Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on Tuesday said only five people knew about the Balakot airstrikes so the information being leaked to a journalist was a “criminal act”. Gandhi was referring to the purported WhatsApp chats of Republic TV Editor-in-Chief Arnab Goswami, which suggested that he had prior knowledge about the Balakot airstrikes.

“This was top secret information, it was not provided to anybody else,” Gandhi said during a press briefing. “There were four or five people who knew this information...Prime Minister of India, possibly the defence minister...the home minister...the air force chief. Giving official secret information to a journalist is a criminal act. Both on the part of the person who accepted it and on the part of the person who gave it. These people call themselves patriots. There is nothing patriotic about putting our air force at risk. There is nothing patriotic about taking political advantage so that our aircraft gets shot down.”

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. It 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.

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  1. Three days before Balakot strike, Arnab Goswami said ‘something big will happen’ on WhatsApp chat
  2. Pakistan calls Pulwama attack ‘false flag operation’ citing Arnab Goswami’s WhatsApp chats

In a purported WhatsApp chat on February 23 – three days before the strike – Goswami had told Broadcast Audience Research Council’s former Chief Executive Officer Partho Dasgupta that it would be “bigger than a normal strike”.

The Congress leader called for an inquiry into the leaked chats pertaining information related to national security. However, he added, according to NDTV: “You will see that no inquiry will be conducted as the prime minister was the one who leaked the information.”

Gandhi also noted a “distressing” aspect about the chats. “Someone saying this is going to be very good for us when our CRPF boys are killed...This is anti-national,” he said. In the purported conversation, Dasgupta had said the airstrike would be good for the elections.

“I do not like that language,” Gandhi said, according to The Tribune. “It is the reflection of the PM’s thought process that 40 people have died and we will now win the elections.”

The former Congress chief added that if such sensitive information was there with Goswami, then “it is also there with Pakistan, this then cannot be a secret, and hence it puts pilots’ lives in danger and puts the entire operation in jeopardy”.

The Opposition has demanded a Joint Parliamentary Committee’s inquiry into whether the national security was compromised.

The WhatsApp chats

Three days before the Balakot airstrikes, Goswami 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 asked 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 asked 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.

Meanwhile, Pakistan on Sunday said the February 2019 Pulwama attack was a “false flag operation” staged by India’s Bharatiya Janata Party government to malign its neighbour’s image. Islamabad cited the WhatsApp chats of Goswami. Referring to the BJP government as a “Hindutva regime”, a Pakistani official said that the WhatsApp transcripts revealed the “unholy nexus” between the dispensation and its “cronies” in the Indian media.