Even as the Opposition protested and held up Parliament seeking a response from the Narendra Modi-led government on Pegasus spying row, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has gone ahead and ordered a probe into allegations that the Centre spied upon certain politicians, journalists and public figures. Two former judges were named on Monday to investigate the issue.
Coming on the eve of her proposed meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Delhi, the announcement of the panel is seen as Banerjee upping the ante over the Pegasus spyware row. Positioning herself as a leader of the Opposition, Banerjee acted when every other party is still to get its act together on the issue.
"Sometimes, you need to wake up some people when they are sleeping. I believe that this small step taken by us (West Bengal government) will awaken others... I will request Justice Bhattacharya and Lokur saheb to immediately start the investigation," said Banerjee, according to PTI. The West Bengal Chief Minister had last week accused the Modi government of trying to establish a 'surveillance state' even as her party MP was suspended from Parliament for snatching papers from a minister speaking on the issue.
Former chief justice of Calcutta High Court Jyotirmay Bhattacharya and ex-Supreme Court judge Madan Bhimrao Lokur will be the two members of the Commission of Inquiry(CoI) announced by the West Bengal government.
The probe panel move is also being seen as an attempt by her to force the Centre's hand to order a wider probe as the potential targets in the list include people from several states.
The Congress has been demanding a Supreme Court-monitored inquiry into the entire scandal while a party leader Shashi Tharoor indicated that opposition parties would continue to disrupt Parliament's proceedings until the government agrees to a debate.
"The entire Opposition is united. Have a discussion on Pegasus snooping issue in presence of Prime Minister or Home Minister. Announce a Supreme Court-monitored enquiry into the scandal," Congress leader Jairam Ramesh said on Twitter.
Responding to this tweet, TMC's Derek O'Brien wrote, "We need this in Parliament. Not green tea at Piyush Goyal's office. Thanks. But no thanks." O'Brien was referring to Leader of the House in Rajya Sabha Piyush Goyal's request to opposition leaders to meet over a cup of tea at his office to resolve the logjam in Parliament.
The CPI (M), meanwhile, has filed a case in the Supreme Court, seeking a court-monitored probe into the row. CPI(M) Rajya Sabha member John Brittas, in a plea, urged the court to direct the Centre to conduct an “immediate investigation through a special investigating team.” into the allegations."
The CPI(M) move has not gone down well with some Opposition parties who have said that the case being in court will give the Centre an excuse to go mum citing the 'sub judice' nature of the case.
A consortium of international media websites have reported that over 300 verified mobile phone numbers, including of two ministers, over 40 journalists, three opposition leaders and one sitting judge apart from many businesspersons and activists in India could have been hacked through the spyware.
According to reports, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, TMC MP Abhishek Banerjee, a nephew of Mamata Banerjee, and poll strategist Prashant Kishor were among the potential targets of the spyware. Even union ministers, according to allegations, were under watch.