West Bengal became the first state to order an inquiry into the explosive Pegasus spying row that rocked the nation. An international investigative consortium had reported that India was among the users of Israeli spyware that hacks into mobile phones converting them into 24x7 spies for the government. A two-member commission of inquiry comprising retired judges will look into how such alleged hacking was done and who were the persons behind it. A French non-profit named Forbidden Stories and Amnesty International had taken up investigation in association with media outlets to suss out the truth behind whistleblowing on suspected large-scale government spying that shows no concern for the rights of individuals.
The move by West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee may be just another arrow in a war between the Opposition and the Centre but it is a shrewd political move because New Delhi has shown no inclination to probe the allegations that the Pegasus Project software can become a masterly spy at the government’s behest. The President of France, Emmanuel Macron, has taken up the issue with the Israeli PM Naftali Bennett but India’s reaction to what appears to be an international spying scandal showed keenness only in sweeping things under the carpet. An independent judicial commission or parliamentary panel set up by the Centre would have been appropriate to probe whether there was any basis to reports of concerted spying activity on journalists, activists, political leaders from the Opposition, political analysts and businessmen.
The Commission of Inquiry Act, 1952, has a provision for the Centre or states to order such a probe. Given political considerations, any report of a state-appointed commission is likely to be met with cynicism by those who are accused of resorting to spying. This may only be a game of oneupmanship in which Bengal has taken the lead. To get to the bottom of global allegations would have been the responsibility of a nation accused of espionage of its own citizens. What happens if the nation itself is guilty of such subterfuge is a query that defies clear answers.