New Delhi: The Congress Wednesday upped the ante in its attack on the Narendra Modi government over the ‘Arnab Chat Gate’, with former defence minister A.K. Antony saying the government’s committed an “act of treason” by allegedly passing on information about the Balakot airstrikes to Republic TV Editor-in-Chief Arnab Goswami.
“Leaking of an official secret is a criminal act… leaking information about sensitive military operations is treason. It is an anti-national activity. They need to be punished. No mercy,” Antony said, adding that it was a violation of the Official Secrets Act (OSA).
“This was an anti-national act,” Antony said.
On Wednesday, the party fielded a battery of leaders at a press conference to intensify the heat on the issue that has caused a political storm in the last few days.
Besides Antony, the other leaders present included former home minister Sushilkumar Shinde, former law and foreign affairs minister Salman Khurshid and leader of opposition in the Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad, who raised questions over who from the government made the alleged leak of security information.
The leaders said they will also raise the issue in Parliament. The Budget Session is scheduled to start on 29 January.
“The country has seen two-three wars, we have had governments of various parties… but no official secret has ever been disclosed like this. It is something to be taken up in Parliament,” Shinde said.
The move came just a day after Congress leader Rahul Gandhi held a press conference, where he termed the passing on of information a “criminal act” and pointed fingers at Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other top leaders of the government.
Hours after the party’s press conference, Goswami released a statement denying all the allegations and said he will “sue the Congress”.
The Jaitley issue
In its latest salvo, the Congress leaders also questioned the context in which former finance minister and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Arun Jaitley’s name was mentioned in Goswami’s purported WhatsApp chats with former Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) chief executive Partho Dasgupta.
When Jaitley was in hospital in August 2019, following deterioration in his health condition, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) did not know what to do as the former FM was “stretching it”, Goswami had purportedly told Dasgupta.
In the WhatsApp chats, dated 19 August 2019, Goswami purportedly said, “Jaitley stretching it. PMO doesn’t know what to do. PM leaving on Wednesday for France.” To this, Dasgupta replied, “So hasn’t died yet?”
In response, Goswami said: “maintaining him. I expect something by evening. One of my meetings in Delhi gets pushed because of this.”
Jaitley died on 24 August 2019, five days after this conversation.
After serving as the FM in the first term of the Modi government, Jaitley underwent a kidney transplant in May 2019. He also opted out of contesting the 2019 Lok Sabha elections reportedly owing to his prolonged ill-health. He was rushed to hospital on 9 August 2019, after he complained of breathlessness and restlessness.
The France trip referred to in the chats is presumably PM Modi’s visit to the country on 22 August 2019, as the first leg of his three-nation tour of the time.
This after all the favours they received from Jaitley: Congress
On Wednesday, the Congress party called Goswami’s chat about Jaitley an “inhumane display of insensitivity”.
“What exactly did Arnab Goswami mean when he said that they were ‘maintaining him’?” the party said in its statement.
Khurshid said he was really “hurt” by the context in which Jaitley was mentioned in the chats.
“The kind of conversations that have come up about him, when he was in death bed… nothing can be more painful than this. Here is a cynical, hardened mind talking about why he is being kept alive. If this is how they treat their own people — and I don’t know how many favours they may have received from him throughout his career — then I don’t know how they would treat ordinary people,” Khurshid said.
The chats in question are part of Mumbai Police’s charge sheet, submitted before a court, in a case pertaining to alleged manipulation of Television Rating Points by news channels, including Republic TV. Among other things, the chats purportedly show Goswami having prior knowledge of major government decisions such as the Balakot airstrikes.
‘Will sue the Congress’
After the Congress press conference, Goswami issued a statement via Republic TV saying he will “sue the Congress party”.
#ArnabFightsBack | Arnab: I have decided to sue the Congress party, take strong legal action against their lies, and expose them in the courts of law. People of India: Join hands with Republic as we fight this political conspiracy with all our strength. The truth is on our side. pic.twitter.com/mJBgpjRVpG
— Republic (@republic) January 20, 2021
“I have decided to sue the Congress party, take strong legal action against their lies, and expose them in the courts of law,” the statement read.
Terming Congress’ allegations as “hogwash” and “falsehood”, Goswami said he will file a criminal complaint against the party’s leaders. He alleged the Congress has “uttered a series of absolute falsehoods, concocted lies, fabricated facts, unimaginable twisting of statements” against him.
“The problem with the Congress party is that they cannot stand a nationalist channel with a nationalist Editor-in-Chief,” Goswami said.