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Politics Over Pegasus

WebdeskJul 28, 2021, 05:53 PM IST

Politics Over Pegasus

Dr T H Chowdary

The Opposition’s ruckus in the current session of Parliament regarding Pegasus is a farce. India should weaponise software in order to exfiltrate information not only from smartphones but even from the IT networks and the websites and IT devices of whichever individual or party it wants to target


The Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha could not transact any business on July 19 and 20, 2021 because the opposition parties disrupted the sessions by the well-known practice of sloganeering,   shouting and rushing into the well of the presiding officers -- Speaker in the Lok Sabha and  Chairman in the Rajya Sabha. The issue was whether the Government has used  the Israel-developed Pegasus malware to break into  the telephones of targeted  persons  in the opposition whether in Parliament or State Assembly or activists  of different  hues, engaged in disruptive activities against the interest of the nation and the Indian State. 

The fundamental issue to be considered is what is the use of technology if it cannot serve the interest of persons, parties, businesses, activists and hostile states. Information is the greatest resource in the armoury of any person engaged in any contest whether in peace or at war. Technology, especially Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) are now extensively  being developed and used in almost every type of human activity – education, war, business, politics, activism,  intelligence  gatherings, spying, crime  control as well as committing  crime. Similarly, the IT tool Pegasus is a powerful weapon to gather information.  Information is the basis for any effective activity. 

Politics is for gaining and retaining power in a multi-party democracy as well as in dictatorships. The party in power or the opposition which wants to pull down the incumbent necessarily uses information for the purpose. Pulling down Government is a practice almost perfected by the Indian National Congress especially when it was headed by Indira Gandhi. In the late 1950s, as President of the Congress party she organised mass rallies to pull down the first ever Communist Government in the country in the State of Kerala with EMS Namboodiripad as Chief Minister. The methods she adopted were traditional huge rallies, denunciations, strikes, bandhs, etc. She pulled down the Janata Government in 1979 by splitting the Janata Dal. She extended Congress support from outside to Charan Singh to become the Prime Minister. 

Within a few months she felled  out the Charan Singh Government  by withdrawing  support   Rajiv Gandhi  helped Chandra Sekhar to split and pull  down the Government  headed by VP Singh in 1990-‘91. After a few months Rajiv Gandhi withdrew his party’s support to Chandra  Sekhar  on the  flimsy ground that Chandra Sekhar  deployed  spies on him.  When the Congress staged a comeback to power in the elections in 1980 the Janata Dal Chief Minister Bhajan Lal in Haryana overnight converted his party wholesale into Congress party to escape dismissal and inquiries. Therefore, in India it has been very common for politicians to engineer splits and pull down governments and grab power. They have to use money and honey-traps even and every device that Chanakya advocated in his Artha Sastra in order to detect enemies’ conspiracies and overcome them. 

Seeking, attaining and retaining power is a legitimate activity in democracy but over a period in our country it has become an activity without ethics and scruples. Every types of devices are used to gather information and use it to achieve one’s ends. Retaining power is becoming more and more difficult. New systems like herding supporters into five-star hotels in a city of favourable administration are one of the devices. Which  legislator is  hobnobbing with whom is to be gathered  and for that information  with whom he is talking and who is fishing for whom is to be known and it is here that breaking into the  telephone conversation and recording them has become  essential. Information about the dissidents or conspirators illegal, immoral and fraudulent actions can be obtained without any physical involvement but through the deployment of IT tools like injecting malware into their smart telephones. 

IT tools are being developed in order to wage wars and destroy the enemies. Weaponisation of software and militerisation of space is an activity in which China, America, Israel, Korea and Iran are   extensively engaged. Israel, a tiny nation  of less than 10 million people, with some congenitally inimical  population within the state and surrounded by a score of  nation states sworn to destroy it, is surviving by its   use  of  superior weapon, software. For eg: it thwarts Iran’s development of nuclear weapons and missiles by disabling the Uranium processing centrifuges remotely by injecting malware into their control systems. It has been able to target individual scientists by use of its software for surveillance and killing them.

India, too, is perforce having to weaponise software in order to exfiltrate information not only from smartphones but even from the  IT networks and the websites and IT devices of  whichever individual or party it wants to target. Almost every party which wants to gain power will be engaged in this game. Therefore, the opposition’s ruckus in the current session of Parliament regarding Pegasus is a farce. We can expect much more  extensive development and use of software in the  weeks and months to come, especially by artful political hawkers and brokers like the one how  is engaged  by some political parties in the last few elections in India.

(The writer is a Padma Sree awardee, chairman of Prajna Bharati and founder of Center for Telecom management & Studies) 




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