Modi Govt Calls Pegasus Snooping Episode "Fake News"

For the past two weeks, India's political elite has been embroiled in harsh recriminations over the disclosure that the country's Narendra Modi-led government has unlawfully surveilled opponents across the political spectrum using the Pegasus spyware. Left-wing activists, major opposition leaders, and even government officials have all been targeted by Modi and the high command of his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for various reasons.

Opposition protests seeking a comprehensive parliamentary discussion and an independent inquiry into the espionage have mostly delayed the Monsoon session of India's parliament, which began on July 19. Meanwhile, Modi and his associates have blasted the opposition for disseminating "fake news," "maligning Indian democracy," and "defaming India," while glaringly refusing to officially deny the Indian state has been using Pegasus to spy on BJP opponents.

The Israeli-based NSO Group developed the Pegasus spyware tool, which claims to sell it solely to "vetted nations" with Israeli government clearance. Amnesty International and the Paris-based media group Forbidden Stories obtained leaked data of thousands of phone numbers that NSO Group clients had picked for possible monitoring earlier this month, revealing its widespread usage, including by India's government. They then shared the lists with 16 international media partners.

There are at least 1,000 Indian phone numbers on the list of possible NSO monitoring targets. About 300 of them were classified as prospective targets for monitoring between 2017-19, according to The Wire. The identities of the people targeted make it clear that the surveillance was ordered from within the Modi government's inner circle. “The list includes numbers used by around 40 journalists who share nothing but a critical posture towards Mr. Modi's government,” the Economist said in an overview of those targeted.

Some belong to Rahul Gandhi, the Congress Party's leader, and his personal acquaintances. Others belong to members of Mr. Modi's family, as well as a political strategist credited with state-level victories against Mr. Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party and a former top election commissioner who advocated punishing Mr. Modi for breaking election laws during the 2019 general election. Figures from within the government, including at least two BJP ministers, prominent civil employees, and a number of senior security officers, may have been targeted as well.

The BJP administration has reacted to the opposition parties' attempts to compel an independent investigation of state surveillance by telling outright falsehoods, stonewalling, and pointing out that past Congress-led governments spied on their opponents as well. As the opposition continued to interrupt parliamentary sessions on Friday, the administration vowed to ignore established parliamentary processes in order to force through a slew of regressive bills without debate.

The Pegasus exposé is unsurprising, given the Indian bourgeoisie's long history of abusing democratic rights. The Modi government has accelerated the implementation of pro-investor “reforms,” while whipping up Hindu communalism and using trumped-up charges, including sedition and terrorist offences under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), to victimise opponents. The Modi government came to power in 2014 general elections by exploiting mass anger against the previous Congress-led government.