Ruckus mars Vaishnaw’s RS statement on Pegasus
The parliamentary disruption caused by a Trinamool Congress MP’s move to snatch and tear a statement being read out by Union IT minister Ashwini Vaishnaw on the Pegasus spyware controversy triggered a war of words on Thursday, with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) also planning to move a suspension motion against the TMC leader.
The Union communications and information technology minister was addressing the Rajya Sabha on allegations of illegal spying on activists, politicians and journalists by the central government, when TMC’s Shantanu Sen snatched the papers off Vaishnaw’s hands, tore them and flung them into the air.
With his speech cut short, the minister said he was placing a copy of his statement on the table of the House, while marshals were forced to intervene as BJP and TMC leaders engaged in an argument. Eventually, Rajya Sabha deputy chairman Harivansh rebuked lawmakers from their “unparliamentary” behaviour before adjourning the House for the day.
The chaotic scenes prompted the BJP to mount an offensive against the TMC and people aware of the matter said that the government may seek Sen’s suspension from the upper house of Parliament under Rule 256(2) on Friday. The norm states that a lawmaker, who “disregards the authority of the Chair or abuses the rules of the Council” through “wilful” disruptions can be suspended from the House for up to the remainder of the parliamentary session if the Rajya Sabha chairman “deems it necessary”. Once the motion is moved, there can be no debate or adjournment allowed, the rule says.
Last year, the same rule was applied to suspend eight opposition MPs from the Rajya Sabha for a week after their protests over the contentious agriculture laws.
The motion is likely to be moved when the House meets on Friday.
Later in the day, BJP president JP Nadda also accused the opposition of creating “obstacles” in the country’s development journey by disrupting Parliament to “save” its political existence.
Separately, the TMC MP Sen alleged that he was surrounded by BJP leaders in the House, and that Union minister Hardeep Singh Puri verbally abused him after live proceedings were closed off due to adjournment.
“The Union minister (Puri) threatened and abused me. He was about to assault me when my other colleagues came to my rescue,” alleged Sen at a press conference in Delhi.
Puri has so far not commented on the issue.
TMC chief whip Sukhendu Sekhar Ray, also at the briefing, added that Vaishnaw’s statement was full of lies.
Opposition parties have been demonstrating during the monsoon session of Parliament, demanding that the government initiate a probe into the Pegasus row after media reports -- citing leaked documents -- said this week there may have been attempts to hack into the mobile devices used by journalists, activists, ministers and political leaders including Congress’s Rahul Gandhi. The Pegasus software by Israel-based NSO Group has previously said it only caters to government clients.
In Thursday’s statement, IT minister Vaishnaw reiterated the government’s stand that many over-the-top allegations had been made by the reports. “There is no factual basis to these allegations,” he said.