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In an apparent allusion to the Centre, Opposition vice presidential candidate Margaret Alva said that the "Big Brother" was listening in on politicians' phone calls. Alva had previously claimed that, after speaking to some "friends in the BJP", she was unable to place or receive calls. Alva claimed that calls to her mobile phone have been forwarded ever since, making it impossible for her to make or receive calls.

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"The fear that 'Big Brother' is always watching & listening permeates all conversations between politicians across party lines in 'new' India. MPs & leaders of parties carry multiple phones, frequently change numbers & talk in hushed whispers when they meet. Fear kills democracy," Alva said in a tweet.

Last night, she posted a tweet addressed to the two government-owned telecom companies. "Dear BSNL/ MTNL, After speaking to some friends in the BJP today, all calls to my mobile are being diverted & I'm unable to make or receive calls. If you restore the phone. I promise not to call any MP from the BJP, TMC or BJD tonight," she said.

There have been prior accusations of unlawful surveillance against the Centre. According to reports that surfaced in July 2021, Pegasus surveillance might have been used to keep an eye on at least 40 journalists, Cabinet ministers, and constitutional office holders across the country. The claims were based on data pulled from a database of roughly 50,000 phone numbers by Amnesty International and the Paris-based non-profit Forbidden Stories.

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However, Information Technology (IT) and Communications Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw said the controversy was being used to malign Indian democracy. The reports, he claimed, lacked any basis in truth because India's numerous checks and balances prevented anyone not authorised from spying on people from doing so.

Margaret Alva would face former West Bengal governor Jagadeep Dhankhar in the race for vice president. Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool Congress, the party in power in West Bengal, has indicated that it will not cast a ballot.

(With agency inputs)

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