THE BJP and the Centre have avoided reacting to the WhatsApp chats between Republic TV’s Arnab Goswami and former CEO of the Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) Partho Dasgupta submitted to the court by the Mumbai Police in the TRP case. But as the Congress calls for a JPC probe and flags Goswami’s claims of proximity with the government, that distancing will be tested once Parliament begins.
The Congress Working Committee (CWC) Friday demanded a “time-bound investigation” into “the breach of national security, violations of the Official Secrets Act and the role of the persons involved.”
Congress president Sonia Gandhi criticised what she called the “deafening” silence of the Government, adding that “those who give certificates of patriotism and nationalism to others now stand totally exposed.”
“Why should we enter the picture?” said a Union Minister. “Neither the government nor the party has anything to do with what chats Goswami has with someone. As of now, there is no wrongdoing, nothing to prove that any party leader has something to do with it,” said a Union Minister.
On the Congress allegation that the chats show Goswami had prior knowledge of “sensitive” military operations – a reference to Balakot – BJP leaders said the chats didn’t reveal anything that wasn’t public knowledge at that time. Indeed, several leaders in the party and the Government, from the Prime Minister down, had warned of decisive action to avenge the Pulwama attack.
Yet, at least six BJP leaders The Indian Express spoke with, including a Union Minister, admitted that the controversy has put them in a spot.
Negative references to leaders like late Arun Jaitley, Prakash Javadekar and former minister Rajyvardhan Rathore; Goswami’s remark that “all ministers are with us,” and his offer to mediate with the political leadership, including the PMO, aren’t what anyone in the party or the government wants to have to respond on.
Union Ministers Amit Shah, Javadekar, S Jaishankar, Piyush Goyal and Smriti Irani and BJP president J P Nadda had called it an attack on the free press.
“That support was extended because the Maharashtra government and the police were going after Goswami,” said a senior BJP leader. “This isn’t the same thing. There is alleged wrongdoing and people have been arrested.”
At least two leaders said the WhatsApp chats were like the “Radia moment” for the BJP referring to telephone chats between former corporate lobbyist Niira Radia and politicians and journalists in 2009, which was used by the BJP in its campaign against the Congress-led UPA in the run up to 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
“The content may not be as damaging as Radia tapes, about specific claims of proximity to politicians and corporates. But it is embarrassing when someone flaunts or brags about connections with Ministers,” said a party leader.
There is also, another BJP leader said, uncertainty over what’s in the pipeline — if there are other chats that will be revealed by the Mumbai Police who this week were successful in getting the court to reject Dasgupta’s bail plea.
“We don’t know what will come out but as of now, the government and the party will maintain that we have nothing to do with what has been leaked so far,” said a leader. “And that the law will take its course in the TRP case anyway.”
Goswami, incidentally, has threatened legal action against the Congress for its “faleshoods.” Dasgupta’s advocate Arjun Singh Thakur said that “motivated interests” had leaked the chats that has “nothing incriminating.”
The CWC, meanwhile, expressed grave concern at the “revelations exposing the sordid conversations that have undoubtedly compromised national security”. “It is clear that among those involved are persons in the highest echelons of government and there has been a breach of secrecy concerning vital and sensitive military operations,” it said in a resolution.
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