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Pegasus row: Storm in House, Opp says democracy in crisis, seeks SC judge probe

The row over an alleged surveillance operation using the Pegasus spyware rocked Parliament Tuesday as the Opposition and some parties friendly to the ruling coalition, seeking answers from the government, disrupted proceedings in Lok Sabha and did not allow the treasury benches to transact any business for the second consecutive day — signalling that the first week of the Monsoon Session could be a washout.

The Congress-led Opposition did, however, allow a discussion in Rajya Sabha on the Covid-19 pandemic situation — it led the debate — after the government agreed to its demand for a debate on the floor of the House ahead of a briefing outside Parliament on the Covid preparedness levels.

There were stormy scenes in Lok Sabha where members of the Congress, Trinamool Congress and DMK raised slogans, showed placards over the alleged snooping controversy – there was an uproar over this in Rajya Sabha as well.

They demanded a probe by a Supreme Court judge into claims that the Pegasus spyware had been used to snoop on journalists, politicians, ministers, judges and others.

While YSRCP members raised issues like the Polavaram project and special status for Andhra Pradesh, members of the SAD and the AAP demanded that the government repeal the farm laws at the centre of an ongoing protest.

Indian Youth Congress (IYC) activists during a protest over Pegasus project issue near Parliament House during the monsoon session, in New Delhi (PTI)

A second list of possible targets of alleged surveillance using the Pegasus spyware, which was published Monday by digital news platform The Wire as part of a global collaborative investigation, included mobile phones of Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, TMC MP Abhishek Banerjee, political strategist Prashant Kishor, among others.

The stage for an offensive was set before the House proceedings began Tuesday with some Opposition MPs staging a protest against the alleged snooping outside Parliament House and Congress members giving multiple adjournment motion notices on the issue in Lok Sabha and notices for discussion in Rajya Sabha.

While Congress leader KC Venugopal gave a notice under Rule 267 in Rajya Sabha to suspend business and discuss the alleged use of the Pegasus spyware, party MPs Gaurav Gogoi and Hibi Eden gave adjournment notices in Lok Sabha.

Eden, in his notice, said democracy is in crisis: “There are eyes and ears snooping on us everywhere. Even those holding high offices of the government, several senior Opposition leaders, constitutional authorities, reporters and activists are being spied on and their personal conversations being watched, monitored and transferred to unknown locations and people.”

AAP MP Bhagwant Mann protests against farm reform laws during the Monsoon Session of Parliament, in New Delhi, Tuesday, July 20, 2021. (PTI)

“This poses a grave problem to the unity and integrity of India and is a high concern for national security. This grave crisis of snooping into our citizens’ private life goes against the basic ethos of our Constitution whereby the fundamental right to privacy is being violated. I request the Government to constitute an inquiry into the allegations of Pegasus spying into citizens of our country.”

When the Lok Sabha met, Opposition MPs — from the Congress, DMK, TMC, NCP, SP, BSP and YSRCP — stormed the well of the House, holding placards and raising different issues. Congress MPs were holding placards with slogans demanding the resignation of the Prime Minister and Home Minister over the alleged surveillance, and they were joined by the DMK, TMC and NCP members.

TMC’s Saugata Roy tried to speak on the alleged use of the spyware to snoop on his party leader and colleague Abhishek Banerjee.

Speaker Om Birla tried to take up Question Hour, but the protesting MPs shouted slogans against the government. In four minutes, Birla adjourned the proceedings until 2 pm. The House witnessed similar scenes when it met again and it was adjourned for the day at 3 pm.

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