Pegasus story an attempt to malign Indian democracy: IT Minister

With the Pegasus snoopgate leading to ruckus in the Parliament, Union Electronics and IT Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw said on Thursday that the news story on snooping was an attempt to malign India’s democracy and its institutions.

Addressing the Rajya Sabha, the minister also indicated that the report was meant to disrupt the Monsoon Session of the Parliament.

“A sensational story around Pegasus being published just a day before the Monsoon Session of Parliament cannot be a coincidence,” he said.

“This press story on Pegasus, done by a web portal on July 18, attempts to malign the Indian democracy and its well-established institutions,” Vaishaw added.

He also said that similar claims were made in the past regarding the use of Pegasus on WhatsApp, adding that those reports had “no factual basis” and were categorically denied by all the parties, including in the Supreme Court.

While Vaishnaw was reading the statement on the Pegasus project amid an ongoing row over alleged large-scale snooping involving politicians, Trinamool Congress MPs snatched the report from the minister’s hand and tore it into pieces on the floor of the Rajya Sabha.

Journalist-turned-BJP MP Swapan Dasgupta said: “Some of the Trinamool MPs took the paper from the hands of the minister and tore it. This is unacceptable.”

Trinamool MP Shantanu Sen was seen on national television snatching the report right out of the minister’s hand, tearing it apart and then throwing the shredded pieces into the air.

Amid continued disruptions, the Upper House was adjourned for the day.

Earlier too, the minister had said that the report is an attempt to malign India.

The Pegasus Project reports published in The Wire, which showed that over 300 phone numbers – including those of two serving ministers, over 40 journalists, three opposition leaders, among others, – could have been targetted for hacking using the Pegasus spyware developed by Israeli surveillance company NSO Group.

Interestingly, Vaishnaw’s name also appeared in the list of people who were allegedly snooped upon.