Congress spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala on Sunday said that the purported conversation between Republic TV Editor-in-Chief Arnab Goswami and Broadcast Audience Research Council’s former Chief Executive Officer Partho Dasgupta, which suggest that the former had prior knowledge about the Balakot air strike, raised serious questions about national security, The Hindu reported.
Meanwhile, his colleagues demanded an inquiry into the WhatsApp conversation, the transcript of which was part of the Mumbai Police’s chargesheet in the Television Rating Points scam case.
Surjewala said during a press briefing that the chats involved discussions about financial frauds and deciding the portfolios of ministers. “This is akin to playing with national security and shows the hollowness of those in power,” he was quoted as saying by The Hindu.
However, he said that the Congress’ senior leadership will go through the complete chargesheet and give a detailed statement in the next 24 to 48 hours.
Congress leader Manish Tewari said earlier in the day that the matter needed an inquiry by the Joint Parliamentary Committee. “If what sections of media is reporting is correct then it points towards a direct linkage between Balakot air strikes and 2019 general elections,” he tweeted. “Was national security milked for electoral purposes?”
The party’s senior leader P Chidambaram asked if Goswami was privy to the government’s plan for the retaliatory strike after the Pulwama terror attack. “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,” he asked, tagging Defence Minister Rajnath Singh in his tweet. “How did a ‘for your eyes only’ decision find its way to the government-supporting journalist?”
Congress leader Abhishek Manu Singhvi said: “Arnab’s chats dated 23.02.2019 refer to sharing of Intel re: action along the Pak border. It means someone very senior in government is leaking highly confidential info which may endanger the lives of our soldiers and so that mercenary considerations can add to TRPs.”
On February 26, 2019, the Indian Air Force carried out a strike targeting a Jaish-e-Mohammad training camp in the Pakistani town of Balakot. The attack was billed as India’s response to an attack on February 14, 2019, in Pulwama in Jammu and Kashmir, in which 40 Central Reserve Police Force personnel were killed after an explosive-laden car driven by a suicide bomber rammed into their bus.
Three days before that, Goswami had told Dasgupta that it would be “bigger than a normal strike”.
The chats also revealed instances of Dasgupta asking Goswami to reach out to the government on his behalf. In one such exchange on April 4, 2019, the former ratings agency chief asks Goswami if he can stall the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India’s proposal to make BARC’s viewing data public. Dasgupta asks Goswami for some action from a certain “AS”. In reply, Goswami says he could do what Dasgupta asked for.
There was also a conversation where Dasgupta asks Goswami to get him a job as “media advisor” in the Prime Minister’s Office, while at several instances the Republic TV journalist refers to his proximity to “PMO” and the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.
The TRP scam
An operation to manipulate television ratings was uncovered in October when the Broadcast Audience Research Council filed a complaint through Hansa Research Group, one of BARC’s vendors, accusing some channels of rigging their ratings by bribing some households to watch their programmes.
On December 25, Mumbai Joint Commissioner of Police (Crime) Milind Bharambe had said that a forensic audit report of the rating agency’s data had revealed that the numbers had been manipulated since at least 2016. Bharambe said that the manipulations resulted in Republic TV being depicted as the top-ranked channel.
Bharambe had also mentioned that the report mentioned e-mails and chats between officials of the rating agency that were “absolutely incriminating”.
Earlier this month, Mumbai Police informed the Bombay High Court that they have found more evidence against Goswami in relation to the case. Thirteen people have been arrested in the case so far, including Republic TV Chief Executive Officer Vikas Khanchandani. He has since been released on bail.
Former BARC Chief Operation Officer Romil Ramgarhia remains in custody as does Dasgupta. On Friday night, Dasgupta was admitted to JJ Hospital in Mumbai after his blood pressure and sugar levels dropped.
Box Cinema and Marathi channel Fakt Marathi were the other channels named during the preliminary investigation.