Congress MP Shashi Tharoor on Monday raised questions after the newly-inducted IT minister Ashwini Vaishnaw in Lok Sabha categorically rejected allegations of snooping on politicians, journalists and others using Israeli spyware Pegasus.
Vaishnaw, in a suo motu statement in the lower house, said the media reports on alleged snooping published a day before the start of the Monsoon Session of Parliament "cannot be a coincidence" and stressed that there is "no substance" behind the sensationalism.
"The press reports of 18th July 2021 also appear to be an attempt to malign the Indian democracy and its well-established institutions," Vaishnaw said in his first statement in Parliament as a minister.
Meanwhile, Tharoor questioned that if the government didn't authorize the hacking of the mobile phones of more than 300 Indians, then who did it.
"I am conscious that the IT Minister has declared in parliament that no unauthorized surveillance has taken place. It raises question -- was there authorized surveillance & if so, on what basis was it authorized," Tharoor asked.
Noting that the Israeli company sells its spyware to governments, Tharoor said: "If Govt didn't authorize it & didn't do it, then who did it? Pegasus manufacturer NSO Group says they only sell it to governments, & it costs about USD 7 million for the software. Obviously, only governments will be able to spend that kind of money," said
The Congress leader, who is also the Chairman of Parliamentary Standing Committee on IT, further said: "If GOI did it that's very bad; if somebody unauthorized did it, that's worse. If a foreign govt say China or Pakistan did it, then national security demands that our govt should investigate & this is why an independent investigation is absolutely indispensable."
Meanwhile, the Congress party has demanded the sacking of Union Home Minister Amit Shah and investigation into Prime Minister Narendra Modi's role over the Pegasus Project row.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), on the other hand, has "strongly refuted" Congress party's "baseless" allegations and said that there is not a shred of evidence linking the BJP or the government to the Pegasus Project.