Chhattisgarh’s ruling Congress has launched a searing attack on former chief minister and Bharatiya Janata Party leader Raman Singh over the Pegasus espionage case. CM Bhupesh Baghel and state Congress president Mohan Markam have alleged that representatives of the Israeli cyber intelligence firm NSO Group that makes the spyware visited the state in 2017 and met people linked to the government when the BJP was in power. The party also organised a rally on Thursday and gave a memorandum to governor Anusuiya Uikey for an investigation into the matter. Raman Singh called the allegations “irrational, baseless and false”.
Over the past few days, an international media consortium comprising publications like The Washington Post, and The Wire in India, have put out reports alleging that the Narendra Modi government and other clients of the NSO Group used its Pegasus spyware to hack, or try to hack, phones of opposition leaders, journalists, human rights activists, judges, and others around the world. Several Congress leaders, including Rahul Gandhi, two union ministers, Trinamool Congress leader Abhishek Banerjee and some 40 journalists, were purportedly among those whose phone numbers were listed as potential targets for hacking through the tech tool. The Indian government has, however, denied the accusations.
Chhattisgarh Congress spokesperson RP Singh brought the issue to the fore in the state, alleging that the Raman Singh government had also made efforts in 2017 to acquire the Pegasus software.
Chief minister Baghel then said that information was received about people associated with the NSO Group visiting Chhattisgarh and contacting some people here. “For this, we have constituted an inquiry committee. It is certain that those people had come, but with whom they met, what happened and what was the deal, the information about it has not been found. Dr Raman Singh, tell us who had come and with whom the deal was done. The country has the right to know how much the deal was for and for how many days the espionage took place,” said the CM at a press conference.
As Raman Singh asked why the issue was being raked up after four years, Baghel said that this had already happened earlier. He also pointed out that the NSO Group maintains that it provides Pegasus only to governments around the world and asked the Centre to disclose whether a deal was done or not. “If the deal was done, how much was it for, with whom and for how many days? The government should tell for what purpose the spying of ministers, opposition politicians and journalists was done. The country has the right to know this. It is being learned that some people of Chhattisgarh have also been spied on,” he said.
State Congress chief Mohan Markam said that in 2017 some people from the NSO Group had come to Chhattisgarh, and they had discussions with the Raman Singh government and police officials. He cited some news reports to back his charge. He said the Baghel government constituted a committee in 2019 to investigate this, and it was revealed that all the documents related to that meeting had been burnt.
As a Congress delegation submitted a memorandum to the governor regarding an investigation, Markam said it is the responsibility of every government to protect the fundamental rights of the citizens of the country. “The central government has killed democracy, so we have submitted a memorandum through the governor to the President. The Congress has demanded an inquiry into it.”
Congress officials and workers marched from Rajiv Bhawan in Raipur to the Raj Bhavan where they were stopped by police. Party workers then shouted slogans and after a while, the delegation was allowed to enter the governor’s house.
Former chief minister Raman Singh, meanwhile, hit back, saying that holding a press conference over a 2017 issue in 2021 can happen only in Chhattisgarh. “If there isn’t complete information, a press conference should not be held,” he said. “When a call comes from the high commission of Sonia Gandhi from Delhi, both of them (Baghel and Markam) go for a press conference. You have the government, you have the police… Such allegations are irrational, baseless and false. Tapping like this has been the culture and tradition of the Congress. The BJP has no hand in any such incident at the Centre or in Chhattisgarh.”
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