According to one source, the phone numbers of key NSCN (IM) commanders were added to a list of espionage targets as part of the Pegasus project

According to one source, the phone numbers of key NSCN (IM) commanders were added to a list of espionage targets as part of the Pegasus project

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  • The NSCN (I-M) has fought an insurgency against the Indian government for decades and signing the agreement was widely considered to be the first step in solving the six-decades-old Naga political issue.

  • By: Express Web Desk | New Delhi |
    Updated: July 21, 2021 9:41:36 pm
    Project PegasusThe Indian list of 300 “verified” numbers includes those used by “ministers, opposition leaders, journalists, the legal community, businessmen, government officials, scientists, rights activists and others”, the investigation by the collaborative project has revealed.
    Less than two years after the Centre signed a framework agreement with the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (NSCN-Isak Muivah) in 2015, in what was considered to be a big step towards ending Naga militancy and bringing peace to the region, the phone numbers of several top NSCN(I-M) leaders were added to the database for potential surveillance through the Pegasus spyware, The Wire reported on Wednesday.

Among the NSCN (I-M) leaders whose names were found on the database are Atem Vashum, Apam Muivah, Anthony Shimray, and Phunthing Shimrang, The Wire reported.

The number of Naga National Political Groups (NNPG) convenor N. Kitovi Zhimomi, who was also a key player in efforts to bring peace to the region, was also added to the list in 2017.

Vashum was widely considered to be the successor of NSCN (I-M) chairman Th. Muivah. While Shimrang was the former commander in chief of the NSCN (I-M)’s Naga Army, Shimray was the commander in chief of the NSCN (I-M)’s ‘military operations’ in 2017. Vashum and Apam had taken part in discussions with R N Ravi, who was the Centre’s interlocutor for the Naga peace talks and later become the Governor of Nagaland.

The digital news portal also reported that soon after the Ministry of Home Affairs announced the reconstitution of the high-level Clause 6 committee in Assam in 2019, All Assam Students Union (AASU) adviser Samujjal Bhattacharjee was also added to the potential snoop list.

AASU adviser, pro-talks ULFA leader also part of database

The inclusion of Samujjal Bhattacharjee to the list is significant because it came after the AASU adviser was included in the reconstituted Clause 6 committee. The original body, which was formed to ensure “constitutional safeguards” guaranteed to the “Assamese people” under Clause 6 of the Assam Accord are implemented in the state, did not include any AASU representative, a decision which had reportedly miffed the students’ body.

The Assam Accord had set January 1, 1951, as the cutoff date for legal citizenship claims in Assam as opposed to March 24, 1971 as decided by the National Register of Citizens (NRC). Since, Clause 6 is meant to give the Assamese people certain safeguards, which would not be available to migrants between 1951 and 1971, there have been widespread demands to implement it in Assam. The committee thus assumed significance in the backdrop of the larger debates around and contesting claims over “Assamese” identity and the long-drawn and protracted steps to prove citizenship in the state.

Opinion |What the Pegasus surveillance scandal means for Indian democracy
Pro-talks United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) leader Anup Chetia also reportedly figured in the list. “I have two numbers, all the time the police keep listening to my conversations. I am not surprised at all. One number was given to me by the Assam Police itself after I was released from jail (in 2015). So it would be naïve to think that there is no surveillance on me through that number,” Chetia was quoted as saying by The Wire. Virologist Gangandeep Kang added to snoop list when she was working on Nipah virus

The Wire has also reported that the phone number of virologist Gagandeep Kang was added to the database in 2018 when she was working on the Nipah virus and rotavirus. “… there were discussions around Nipah in an international meeting being convened around August of 2018. Other than that, we weren’t working on anything particularly controversial. I was [trying] to get the funding for the CEPI lab to be established and stuff like that. So I can’t think of anything other than CEPI. I’ve worked with the same partners – [US] National Institutes of Health, WHO, Gates Foundation kind of stuff throughout, so there was nothing special other than Nipah that was happening at that time,” Kang told the Pegasus Project, The Wire report stated.

Explained |The making of Pegasus, from startup to spy-tech leader
Also on the list is the number of an American US Centres for Disease Control (CDC) official who was in India before the Nipah virus outbreak. Maharashtra seed giant may have also been targetted

The Wire also reported that the numbers of six senior officials from Mahyco Monsanto Biotech (India) Pvt. Lt and Monsanto India, seed giants in Maharashtra, were selected as possible candidates for surveillance. This was at a time when the BJP government in the state had formed an SIT to probe companies that were allegedly selling or releasing unapproved herbicide-tolerant transgenic cotton seeds in the state. A senior government official and scientist at the Department of Biotechnology, who was a part of the Field Inspection and Scientific Evaluation Committee set up by the PMO to investigate unlawful seeds, was also a person of interest selected for potential surveillance by Pegasus.

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