Andhra assembly to probe TDP govt’s ‘use of Pegasus’

Updated on Mar 22, 2022 01:59 AM IST
An Andhra Pradesh legislative house committee will investigate whether the previous Telugu Desam Party government had procured the Pegasus spyware to snoop on its political rivals, the state assembly decided on Monday.
Former Andhra Pradesh chief minister Chandrababu Naidu. (AFP)
Former Andhra Pradesh chief minister Chandrababu Naidu. (AFP)
By, Hyderabad

An Andhra Pradesh legislative house committee will investigate whether the previous Telugu Desam Party government had procured the Pegasus spyware to snoop on its political rivals, the state assembly decided on Monday.

The committee with nominated members will be set up in a couple of days, speaker Tammineni Seetharam said, responding positively to a request made by state finance and legislative affairs minister Buggana Rajendranath Reddy and chief whip Gadikota Srikanth Reddy, both from the ruling Yuvajana Shramika Rythu Congress Party.

The assembly discussed a statement made by West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee that the then TDP government headed by former chief minister N Chandrababu Naidu had procured the Pegasus spyware in 2017 from the Israeli company, NSO Group, while her government had rejected a similar proposal.

The discussion took place after the speaker suspended 11 members of the TDP from the assembly after they continued to disrupt proceedings, seeking discussion on deaths in West Godavari district due to alleged consumption of illicit liquor.

Participating in the discussion, YSR Congress Party member Ambati Rambabu alleged that the Naidu government had indulged in tapping phones of opposition leaders, including those belonging to the Bharatiya Janata Party.

When a leader of high credibility like Banerjee said the Naidu government had procured Pegasus spyware, there must be some truth in her statement, minister Buggana Rajendranath Reddy said. “So far, Mamata had not withdrawn her statement,” he said.

Stating that procurement of Pegasus spyware was a matter of concern not only for national security but also the prestige of Andhra Pradesh, Rajendranath Reddy alleged that in 2017, then state intelligence chief A B Venkateshwara Rao had sought to procure a drone surveillance system from Israel through a firm owned by his son.

“Rao had gone to Israel twice those days and the then TDP government had also sanctioned funds for the procurement of spying equipment. Later, the project was cancelled suddenly,” the minister said.

“We strongly believe that Naidu had procured it (Pegasus) secretly and used it stealthily. We suspect that he might have used to collect the data of the citizens and also the YSRCP leaders,” Reddy said.

The TDP was not afraid of any investigation into the matter, the party’s general secretary Nara Lokesh said. “Be it house committee or judicial committee or even the Central Bureau of Investigation, let the government order probe by any agency. We are ready to face it,” he said.

At the same time, the government should also order a similar probe into the murder of Jagan Mohan Reddy’s uncle Y S Vivekananda Reddy and deaths due to alleged consumption of hooch, Lokesh said.

There was no clarity on what Banerjee had said about the Naidu government procuring the spyware, he said. “In any case, the TDP would never indulge in spying on others,” Lokesh said.

The state’s director general of police in August 2021 had clarified in a right to information reply that the state government had never bought any such spyware from any agency. “Yet, the speaker allowed a discussion on the subject, which is actually a non-issue,” Lokesh said.

Meanwhile, former intelligence chief Venkateshwar Rao told reporters in Vijayawada that the TDP government had not procured Pegasus spyware.

“I was the intelligence chief of the state during the period. I can confidently say no government agency had neither procured nor used the Pegasus spyware. No phones were tapped,” he said. “I do not know about the situation after May 2019, when the TDP lost power.”

Such allegations would create insecurity among the people and it is the responsibility of the government to remove such apprehensions, he said.

“It is unfortunate that they are unnecessarily dragging my name into the controversy and resorting to character assassination,” Rao said.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Srinivasa Rao is Senior Assistant Editor based out of Hyderabad covering developments in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana . He has over three decades of reporting experience.

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