Arnabgate: Evaluating crime and punishment
Recently, nearly 500 pages of transcripts of what are allegedly text messages shared between Republic TV’s Editor-in-Chief Arnab Goswami, and Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC)’s former chief Executive Officer Partho Dasgupta, were leaked.
By Deborah Grey
The leaked pages are allegedly a part of a 3,000-word supplementary charge-sheet filed by the Maharashtra Police against Goswami and his co-accused in a case of alleged tampering of Television Rating Points (TRP). They not only allegedly reveal Goswami’s proximity to top government officials and influence in those circles, but also appear to suggest that this proximity might have led Goswami to have access to top secret information.
The Balakot Bombshell
The excerpts dated February 23, 2019, show Goswami informing Dasgupta at around 10:31 PM that “something big will happen.” To this Dasgupta responded a little later in the chat at around 10:36 PM asking, “Dawood?” Goswami then clarifies, “No, sir. Pakistan. Something major will be done this time.” It is noteworthy that this was three days before the Balakot airstrikes.
Arnab Goswami: “Bigger than a normal strike. And also on the same time something major on Kashmir. On Pakistan the government is confident of striking in a way that people will be elated. Exact words used.”
It is this last part where Goswami says, “Exact words used” that suggests someone in the know of the impending strike. Speaking exclusively to SabrangIndia, Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat, former Chief of the Naval Staff, a decorated war veteran, and winner of the Param Vishisht Seva Medal (PVSM), and Ati Vishisht Seva Medal (AVSM), explains, “Any aspect of military operations planned or underway has the highest security classification. For Service personnel it is covered under provisions of the Army, Navy and Airforce Acts 1957 (Statutory) and also, the Articles of War which may attract the penalty of Death.” Admiral Bhagwat further explains, “The core of Operations Plans is WHAT, WHERE, WHEN and HOW. Of the above WHERE, WHEN and HOW are the most important.”
The circle of people who have all operational information is extremely tight and prior information is only shared on a need-to-know basis only with people directly involved with the operation. Admiral Bhagwat, was once the Chief of the Naval Staff, and thus knows how tightly operational secrecy is guarded. He explains, “Chiefs of Staff of our Armed Forces and their immediate Ops Staff do not as a rule share the WHERE , WHEN and HOW components of Operational Plans with even the highest Civilian authority of the Government, even in a War Room briefing, except in general terms and if pressed by the Prime Minister do so in general terms avoiding specifics.”
Therefore, the current matter of sharing of sensitive information has at least two players; a high-ranking defense or government official who was the GIVER of the information and Arnab Goswami, the editor-in-chief of a television news channel who was the RECEIVER of the information.
As Admiral Bhagwat explains, “Firstly the GIVER of the information has to have the express authorisation of the Chief of Air Staff or the Chief himself. The RECEIVER of the information is clearly not a person authorised to receive such information no matter at which level of the Govt he was briefed, because that Civilian official too is grievously violating the Law and putting Ops in jeopardy seriously risking lives.”
Thus, the concerns raised about national security are legitimate. “There is no question that this particular PRE ‘D’ Day and Pre-H Hour briefing to a civilian journalist by either a military or Civilian authority is in the most serious category of violation of national security, and as is clearly committed by those in the highest echelons of the Government and the Military, must attract the highest punishment as they are the very upholders of the Laws of the Land in force,” says Admiral Bhagwat, adding, “Passing the buck or covering it up by clever words or subterfuge will not pass and must never be permitted.”
Opposition demands answers
Needless to say, these leaked chat transcripts have set the cat among the pigeons and now nobody, especially Opposition leaders, can stop talking about the leaked chats.
Congress leader, Member of Parliament (MP) and legal eagle, Abhishek Manu Singhvi tweeted, “Arnab’s chats dated 23.02.2019 refer to sharing of Intel re: action along the Pak border. It means someone very senior in Govt is leaking highly confidential info which may endanger the lives of our soldiers & so that mercenary considerations can add to TRPs.”
Another legal scholar and Congress Leader P. Chidambaram, who was incarcerated on allegedly trumped-up charges by a vindictive regime asked, “Did a journalist (and his friend) know about the retaliatory strike on Balakot camp three days before the actual strike?” He went on to demand an explanation from Defence Minister Rajnath Singh asking, “If yes, what is the guarantee that their ‘source’ did not share the information with others as well, including spies or informers working for Pakistan? How did a “For Your Eyes Only” decision find its way to the government-supporting journalist?”
