BJP, Cong trade barbs over Rahul’s Pegasus remarks at Cambridge University

Referring to the controversial Pegasus snooping issue, Gandhi alleged that the Israeli spyware was installed on the phones of a large number of politicians, including him.

New Delhi: Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s remarks at Cambridge University that he was under surveillance triggered a political slugfest on Friday with the BJP accusing him of maligning India on foreign soil and the Congress hitting back by citing instances of Prime Minister Narendra Modi raking up internal politics abroad.

Gandhi, who is a visiting fellow of the Cambridge Judge Business School, during a lecture ‘Learning to Listen in the 21st Century’ on Tuesday evening said Indian democracy is under attack and several politicians, including himself, are under surveillance.

Referring to the controversial Pegasus snooping issue, Gandhi alleged that the Israeli spyware was installed on the phones of a large number of politicians, including him.

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“I, myself, had Pegasus on my phone. A large number of politicians have Pegasus on their phones. I’ve been called by intelligence officers who say please be careful what you say on the phone because we are sort of recording this stuff. So, this is a constant pressure that we feel,” the 52-year-old former Congress chief claimed at the lecture, a video recording of which was posted on Twitter by Congress leader Sam Pitroda, ex-adviser to former prime minister Manmohan Singh.

Reacting to the remarks, Union Minister Anurag Thakur hit out at Gandhi over his claims of being under surveillance by intelligence agencies and accused him of maligning India on foreign soil after facing successive electoral setbacks. “Pegasus is not in Rahul Gandhi’s phone but in his mind,” he said.

Thakur wondered what prevented Gandhi and other Congress leaders from submitting their phones to a Supreme Court-appointed technical committee that probed the Pegasus snooping issue.

“We can understand his hatred towards the prime minister, but the conspiracy to malign the country on foreign soil with the help of foreign friends raises questions on the agenda of the Congress,” the information and broadcasting minister told reporters here.

Thakur said Gandhi was aware of the electoral rout the Congress was facing in the assembly elections and had resorted to levelling allegations from foreign soil.

“Once again, the Congress lost in the elections but their bankruptcy was evident when they lost no opportunity to malign India from foreign soil,” he said.

Hitting back at Thakur and the BJP for its criticism of Gandhi, the Congress cited instances of Prime Minister Modi going abroad and allegedly raising internal politics and criticising the Congress.

“I have seen those foolish statements given by Anurag ‘Golimaaro’ Thakur,” Congress spokesperson Supriya Shrinate said in an apparent reference to the ‘Golimaro’ slogans purportedly raised at a public meeting of Thakur last year.

She urged the information and broadcasting minister him to listen to Gandhi’s full lecture.

On BJP’s criticism that Gandhi was “maligning” the country from foreign soil, Shrinate said the kind of statements Modi had made in places such as Shanghai, Toronto, California, Seoul and Abu Dhabi on internal politics and against the leading Opposition party of the country, if those are recounted then the BJP will have no place to hide.

If they listen to Rahul Gandhi’s lecture, they would get to know that he has talked about democracy and how the media, judiciary and the Opposition are intimidated and how it is important for agencies to remain impartial, she said.

“He (Gandhi) has talked about strengthening democracy. Those who give statements of ‘Golimaaro’ from stage and become cabinet minister from minister of state, they can never understand the meaning of these remarks,” she said.

Congress’ head of media and publicity department Pawan Khera said the party would like to advise the BJP that they should stop such activities which are shameful to even discuss.

“So if they stop doing such activities, we will stop discussing them. There is an allegation on you (BJP) took the help of Israel to snoop into the phones of Opposition and your own leaders. They don’t feel ashamed of that, but if it is discussed they feel shame,” he said.

The BJP thinks that England will not find out about their raid on BBC if the Congress does not discuss it, he said.

“We are living in a different era we are not living in the 17th or 18th century where news travelled at the speed of a camel cart or at the speed of a pigeon. Now if I am talking to you anybody sitting in Papua New Guinea can hear me out,” Khera said.

In an apparent swipe at Prime Minister Modi, Khera claimed that from foreign soil he made fun of the country. “The kind of activities you are involved in, you should first be ashamed of that. We will stop discussing them then so that you don’t feel ashamed,” the Congress leader said.

Earlier, the BJP made light of Rahul Gandhi’s allegation that he was being snooped upon, saying the Congress leader was “hallucinating” and makes such claims as he wants to create headlines wherever he goes.

“What we can say for Rahul Gandhi’s hallucinations. If he makes his (Congress) MoU with China public, we will be interested and people of India will also like to know. Who is interested in his telephonic conversations,” BJP spokesperson Tom Vadakkan told reporters.

Vadakkan noted that the Supreme Court has closed the Pegasus matter.

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