As a part of the series on the Pegasus project, that the contact number of Ashwini Vaishnaw, newly inducted by prime minister Narendra Modi as his minister of communications, electronics and information technology, and railways, was among the 300 verified Indian numbers listed as “potential targets” by the Israel-based NSO group.
The revelations came as Vaishnaw made a speech during the monsoon session of Parliament on the Pegasus leaks, where he said "over the top allegations" were being levelled to malign Indian democracy, .
But the Wire report notes that in the latest cabinet reshuffle, Rajya Sabha MP Vaishnaw “appears to have been targeted for possible surveillance back in 2017, when he had not yet taken the plunge in favour of the BJP”. The Wire reported that "another number, apparently listed in the name of his wife, also appears to have been selected".
The list also names Prahlad Singh Patel, minister of state for jal shakti; Pradeep Awasthi, the personal secretary to Rajasthan's former chief minister Vasundhara Raje Scindia; and Sanjay Kachroo, who worked as an officer on special duty for Smriti Irani in her first years as union minister in the Modi government from 2014-2015. The list also includes junior politicians linked to the BJP and VHP leader Pravin Togadia.
The Pegasus revelations began last night with 17 news organisations, including the Wire, whose phones were possibility infected with the Pegasus spyware. The news organisations have collaborated with the Paris-based nonprofit Forbidden Stories and Amnesty's Security Lab, both of which have access to a list of over 50,000 cellphone numbers “concentrated in countries known to surveil their citizens and also known to have been clients of NSO Group”.
As the Wire reported, last week, Vaishnaw's ministry "issued a formal response to the Pegasus Project media consortium denying that any of the individuals mentioned to the PMO in advance had been spied upon." The report added that in the "absence of forensics" on the phones associated with numbers on the leaked database, it was "not possible to conclusively establish whether Pegasus was successfully deployed against Vaishnaw".
The Wire also called Vaishnaw's inclusion in the database "surprising": "His election to the Rajya Sabha in June 2019 brought rival parties BJP and the ruling Biju Janata Dal together...As a result, BJP got Vaishnaw elected unopposed on its own ticket. Reportedly, both Modi and Shah knew him since his days in Vajpayee’s office, and had marked him out for a bigger role."
During his speech in Parliament today, reports on the Pegasus leaks were "based on 'misleading interpretation' of leaked data from basic information".