The New York Times on Friday reported that the Indian government bought Israeli spyware Pegasus in 2017 as part of a $2-billion package for weapons including a missile system.
The revelation sparked sharp reactions from several opposition leaders.
“Govt functionaries, opposition leaders, armed forces, judiciary all were targeted by these phone tappings. This is treason. Modi Govt has committed treason,” he tweeted in Hindi.
Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge said that the government had acted like ‘the enemies of India’ by using a ‘warfare weapon against Indian citizens’. He wrote on Twitter, “Why did Modi Govt act like the enemies of India and use a warfare weapon against Indian citizens?” “Illegal snooping using Pegasus amounts to treason. No one is above the law and we will ensure that justice is served.”
Shiv Sena MP Priyanka Chaturvedi compared the state of the country to the reality show Bigg Boss, pointing the fact that the taxpayer’s money had been used for surveillance purposes. “If there is BJP, it is possible. They have made the country into a Bigg Boss show,” she tweeted.
“Indian taxpayers’ money used for snoop and surveilling Indians! Hard earned money used to turn the country into one massive Big Boss studio just to monitor its own countrymen. This tech could have been used to ensure neighbouring nations do not occupy our territory but alas!,” she wrote.
The NYT report detailed how the spyware was used globally, by Mexico to target journalists and dissidents, and by Saudi Arabia against women’s rights activists and associates of columnist Jamal Khashoggi who was killed by Saudi operatives. The report further states that a set of new deals licensed by the Israeli Ministry of Defence, Pegasus was provided to Poland, Hungary and India, and other countries.
Flagging Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s landmark visit to Israel in July 2017, the newspaper agency reported that the visit came even as “India had maintained a policy” of what it called “commitment to the Palestinian cause,” and “relations with Israel were frosty.”
“The Modi visit, however, was notably cordial, complete with a carefully staged moment of him and Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu walking together barefoot on a local beach. They had reason for the warm feelings. Their countries had agreed on the sale of a package of sophisticated weapons and intelligence gear worth roughly $2 billion — with Pegasus and a missile system as the centerpieces.”
Until now, neither the Indian Government nor the Israeli Government has admitted that India bought Pegasus.
The Supreme Court in October 27 appointed an independent committee headed by retired Justice RV Raveendran, along with two experts.