TMC MP snatches Pegasus statement from IT minister, tears it in Rajya Sabha

Shantanu Sen also accuses Union minister Puri of verbally abusing him

TMC MP snatches Pegasus statement from IT minister, tears it in Rajya Sabha

Communications and Information Technology Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw speaks in Rajya Sabha during the Monsoon Session of Parliament, in New Delhi, on Thursday, July 22, 2021. RSTV/PTI photo

New Delhi, July 22

A Trinamool Congress (TMC) MP snatched papers from Communications and Information Technology Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw in the Rajya Sabha on Thursday and tore those as the minister was about to make a statement on the alleged snooping row using Israeli spyware Pegasus.

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.

TMC MP Shantanu Sen snatched the papers from the hands of the minister, tore and flung those in the air.

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.

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.

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”.

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.

TMC MP accuses Union minister Puri of verbally abusing him

TMC MP Shantanu Sen has alleged that Union Minister Hardeep Puri verbally abused him in the Rajya Sabha and was on the verge of physically assaulting him before he was rescued by his colleagues.

Sen, who snatched and tore Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw’s speech on the Pegasus issue as he was reading it out in the Rajya Sabha, claimed Puri even gesticulated rudely at him.

“The union minister threatened me and abused me. He was about to assault me when my other colleagues came to my rescue,” alleged Sen in a press conference. PTI

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