Pegasus row: CPI lawmaker files privilege motion against Ashwini Vaishnaw

Updated on Jan 31, 2022 01:28 PM IST

A privilege motion is initiated after the Speaker or the Chairman gives approval for it in their respective Houses and over the past few years, many demands for such motions have been rejected

President Ram Nath Kovind and Prime Minister Narendra Modi at Parliament House on the first day of the Budget Session. (PTI)
President Ram Nath Kovind and Prime Minister Narendra Modi at Parliament House on the first day of the Budget Session. (PTI)
ByDeeksha Bhardwaj

NEW DELHI: Communist Party of India (CPI) Member of Parliament Binoy Viswam has filed a privilege motion against Union information technology minister Ashwini Vaishnaw for allegedly misleading the House with his statements over the alleged use of Pegasus in light of a New York Times report saying India purchased the Israeli-origin spyware in 2017.

This comes as Congress’s Lok Sabha floor leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury wrote to Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla on Sunday seeking a privilege motion against Vaishnaw for “deliberately misleading the House on the Pegasus issue”. The Opposition has attacked the government over the alleged spyware use following the New York Times report.

In his notice, Viswam said despite the government’s “repeated attempts at hiding the truth, numerous pieces of evidence have been made public” regarding its purchase of the spyware. “The New York Times report is the latest on the list. As a matter concerning grave allegations of snooping that violate Constitutional rights and safeguards, the Minister’s deliberate attempt to mislead the Members of Parliament constitutes a breach of privilege,” Viswam said in the notice, a copy of which HT has seen.

A privilege motion is initiated after the Speaker or the Chairman gives approval for it in their respective Houses. Over the past few years, many demands for privilege motions have been rejected.

During Parliament’s Monsoon Session last year, Vaishnaw made a suo motu statement in both Houses and said there was “no substance” to previous media reports regarding the use of Pegasus. He also assured Parliament that illegal spying is impossible in the country. Vaishnaw said the reports were nothing but an “attempt to malign Indian democracy and its well-established institutions”. Union home minister Amit Shah slammed those “amplifying” the reports about Pegasus for “humiliating India”.

Vaishnaw said a “highly sensational story” made several “over the top allegations” but there is “no substance behind them”. His statement came minutes before he was named as one of those who were targeted, according to an investigation by a consortium of media houses.

The phone-hacking software Pegasus was allegedly used to target potentially thousands of people around the world.

HT reached out to Vaishnaw’s office for comments on Viswam’s notice but did not receive a response immediately.

The Congress on Saturday cited the New York Times report and hit out at the Bharatiya Janata Party government saying it has “hijacked democracy” and misled the Supreme Court. It urged the court to take suo motu cognisance of the matter and initiate appropriate penal proceedings against the government for attempting to “deliberately and knowingly deceive” it.

The New York Times reported Pegasus and a missile system were the “centerpieces” of a roughly $2 billion deal for sophisticated weapons and intelligence gear.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi has accused the government of treason by allegedly “tapping” phones of Opposition leaders, people belonging to the armed forces, and the judiciary using Pegasus.

“The Modi Government bought Pegasus to spy on our primary democratic institutions, politicians and public. Government functionaries, opposition leaders, armed forces, judiciary all were targeted by these phone tappings. This is treason,” Gandhi said on Twitter.

The New York Times report came ahead of Parliament’s Budget Session, which began on Monday.

The first half of the session from January 31 to February 11 includes the President’s speech, the presentation of the Budget, and a debate on both. The Finance Bill, the Appropriation Bills, and demand for grants for various ministries will be cleared in the second half expected from March 14 to April 8.

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