The Modi government has takenthe honourable Supreme Court, the 1.3 billion people of this country and all lovers of democracy on a ride by refusing to answer one simple question: whether it used to spy on its own citizens in the name ofnational security. The Supreme Court, which delivered its long-awaited judgment on the controversial Pegasus snooping episode, has indicted the government on both counts.

The court has made it clear that national security cannot be used as an alibi for carrying out tasks thatare inviolation ofconstitutional rights, not

just journalists, who happen to be the aggrieved petitioners, but every citizen of the country, irrespective of who it is. Second, the court has made its displeasure amply clear bypointing out that the government had been

given enough time to come clean on the subject, but it chose to submit a ‘limited affidavit’, which sought to cover up matters in the name of national security. On both counts, it is a terrible loss of face for the Modi

government, ifat allit hasa face worth defending.

By refusing to answer the simple question of whether Pegasus had been used to snoop on journalists, political persons and other people belongingto various walks oflife, the government had in affect admitted its guilt. But true to its basic trait of going into a denial mode whenever faced with embarrassing facts, the Modi government has been going incircles, thereby taking the Supreme Court as well as people of the country on a merry go-round trip. But it has finally lost the game.

At every stage of the progress of hearing on the petitions, the government arguments were falling flat. And yet, it is persisted with its diabolical approach by continuing to stonewall attempts to reach the bottom of the case. At one stage, the government argued that the petitioners could not produce any clear evidence of having been spied upon, despite several third party disclosures to such effect. One needs no knowledge of rocket science to understand that any snooping tool worth its salt willleave no trailof what it does. That is why these tools become top sells. Especially when it comes for a country like Israel, the unchallenged leaders in under-cover operations and technologies, it is a
given that Pegasus would not leave any clues to the victims.

This was one of the most ridiculous arguments the government’s legal officers sought to present inthe court and it is a matter of disgrace that the government’s vulnerability put these people in a situation in which they were called upon to make claims that did not correspond to their stature in the profession.

In their anxiety to defend the government, Modi’s ministers, particularly those concerned withthe related domains, such as information technology, were in effect painting critics with the brush of anti- nationalism. But more than mere positioning, it was an approach the government followed in letter and spirit, when it came to snooping with Pegasus. This meant that the government considered its critics, whether journalists or political persons, as straightawayanti-national. It had made self- preservation and national security freely interchangeable, which the Supreme Court has now ruled as completely unacceptable.
Referring to the ‘Orwellian concern’ of surveillance that has been raised about the use of the snooping tool, thecourt declared that indiscriminate spying of citizens cannot be allowed except in accordance with law. The court pointed out that this is also an important concern for the freedomof the press, which is a vital pillar of the democracy. Potential chillingeffect on the freedom of speech will affect democracy. The court made it clear that constitutional guarantees cannot be diluted by creating political controversies, which is what the government has been trying to do.

As part ofthe diversionarytactics, the government had offered to set up a committee of experts, which it said would study the issue for the benefit of Supreme Court and report back to the court as the government did not want to expose the details for the fear of compromising national security. The court has trashed this argument and decided to set up its own committee under the leadership of eminent retired judge R V Raveendran, who is well-versed inall related domains, and including all independent experts. Here again, the government’s bid to hijack ‘expertise’ to produce a pliable report has fallen through, makingit acomplete washout for the government in the Pegasus case.

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