The Pegasus Affair

Justice Markandey Katju-

Justice Markandey Katju

Justice Markandey Katju is a former Judge, Supreme Court of India, and former Chairman, Press Council of India. The views expressed are his own.

The Indian portal has published several articles recently relating to the Pegasus affair.
There are two aspects to the issue, the legal, and the realistic.
Though the Indian Government has not admitted that it purchased the Israeli cyberware, circumstantial evidence points to the direction that it has. Pegasus sells the cyberware only to governments or their agencies, not private persons or private organizations.
The right to privacy has been declared a fundamental right by the Indian Supreme Court, vide K.S.Puttuswamy vs Union of India, so what was done using Pegasus appears illegal. No doubt the right to privacy is not an absolute right, and snooping is legally permissible if the matter being investigated pertains to state security, terrorism, criminal acts, etc, as stated in section 69 of the Indian Information
Technology Act and section 5(2) of the Indian Telegraphs Act. But it cannot legally go beyond that. So what was being done by the Indian Government appears to be illegal.
But the matter has also to be examined from the realistic angle.
Firstly, the Pegasus issue hardly affects the common man in India, whose real issues are massive unemployment, steep price rise of foodstuffs, fuel etc, distress of farmers, appalling level of child malnourishment ( every second child in India is malnourished, according to Global Hunger Index ), almost total lack of proper healthcare for the masses, etc.
The way and some other sections of the media have highlighted the issue is as if heavens will fall due to the Pegasus affair. The truth is that the common man in India is struggling to feed himself and his family, and he is hardly bothered about Pegasus.
Some people say that the Pegasus affair means that democracy is finished in India, as there can now be no free speech. But Indian democracy was largely caste and communal vote banks, in other words, a scarecrow of democracy. Moreover, most people in India want jobs, nourishing food, healthcare, etc, and freedom of speech hardly means anything to them.
Secondly, illegal telephone tapping is nothing new in India. In 2010 the then Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee wrote a letter to the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that his telephone was being tapped by another government department ( probably the Union Home Ministry ).
The then President of India Giani Zail Singh feared many rooms in Rashtrapati Bhawan were bugged ( it was well known that the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi did not have confidence in Zail Singh ).
Thirdly, modern technology has developed so much that snooping cannot be prevented. Pegasus may have been found out, but there may be many other sophisticated tools, appliances and contrivances which may be impossible to detect.
A hue and cry has been raised over the Pegasus issue in the Indian Parliament ( particularly since the UP assembly elections are approaching ), but events are moving fast in India, and the likelihood is that the Pegasus affair will soon be overshadowed by other issues.