PM must make statement in Parliament, clarify whether snooping was done: Chidambaram on Pegasus row

New Delhi: Senior Congress leader P Chidambaram on Sunday said the government should either call for a joint parliamentary committee probe into the Pegasus snooping allegations or request the Supreme Court to appoint a sitting judge to investigate the matter, and demanded that Prime Minister Narendra Modi make a statement in Parliament clarifying whether there had been surveillance or not.
The former home minister said he was not sure that one can go to the extent of saying that the entire electoral mandate of 2019 was vitiated by the “unlawful snooping” but added that it may have “helped” the BJP to score that victory which has been “tainted” by the allegations.
In an interview with PTI, Chidambaram also said a probe by a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) can be more effective than an investigation by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology, asserting that the former would be more empowered by Parliament.
Asked about Parliament IT panel head Shashi Tharoor’s remarks that the subject is “already on the mandate of my committee” and a JPC is not required, Chidambaram expressed doubts whether the IT panel with a majority of BJP members will allow a full investigation into the matter.
“The parliamentary committee rules are rather strict. For example they cannot take evidence openly but a JPC can be empowered by Parliament to take evidence in public view, to cross examine witnesses, and to summon documents. So I think a JPC will have far more powers than a parliamentary committee,” he said.
At the same time, he said he is not diminishing the role of the parliamentary committee to the extent it can probe the matter and is welcome to do so.
Last Sunday, an international media consortium reported that over 300 verified Indian mobile phone numbers, including of two ministers, over 40 journalists, three opposition leaders besides scores of businesspersons and activists in India, could have been targeted for hacking through the Pegasus spyware of the Israeli firm NSO.
The government has been denying all Opposition allegations in the matter.
On the government’s response to the allegations, Chidambaram referred to IT and Communications Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw statement in Parliament, saying he is obviously a very “clever minister” and therefore the statement has been “very cleverly worded”.
“He (Vaishnaw) denies that there was any unauthorised surveillance. He does not deny that there was surveillance. He does not deny that there was authorised surveillance. Surely the minister knows the difference between authorised surveillance and unauthorised surveillance,” the Congress leader said.
Posing questions for the government, he asked whether there was surveillance at all and whether snooping was done through Pegasus.
“If Pegasus spyware was used, who acquired it? Was it acquired by the government or by one of its agencies,” he asked. —PTI

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