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Trinamool MPs seize statement from IT Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw: Pegasus row

By Ruchi Upadhyay 
Updated Date

New Delhi: On thursday, Trinamool Congress MPs snatched the report from the Minister’s hand and tore it into pieces on the floor of the Rajya Sabha when IT Minister (Ashwini Vaishnaw) was reading a statement on the Pegasus project amid an ongoing row over alleged large scale snooping involving politicians.

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TMC, Congress and other opposition party members, who had earlier forced two adjournments of the proceedings in the Rajya Sabha, rushed into the well of the House as Vaishnaw was called to make a statement on the issue.

Journalist-turned-BJP MP Swapan Dasgupta said: “Some of the TMC MPs took the paper from the hands of the Minister and tore it.
This stopped the minister in his steps from making the statement and he said he was laying a copy of it on the table of the House.

Deputy Chairman Harivansh asked the members to desist from unparliamentary behaviour, before adjourning the proceedings of the House for the day.

“Please do not adhere to this unparliamentary practice,” Harivansh said, adding that the report that all MPs want to hear has now been laid on the table of the House and it can be discussed.

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He called the minister to read his statement and Vaishnaw read out a few sentences before the ruckus drowned his voice and he said he was laying the statement on the table of the House.

“You do not want a discussion on an issue you have been agitated about this is undemocratic,” the deputy chairman remarked.

He said the minister has laid the statement on the table of the House and asked if the MPs want to ask him any questions on that.

But the opposition MPs continued to raise slogans against the alleged snooping controversy.

In the ruckus, the deputy chairman sought laying of the parliamentary committee reports that could not be laid at the scheduled hour in the morning due to opposition protests.

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Soon after, he adjourned the proceedings for the day.

The statement that the minister laid on the table of the House was similar to the one he had made on July 19, a day after reports appeared of journalists, political rivals and critics of the government being targeted through surveillance using Israeli company NSO Group”s Pegasus spyware.

In the statement, Vaishnaw, whose phone number was among those listed as compromised by Washington Post, called the reports an “attempt to malign the Indian democracy and its well-established institutions”.

“A highly sensational story was published by a web portal last night. Many over-the-top allegations made around this story,” he said. “The press reports appeared a day before the monsoon session of Parliament. This can”t be a coincidence.”

“In the past, similar claims were made regarding the use of Pegasus.Those claims had no factual basis and were categorically denied by all parties,” he added.

Amid the ruckus, Vaishnaw implored all members of the House to “examine the issue on facts and logic”.

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The phone numbers of Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, former election commissioner Ashok Lavasa and others were said to be the potential targets of surveillance using the Pegasus spyware, which allows clients to infiltrate phones and monitor text messages, camera feeds and microphones.

Earlier in the day, opposition MPs stalled the proceedings in the Upper House of Parliament, forcing two adjournments.

The proceedings were first adjourned for an hour till 12 noon and then till 2 pm all within minutes.

Congress leader Digvijaya Singh tried to raise the issues of income-tax raids on newspaper group Dainik Bhaskar, but was ignored by the chair.

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