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'Breach of Official Secrets Act': Congress attacks Modi government over Arnab WhatsApp chats

REPORT-1-India-21-01-2021-1

A day after former Congress president Rahul Gandhi attacked Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his office for allegedly aiding the leak of sensitive national security information to pro-Hindutva television anchor Arnab Goswami, his party upped its ante. It demanded that “the prime minister should come clean on these accusations immediately in order to restore the severely damaged credibility of the highest office of the country.”

On Tuesday, responding for the first time after it was revealed that Goswami may have had prior information about the 2019 Balakot airstrike, Gandhi had said, “Things like this (the Balakot airstrike) would be known only to a handful of people – the prime minister, home minister, defence minister, defence chief, Air Force chief and Army chief. So if a secret like this has been leaked to a journalist, then it is a breach of the Official Secrets Act. It is leaking of a state secret.”

Goswami’s chats became public when the Mumbai Police submitted the transcripts of his conversation with the former CEO of ratings agency BARC Partho Dasgupta to the court as part of its investigations into alleged manipulation of TRPs.

On Wednesday, the Congress held a press briefing in which senior Congress leaders highlighted other portions of his chats that indicated that the TV anchor may also have conspired with government officials to land his channel Republic TV significant favours.

Former defence minister A.K. Antony, leader of the party in Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad, former home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde, former external affairs and law minister Salman Khurshid and AICC spokesperson Pawan Khera issued a statement demanding that those who were responsible for such leaks should be “brought to book and sacked.”

They particularly highlighted the alleged role of Union home minister Amit Shah and former information and broadcasting minister Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore in either providing sensitive information or granting special privileges to Goswami. At the same time, they distributed the transcripts of some portions of the chats where Goswami is expressing confidence over his close links with the two top leaders.

“The leaked chats show Arnab Goswami gleefully informing Partho Dasgupta about the deadly terror attack in Pulwama that resulted in the martyrdom of 40 CRPF Jawans. On 23rd February, three days before the Balakot strikes, this lackey journalist was not only in unauthorised possession of top secrets of defence operations, he also further disseminated these secrets to another individual on a social media platform,” the leaders said in the statement.

Saying that “Arnab Goswami was actively securing the intervention of Amit Shah to influence policy and controlling the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI),” the leaders asked whether the Union home minister was interfering in the functioning of the autonomous TRAI.

Then, pointing at a conversation between Goswami and Dasgupta in which the latter tells the anchor to “buy the judge” in a fake TRP case before the Delhi high court, the leaders said, “From the conversation between Arnab Goswami and Partho Das Gupta, one can see the worse examples of influence peddling and attempts to influence the judiciary. The entire country depends on the temples of justice to seek redressal for their grievances. If powerful people of the country are seen influencing the judiciary, the faith of the common citizen will stand eroded in the judicial delivery system.”

“Has the BJP and his lackeys attempted to bribe or threaten other judges to secure favourable verdicts,” the statement asked.

Then again, referring to a chat in which Goswami readily agrees with Dasgupta that the economy is in shambles and the then finance minister Arun Jaitley was responsible for it. In an exchange that follows, Goswami says, “Jaitley was stretching it”, even as the Union minister was at the hospital fighting for survival in August 2019. Goswami also claims that the PMO did not want him to “stretch” and was compelled to “maintain him”, in what the Congress leader qualified as the “most inhuman display of insensitivity”.

“In his private conversation Arnab Goswami believes that the economy is ruined but claims that he cannot say this on television. What is this compulsion that does not allow the media to reveal the true picture of the economy,” the Congress asked.

The biggest allegation that the Congress made was against Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore who, in Goswami’s words, came across as the primary point person in the government to have by-passed auction rules put in place by Prasar Bharti to secure a slot in the free DTH service by Dish TV.

“This violation cost crores of rupees to the public exchequer. The chats tell us that the then Rajvaradhan Singh Rathore allegedly informed Arnab Goswami about a complaint that was received by his department against Goswami’s channel. The chats reveal that Rathore buried the complaints,” the Congress statement said.

“Never before has India’s national security been so completely compromised. Never before has the office of the Prime Minister, office of the Home Minister, office of the Law Minister, office of the Information and Broadcasting Minister been so brazenly compromised. Never before did our judiciary come under such an attack. Never before has a senior leader been divested of his dignity in his death,” the statement added.

Hinting at a possible quid pro quo arrangement between the government and Goswami, the Congress said, “A man posing to be a journalist colludes with the high and mighty of the government. He gets his manipulated TRPs and manipulates public opinion for the ruling party. In the process India and every single Indian lose out on a chance for responsive, clean and progressive governance.”

Joining the chorus of opposition on what is being referred to as Arnabgate, Priyanka Gandhi tweeted to say that “important things related to the security of the country were told to a journalist”.