Countering the criticism by the Opposition Monday over a report on the use of Israeli Pegasus spyware, Union Home Minister Amit Shah questioned 'the timing of the selective leaks' ahead of the Monsoon Session of Parliament and called the findings of the collaborative project a "report by the disrupters for the obstructers".
Alleging that the report was timed to cause disruption in Parliament proceedings, Shah used a phrase his critics have often used to target him: "Aap chronology samjhiye (understand the chronology)."
Shah, in a press release on Monday, said, "People have often associated this phrase with me in lighter vein but today I want to seriously say — the timing of the selective leaks, the disruptions. Aap Chronology Samajhiye! This is a report by the disrupters for the obstructers."
In a hard-hitting statement, Shah said that the report about the alleged snooping has been amplified by a few whose only aim is to do whatever is possible to humiliate India at the world stage.
"This is a report by the disrupters for the obstructers. Disrupters are global organisations that do not like India to progress. Obstructers are political players in India who do not want India to progress. People of India are very good at understanding this chronology and connection," he said.
Shah's comments added to a snowballing scandal of spyware allegedly used to hack phones between 2017 and 2019. Among the names on the list of potential targets of snooping is Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, Trinamool Congress leader Abhishek Banerjee and election strategist Prashant Kishor. Two union ministers, Prahlad Patel and Ashwini Vaishnaw, are also on the list.
BJP hits back
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Monday slammed the Congress over its attack on the Central government over the Pegasus snooping row, and claimed that there is not a "shred of evidence" to link either the ruling party or the Narendra Modi dispensation with the matter.
Addressing a press conference, senior BJP leader Ravi Shankar Prasad also questioned the credentials of those behind the story, alleging that The Wire, the news portal which broke it in India, had been earlier associated with stories which have been found to be "incorrect" while Amnesty International has a declared "anti-India" agenda in many ways.
Those who broke the story themselves said that the presence of a particular number in the database does not confirm that it is infected with Pegasus, he said while questioning the timing of the story coming as it did a day before Parliament's Monsoon session began on Monday.
He also brushed aside a question on the Congress' demands for Home Minister Amit Shah' resignation and probe against Modi, and accused the Opposition party of hitting a "new low" in making baseless allegations in a manner that was bereft of any political propriety.
With the Congress "shrinking and losing", the entire row is timed to disrupt Parliament and build a baseless agenda, he said.
Prasad said, "The BJP strongly refutes and condemns the baseless and bereft of political propriety comments levelled by Congress against the BJP. This is a new low in the political discourse of a party that has ruled India for over 50 years."
He added, "Our IT Minister confirmed today that for lawful interceptions of electronic communication can only be made as per relevant rules under provisions of Sec 5(2) of Indian Telegraph Act, 1885 & Sec 69 of Information Technology Act 2000. Any form of illegal surveillance isn't possible with checks & balances in our laws and robust institutions," he said.
The report has been published by The Wire news portal from India as also 16 other international publications including Washington Post, The Guardian and Le Monde, as media partners to an investigation conducted by Paris-based media non-profit organisation Forbidden Stories and rights group Amnesty International into a leaked list of more than 50,000 phone numbers from across the world that are believed to have been the target of surveillance through Pegasus software of Israeli surveillance company NSO Group.
Congress accuses govt of 'treason'
Opposition parties sharpened their attack on the government over the alleged phone-tapping of prominent personalities in the country using Israeli Pegasus spyware and demanded an independent judicial or parliamentary committee probe.
Accusing the government of "treason" and compromising on national security over the Pegasus spyware issue, the Congress demanded on Monday action against Shah and a probe into the "role of prime minister" in the entire matter.
Addressing a joint press conference with other party leaders, Congress chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said the Congress will take all Opposition parties on-board over the issue and decide on whether to ask for a judicial or parliamentary probe in the matter.
"The person responsible for deployment of this illegal spyware Pegasus is no less than the home minister, who must be sacked," he said. "Our first demand is the immediate sacking of Minister of Home and Internal security Amit Shah and a probe into the role of the prime minister in the matter."
Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge seconded the demand.
With inputs from PTI