A day after the Congress demanded a probe into the alleged Pegasus ‘snooping’, former chief minister Devendra Fadnavis on Tuesday clarified that the BJP-led government did not avail of any services from the Israeli firm NSO during his tenure as the chief minister from 2014 to 2019.
Fadnavis said, “A team of the Directorate General of Information and Public Relations (DGIPR) went to Israel after the 2019 Assembly elections, and before the next government was formed. That trip was for agricultural development purposes.”
However, state Congress spokesman Sachin Sawant has countered Fadnavis’ claim. He noted, “The purpose of the Israel tour was to study new trends in government outreach programmes and new
ways of utilising social-web media. Had it been agriculture-related,
the government would have sent officers from the agriculture department and not
from DGIPR.” Sawant said the topics covered included emerging social media
platforms, educating citizens about cybercrimes, usage of digital marketing
As reported earlier by Free Press Journal, Sawant had asked if the Pegasus scandal took place in Maharashtra as well. He had said, “The MVA government should probe this. In Maharashtra, a case of unauthorised phone-tapping through Rashmi Shukla has already come to light during the Fadnavis government. But there were also reports of the use of Pegasus software.”
For his part, Fadnavis maintained that the controversy is a plan to defame India. His statement came after the Centre said it has nothing to do with the alleged surveillance. “We noticed that one or two media outlets received Chinese funding and carried out the propaganda,” Fadnavis said, adding that the Pegasus issue was part of a design to derail the ongoing Parliament session.
However, Fadnavis reiterated that the government led by him did not rope in NSO, which licenses its military-grade Pegasus spyware to governments for tracking terrorists and criminals. He responded following claims that the software, that can infect phones without a click, was used in attempted and successful hacks of smartphones belonging to journalists, human rights activists and business executives in India and many other countries.
“There are some international forces that are trying to malign the country’s image, especially when Prime Minister Narendra Modi is taking the country on the path of progress. He has formed the most inclusive government with ministers from SCs and OBCs. The opposition deliberately brought out this story ahead of the session,” claimed Fadnavis.