Eventually, even Rahul Gandhi joined the chorus. At a press conference to purportedly take on the government on the ongoing farmers’ agitation, Gandhi couldn’t resist commenting on Arnabgate. “Sensitive defence information before Balakot was given to a journalist. Even the pilots get such information at the last moment. Top five people (the prime minister, the defence minister, the home minister, the IAF chief and the NSA) had this information. Someone out of them gave him this information. This is criminal. We must find out who gave and the process of the probe should begin but it will not because the PM must have given the information,” alleged Gandhi, adding “If Arnab Goswami knew, I believe Pakistan also knew.”
Congress National Spokesperson, Pawan Khera too asked some tough questions, “As president of the ruling party, why was Amit Shah supposedly influencing TRAI? What was the hold #ArnabGoswami had on the second most powerful man in India – Amit Shah?”
Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leader Tejashwi Yadav tweeted, “Those in Govt will not last for eternity and greedy media persons will not live forever but the damage they are causing to Indian democracy, its institutions & their credibility is irreversible. Not acceptable at all! Shameful!”
Meanwhile, the Maharashtra state government is mulling appropriate action against Arnab Goswami. Home Minister Anil Deshmukh tweeted, “The NCP spokesperson Mahesh Tapase Ji and Pradeep Deshmukh Ji have complained to me today about the leaked WhatsApp conversation between Arnab Goswami and Partho Dasgupta that went viral on social media.” He added, “We will take legal advice on this matter & consult with senior police officers to decide further course of action.”
The Hindustan Times quoted Deshmukh as saying, “On the state level, we are checking if Maharashtra Police can initiate action. I am speaking to senior police officers and have sought legal opinion if action can be initiated under section 5 of the Official Secrets Act, 1923.”
TRPs trump Pulwama tragedy?
Meanwhile, Arnab Goswami is also in the dock for his comments on the Pulwama attack. A portion of the transcripts from February 14, 2019 deals with the Pulwama attacks, and Goswami’s take on how his channel won the TRP battle have severely tarnished his “nationalist” credentials.
In this exchange, On February 14, 2019, at around 4:19 PM Goswami brags to Dasgupta, “Sir 20 min ahead on the biggest terrorist attack of the year on Kashmir.. only only channel with aground presence”
To this Dasgupta responds asking, “Modi happened yesterday?”
Goswami responds saying, “Have planned some buildup thing after we spoke. Idea to gain massive spike. So used his speech yesterday and pushed it by a bit.” He then went on to say, “This attack we have won like crazy”
The Pulwama attacks shook the nation as 40 security personnel were killed when a asuicide bomber drove into their convoy. It was one of the darkest days the country has seen.
Goswami responds to allegations
However, Goswai has dismissed all allegations against him. In a statement released, he said, “It is beyond absurd to suggest that expecting India to strike back at Pakistan, after the Pulwama attack, was a crime. It was publicly available information and thousands of journalists reported, wrote, broadcast and analysed in the same direction after Pulwama. There are thousands of articles from that time suggesting a hard and tough response from the Indian Forces. The Government stated the same in interviews to our Network and elsewhere, which were broadcast across the world. Two things were made public at that time, officially— 1. That there will be an extremely tough military retaliation by India. 2. That the time and place of the retaliation will be chosen by India.”
Goswami further says, “I am horrified that the Congress party actually thinks that any journalist in India expressing the views publicly stated by the Government is committing a crime. In the last 10 months, from an attempted acid attack on me to framing of fake and false cases to arresting me illegally (in a case which the Supreme Court said had no prima facie merits) to assaulting me, my wife and my son, and slapping cases against them to filing an omnibus case against my entire newsroom and all my editors to putting me in jail on the trumped up charges to assaulting me in custody to interrogating my colleagues for 500 hours to whiplashing my colleague Ghanshyam with a chakki belt in custody and now joining hands with Pakistan to questioning my love and commitment to this great nation. I have been through it all.”
After claiming he has support of “millions of Indians” and schooling Indian media on “introspection”, Goswami signs off with, “Satyamev Jayate! Bharat Mata Ki Jai! Jai Hind!” Perhaps he is trying to repair the damage to his “nationalist credentials” in a bid to remain valuable to those whose political patronage he allegedly enjoys.
Meanwhile, Dasgupta who had been arrested on December 24, for his alleged involvement in the case was denied bail by the Sessions Court on Wednesday. Dasgupta had approached the Sessions Court after a Chief Metropolitan Magistrate’s court turned down his bail plea citing he needed to be kept away from other accused and material witnesses while a probe of the case was on.
Courtesy : Sabrang