Purported WhatsApp conversations between Arnab Goswami, Republic TV’s Editor-in-Chief, and Partho Dasgupta, the former Chief Executive Officer of the Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) on February 23, 2019, reveal that the former seemed to have prior knowledge of the Balakot Air Strike three days later.
According to a report in Scroll, Goswami told Dasgupta that the planned strike would be “bigger than normal” and that “On Pakistan the government is confident of striking in a way that people will be elated. Exact words used.”
The air strikes by the Indian Air Force on the town of Balakot in Pakistan happened in the early hours of February 26, 2019. The attack was a response to the Pulwama Attack on February 14, 2019, when 40 CRPF personnel died after a car laden with explosives came into contact with their bus. While Indian media had claimed that between 170 and 300 lives were lost on the other side of the border with Jaish-e-Mohammad camps being targeted, news agency Reuters could not find the evidence to substantiate their claims.
The purported chats between Goswami and Dasgupta reportedly form part of a 3,400 page supplementary charge sheet filed in connection with the TRP case. The accused include Vikas Khanchandani, CEO of Republic TV, BARC CCO Romil Ramgarhia and Dasgupta.
The transcripts mentioned Goswami telling Dasgupta that “something big” was about to happen. When the latter responded, asking if it was about “Dawood” (gangster Dawood Ibrahim), Goswami said it was about “Pakistan. Something major will be done this time.”
“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,” Goswami elaborated.
The attack was also in the news recently after news agency ANI published a false story claiming that former Pakistani diplomat Agha Hilaly claimed that the strike saw 300 casualties on the Pakistani side.
Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi took to Twitter and said that Goswami’s chats showed that “someone very senior in Govt is leaking highly confidential info which may endanger the lives of our soldiers & so that mercenary considerations can add to TRPs (sic).”
Arnab's chats dated 23.02.2019 refer to sharing of Intel re: action along the Pak border. It means someone very senior in Govt is leaking highly confidential info which may endanger the lives of our soldiers & so that mercenary considerations can add to TRPs.
— Abhishek Singhvi (@DrAMSinghvi) January 16, 2021
The chats also reportedly revealed that Dasgupta asked Goswami to stall TRAI’s move to make BARC data public on April 4, 2019. The latter assured Dasgupta that once the NDA government came to power again, TRAI would not have much authority.
The chats also include multiple references to the PMO with Goswami claiming close relations with the office of the PM, enough for Dasgupta to even ask him if he could arrange for a job as “media advisor” in the PM’s office.
Mumbai Police had registered a first information report (FIR) in the TRP case in October last year after a complaint was filed by Nitin Deokar, an employee of Hansa Research Group Private Limited, a BARC affiliate. In his complaint, Deokar had said that he had come across discrepancies in the ratings during an audit. While the initial FIR had not named Republic TV, the police had later said that it had proof of illegality against the channel and Marathi channels Box Cinema and Fakt Marathi. The charge sheet in the case was filed in November.
Here is a NewsClick explainer on the TRP case: