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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 32, New Delhi, July 24, 2021

Letter to the Readers, Mainstream, July 24, 2021

Friday 23 July 2021

Letter to the Readers, Mainstream, July 24, 2021

The week began with major news of hack-in of phones using Pegasus spyware provided by NSO an Israeli Defence company (which licenses its technology to Governments only for counter-terrorism); this hacking of personal phones happened world wide on the journalists and on politicians etc. An international consortium of seventeen news media sites and newspapers in coordination with the Paris based Forbidden Stories and Amnesty International simultaneously released stories & reports at multiple locations. On July18 The Wire the Indian member of this consortium, reported that Pegasus had allegedly been used to spy on some 300 Indian phones, which included 40 senior journalists, officials and rights activists. Internationally, telephone numbers linked to many heads of states and Govt’s, including Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, French President Emmanuel Macron, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa and Tibetan Spiritual leader Dalai Lama were found to be among the targets with least 180 journalists in 20 countries that include Hungary, Azarbaijan, Morocco, South Africa, France. The prosecutor’s office in Paris has opened an official investigation into allegations of use of the Pegasus spyware used to hack the devices of journalists, elected officials and activists.

The list of targets in India includes 40 journalists, India’s leader of the opposition, his aides and nephew of Bengal chief minister, an election strategist, two ministers in the Modi Government, Constitutional Appointees like former Election Commissioner and a former Chief of the CBI – a federal investigation agency, a top virologist and a woman (and her family) who complained of sexual harassment by a former Chief Justice of India, and a top leader of the Naga insurgents with whom the Government is in Peace negotiations. Such a list clearly indicates that this surveillance was not driven by any concerns of national security but more based on gathering dirt and private information for use in negotiations, to understand the opponents strategy and for one-upmanship and possible blackmail. Spying and phone tapping is an old game and wont go away. Intelligence agencies have used them and will continue to use them and keep it all under wraps. There has to be greater awareness raised in society to protect privacy.

Under the Information Technology Act in India, hacking is a crime and the supposed use of such spyware to take control and hack into phones of hundreds of people is an offense. The Narendra Modi Government in India has denied any un-authorised surveillance reported in the face of Pegasus spyware stories. If the Indian Government is not involved was some foreign government poking its nose? India’s opposition parties are justified in demanding an investigation, but the Government seems in no mood to allow any inquiry. Not just denial the ruling party politicians have gone on a offensive claiming all this is hogwash and an international conspiracy. Not the slightest suggestion there could be something wrong and that the people indulging in such spying could be its victims tomorrow. The BJP, India’s Ruling party keeps beating the drum to market themselves as democrats who challenged the black spot on India’s democracy – the Emergency interregnum of 1975-77; In international fora India presents it self as the largest democracy in the world. Any democracy worth its name would order an enquiry to check if there is any wrongdoing. No chance of this happening if you hear the statement of India’s Home Minister in response to the Pegasus project reportage. This Pegasus story is just an international conspiracy to defame India says Adityanath the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, India’s largest state. So, some 17 prestigious newspapers from around the world had teamed up to defame India? The world wide story about snooping on Statesmen to journalists is all fake ?

As we have seen in the past years, They can deny anything or just discredit it, and get away with it. In March 2020 the then Health Minister of India made a public statement saying: ‘Coronavirus is not a health emergency’. In summer 2020 the Government declared in a self congratulatory manner to the world that it had successfully contained Covid. In, April 2021 Financial Times estimated that there had been huge under-reporting of Covid death count in India. The Government dismissed all such reports as not credible. In April-May 2021 the Indian media was full of reports of an uprecedented oxygen crisis for Covid patients. The Government demanded that the social media firm Twitter take down Tweets critical of the Government response; at that time Government of UP even started criminal proceedings against some persons complaining of oxygen shortages in Hospitals in the state. Independent journalists, data modelers did signal service by bringing to public notice the huge death toll during the Covid-19 second wave in India. And on July 20, 2021, the new Health Minister made a shocking statement in the Upper House of Parliament that ‘there were no deaths due to lack of oxygen’ (https://youtu.be/oics7UrbqrM). The Government may deny but here is some documentation on oxygen shortage deaths (see also: The truth about oxygen deaths during Covid second wave by Aditi Priya, Sweta Dash, Krushna Ranaware | Indian Express, July 7, 2021) which allows us to challenge it with facts.

On a lighter note, since the new norm is on your face brazenness, they might as well say in response to the Pegasus spying stories: “Bhaiyon aur Behnon, Sabka Number Aaeyga!” (Brothers and Sisters, … Everybody’s Turn Will Come!)

Bye The Way, the official figures on the numbers of Covid deaths in India from March 2020 on are around 418000, but a new US study which has just been published and which is co-authored by Arvind Subramanian, a former Chief Economic Advisor (CEA) to the Modi Government has estimated that that between 3 million to 4.9 million may have died in India from Covid-19 between January 2020 and June 2021. Let us hope that Subramanian doesn’t land in jail on charges of misinformation and sedition.

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All of July 22, 2021 has seen income tax raids on media group Dainik Bhaskar and the TV network Bharat Samachar, both did fine reportage on the Covid 19 deaths in the state of Uttar Pradesh. The reportage was so good that The New York Times commissioned an English language op-ed by Dainik Bhaskar’s editor. This comment critical of the Government and all the searing reportage over Covid-19 deaths is seemingly the cause of the tax raids. We stand with them and for right to freedom of expression of all media persons.

Tributes:

Danish Siddiqui the very talented Indian photo journalist with Reuters who was a winner of the Pultzer Prize in 2018, died on July 16, 2021, in Afghanistan, while on an assignment to report on the situation on the Afghanistan and Pakistan border.

We pay our tributes to him

July 24, 2021 – The Editors

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