.
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At first, about six months ago, the question was whether the spyware was used by the Narendra Modi government to trace and track the dissenters. Now, after the New York Times investigation, the first question to be answered is whether Modi's ministers lied to the Parliament. And, the government’s silence on the New York Times charge that it bought Pegasus spyware is eerie.

The Prime Minister gave his frequent radio address, called the Mann ki Baat, on January 30, but there was no mention of the Pegasus issue. The opposition is likely to launch a high decibel protest, demanding a response from the Modi government in the Parliament when it opens for the Budget session this week.

A minister of the Modi government, Ashwini Vaishnaw, had denied the snooping charge in Parliament saying India was not one of the buyers of the Pegasus spyware. The Ministry of Defence backed it up saying it didn’t do any transaction with the NSO Group that sells Pegasus. The government lawyer maintained a similar stance at the Supreme Court of India as well, but the court did not find it convincing.

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These were some of the court’s observations after the government’s response to the charge that it used national security as an excuse to illegally monitor its detractors:
  • There has been no specific denial by the Centre. Thus, we have no option but to accept the submissions of the petitioner and appoint an expert committee whose function will be overseen by the Supreme Court.
  • There is no clear stand from the government. There is a serious concern of foreign agency involvement by surveilling Indians.
  • The Solicitor General had suggested that many such reports are motivated. However, such omnibus oral submissions cannot be accepted.
Given the Modi administration’s response in the preceding months, the implication of the latest New York Times report is that the Modi administration lied both to the Parliament and the Supreme Court. It’s a charge similar to the Watergate scandal in the United States that toppled the Richard Nixon administration in the early 1970s.

Even Subramanian Swamy, a member of Parliament from Modi’s own party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has raised a similar question.
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The New York Times report has alleged that the Indian government under Modi did buy the spyware from Israel as part of a $2 billion purchase of defence equipment. The report also connected this purchase with India supporting Israel at a United Nations (UN) forum ⁠— a shift from its long-standing support for the Palestinian cause ⁠— to deny a Palestinian human rights organisation an ‘observer status’.

More than a day has passed since the latest report and there is very little in terms of response from the government or the Prime Minister. So far, there is a tweet from a junior minister for civil aviation and road transport and highways, General VK Singh, who has called the New York Times ‘ supari media’.

Taking a Supari ⁠— the Hindi word for betel nut ⁠— is a colloquially used to describe a hit job. Syed Akbaruuddin, India’s former permanent representative to the UN, has ‘rubbished’ the link with India’s stance in support of Israel against Palestinians.

Other than these, there isn’t another official word on the matter so far. Considering the seriousness of the charge, it would be fair to expect that the Prime Minister would have defended the government in his Mann ki baat address to the voters today. But he didn't.

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There are two ways to look at it. Either team Modi doesn’t take the charge of ‘lying to Parliament’ seriously. It’s not a good show on an elected government in a democracy that it doesn’t take offence to being called a liar, especially in the Parliament. Or, it doesn’t have enough material to defend itself.

An expert committee appointed by the Supreme Court, led by a former judge RV Raveendran, is already looking into the snooping charges. If the three-member panel arrives at a conclusion that there was illegal supervision, it could automatically imply that the tool i.e. Pegasus was purchased by the government.

A clean chit from the Justice Raveendran panel would be a good thing for Modi and his government but it isn’t here, at least not yet. Meanwhile, ignoring the charge of lying, or wishing it away, is not an option.

SEE ALSO:
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