Pegasus: A verdict for democracy


Shashi Tharoor


COLUMN

I Mean What I Say


Our hopes, therefore, rest with the committee now appointed by the Supreme Court. May the truth emerge, and justice be done.

The Supreme Court’s decision to set up a committee to probe the Pegasus affair is welcome. It is what I called for from the very start when the scandal erupted, even though I head the parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology. For two years now my Committee has been conducting discussions on “Citizens’ data privacy and security” and “cyber security”, topics that also featured in its agenda under the previous Chairman, BJP’s Anurag Thakur. The Pegasus issue therefore clearly falls under the purview of the IT Committee and within these subjects on its agenda. So it surprised many that from the outset, rather than support calls for an investigation led by the IT Committee or by a Joint Parliamentary Committee, I declared that a Supreme Court-monitored investigation would the only way forward.

But the reason for my demand then, and my applause now, is not hard to seek. It is no secret that the Committee’s meeting on its established agenda was disrupted by BJP members who did not want Pegasus to be discussed. It was unprecedented for ten members to attend and to refuse to sign the register in order to deny the Committee a quorum. For good measure the three officials who were to testify before the Committee that day (the IT, Telecoms and Home Secretaries) appear to have been instructed not to attend, making last-minute excuses, which is a grievous assault on the prerogatives of parliamentary committees to summon witnesses. Accountability to Parliament is a cornerstone of our democracy, but it is increasingly being tossed aside in the current regime’s headlong rush to what has been dubbed “elected autocracy”.

Despite this disappointing approach, I am hopeful that the Supreme Court-appointed committee, headed by a respected judge (Justice Raveendran) and with credible, non-controversial members, would be able to address the question better than a committee of politicians in parliament would have. The judiciary has powers, and a degree of immunity from politics, that would make it better suited than a committee of MPs, with their understandable political interests, to explore all aspects of the Pegasus question.

In saying this I am not joining those who decry Parliament as an institution. The government’s reprehensible behaviour in refusing to debate an issue of grievous national-security concern in Parliament is far more serious than the implications of this specific issue. The government’s refusal to be answerable in any way, shape, or form on an issue of national and international importance, has made a mockery of democracy and of the ordinary Indians the government claims to represent. Avoiding discussion and accountability is the real insult to parliament, not the legislature being bypassed by the judiciary as a result.