If Mumbai Police’s charge sheet against Republic TV Editor-in-Chief Arnab Goswami is truthful, he knew the Narendra Modi government’s plan to launch an air strike on Pakistan’s Balakot in retaliation for the Pulwama terror attack, three days before the Indian Air Force bombed the terrorist camp on 26 February 2019.
This is part of the alleged WhatsApp conversations between Goswami and then Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) chief executive Partho Dasgupta, which went viral the day before yesterday (Friday, 15 January).
The WhatsApp conversations are part of Mumbai Police’s charge sheet, submitted before a court, in connection with the case of alleged manipulation of Television Rating Points (TRPs) by news channels, including Republic TV and a few others.
The alleged conversations revealed inter alia that the Modi government had planned the air strike “in a way” that the people would be “elated”. What is disconcerting, a government functionary was keeping the said journalist updated about things to come!
In the alleged chat, dated 23 February 2019, Goswami informed Dasgupta that “something big will happen”. When the latter asked if it was about “Dawood”, Arnab explained, “No sir Pakistan. Something major will be done this time.”
“It’s good for big man in this season. He will sweep polls then,” replied the then BARC chief, asking whether it will be “a strike” or “something bigger”.
Goswami then responded, “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.”
The Republic TV editor was apparently citing the information shared by a government functionary, but didn’t disclose whose “words” they were. Goswami has not commented on the issue since the news of his alleged WhatsApp chats with Dasgupta grabbed news headlines.
This attack we have on like crazy’
Soon after the Pulwama terror attack on 14 February 2019 in which 40 CRPF jawans were killed, Goswami had a chat with Dasgupta and they discussed how the news worked very well for the channel’s TRPs.
On 14 February at 4.19 PM, soon after the attack, Goswami texted Dasgupta how Republic TV was 20 minutes ahead on the biggest terrorist attack of the year in Kashmir as the “only channel with ground presence”.
An hour after that, Dasgupta reverted, “Modi happened yesterday,” to which Goswami said, “Have planned some build-up thing after we spoke. Idea to gain massive spike. So used his speech yesterday and pushed it by a bit.”
Goswami said, “This attack we have won like crazy”. “Doing lots and lots and lots of stuff after we spoke.”
Goswami on ‘major development’
The alleged conversations show Goswami dissuading Dasgupta from visiting Kashmir around March because of a “major development” that was awaited.
The Republic TV Editor told Dasgupta that since the then external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj was going for the OIC (Organisation of Islamic Cooperation) conference in Abu Dhabi on 2 March, it will not happen then, but is expected soon after, so he should plan his travel to the Valley accordingly.
“Sushma is going to OIC on 2 March. That means nothing till then. Expectation is between then and 15th March. As of now either way I would discourage you from going to Kashmir on those dates. If inevitable, let me know. Will arrange some security,” Goswami purportedly said.
On 27 February 2019, Dasgupta asked Goswami “was yesterday’s air strike the ‘big one’ you spoke about? Or something more coming”? Goswami then replied, “More to come”.
He said further, “Broken: Pak planes have crossed loc. One pak f 16 crashes. One an Indian also.”
Dasgupta then suggested, “You should embed some reporters. Would be a coup. Like CNN. In Iraq.”
In other chats, Goswami told Dasgupta how Republic TV was on top of the J&K story.
In a conversation later in the day, Goswami said, “Big yesterday because my first burst of reporters landing in Srinagar were from Bharat. Last night I had the biggest story first. Today I was called by NSA and asked how I got the news. Everyone in NSA and PMO is hooked to Bharat.”
“Doval met me before taking off for Srinagar. They will push this through,” he said.
Case should be registered against Goswami
Some security experts said the alleged conversations indicated national security had been compromised.
“We do not know yet how much did he (Arnab Goswami) know about this sensitive operation. This is absolutely a compromise of national security. He is close to the ruling establishment and someone within the system must have leaked it. Else, how could he know about such a sensitive operation which only a few people within the government were aware of?” said Jayadeva Ranade, a former Indian intelligence officer and China expert.
“That man is a national security risk. The government should tighten the agencies now and needs a thorough investigation. This is symptomatic of laxity and the weaknesses in the system and needs to be plugged,” he added.
RK Yadav, a former RAW officer, said this called for an investigation. “Anyone in the system could have given it to him. This should be seriously investigated,” he said.
A former Indian High Commissioner to Pakistan, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, however, said the WhatsApp chats “do not reveal anything explosive”.
“This is a political slugfest. The chats do not reveal anything about the fact that it was an air operation and that terror camps would be hit. The chats, whatever is out in the public domain, only state that he knew about some sort of a retaliation. But that everyone knew about. The prime minister himself spoke about a befitting response. After all, 40 soldiers were killed and elections were coming, a retaliation was obvious,” the former diplomat said.