Fourteen opposition parties, led by the Congress, met in Delhi today to chalk out a strategy to take on the government over the Pegasus phone-hacking scandal, which has triggered massive protests in, and forced repeated adjournments of, the monsoon session of parliament.
Rahul Gandhi – whose name is on the list of alleged surveillance targets – was part of the meeting, as were leaders from the Shiv Sena, the CPI and CPM, the Rashtriya Janata Dal, the AAP and DMK.
The NCP, the Samajwadi Party, the National Conference and the Muslim League also took part, as did the Revolutionary Socialist Party, Kerala Congress, and the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi.
The meeting was chaired by the Congress’ Mallikarjun Kharge, the Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, and took place in his chambers.
Sources told news agency PTI Mr Gandhi said the government was trying to defame the opposition by accusing them of not allowing parliament to function. Mr Gandhi, sources added, stressed that the opposition only wanted to raise issues that affect people and will continue to do so.
A joint press conference was expected at 12.30 pm, but this will now take place at 1.15 pm.
— Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) July 28, 2021
Mr Gandhi attended a similar meeting – of opposition leaders from the Lok Sabha – Tuesday evening.
Today’s meet comes after Prime Minister Modi slammed the Congress for “not letting parliament run”.
The Prime Minister accused the opposition party of deliberately spurning attempts at resolving an impasse that has seen Parliament conduct almost no work in this session. The Lok Sabha was adjourned a staggering nine times yesterday, amid continuous protests by opposition MPs.
Today’s meeting comes after seven opposition parties wrote to President Ram Nath Kovind on Tuesday, asking him to direct the centre to discuss Pegasus and farmers’ protests in parliament.
The letter was signed by Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party, the Rashtriya Loktantrik Party, the Akali Dal, the National Conference, and the CPI and CPIM, as well as Sharad Pawar’s NCP.
“We, members of parliament (MPs) of various political parties, are writing to you to seek an appointment to apprise you of two disturbing developments, including the complete stonewalling of demands of the peasantry to repeal the three agricultural laws as well as use of Israeli spyware Pegasus to tape telephones of politicians, journalists and activists,” the letter read.
The Congress was not a signatory to that letter.
The Congress has, however, insisted the centre is to blame for the non-functioning of parliament, as it is not agreeing to opposition parties’ “united” demand for a discussion on the Pegasus issue.
Demands for the Pegasus row to be discussed in parliament have also come from Bengal’s ruling Trinamool Congress. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee met the Prime Minister in Delhi yesterday and, among other issues, pitched for a Supreme Court-led inquiry into the allegations.
Ms Banerjee, whose nephew and Trinamool MP Abhishek Banerjee is also among the potential targets, has already announced a judicial panel to investigate the Pegasus row.
The centre has refused to order a probe into the Pegasus allegations, insisting surveillance of the alleged kind is impossible given existing checks and balances within the country’s legal framework.
With input from PTI
Disclaimer: The NSO group which sells Pegasus to governments and government agencies only, says it is not connected to the leaked database of phone numbers. The Indian government has said there is “no substance” in these reports.