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January 19, 2021

Arnab chat saga: Indian opposition seeks probe into security leak

Top Story

January 19, 2021

NEW DELHI/MUMBAI: Indian opposition parties called on Monday for an investigation into chat messages from a top TV anchor that they said showed prior knowledge of air strikes carried out by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government against Pakistan in 2019, a British wire service reported.

Arnab Goswami, editor-in-chief of Republic TV network, told the head of a TV ratings agency that India would launch a “bigger than a normal strike” on its arch-rival -- three days before Indian combat jets struck alleged militant targets on Balakot. The raid brought the two nations to the brink of war.

“On Pakistan, the government is confident of striking in a way that people will be elated,” a transcript of the messages sent by Goswami said. “Exact words used.” The messages, reported by Indian media and seen by Reuters, are part of a charge-sheet filed by police in Mumbai investigating alleged fixing of ratings by Republic -- charges the network denies.

Spokesmen for India’s defence and foreign ministries did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the transcripts.

Republic has often adopted positions supportive of the Modi government and Goswami is known for his aggressive attacks on the opposition in his prime-time nightly programme, one of the country’s most watched.

India’s main opposition Congress party, as well as Shiv Sena, a regional party that governs Maharashtra state where the TV channel is based, have both called for a government inquiry into the messages.

Shashi Tharoor, a Congress lawmaker, said the messages required “serious inquiry” by the Modi government, which has made national security a top priority. The Shiv Sena became the latest political party to demand action against Goswami. The party said the alleged collusion between Goswami and the central government was a breach of India’s national security.

“I think this is a threat to country’s internal security,” Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut said, according to Indian media. “Sometimes, such military secrets are not known to top officials. If a jawan is found to possess any such secrets or documents, he is court-martialed. Here, he [Arnab] knew that Balakot [air strike] will happen. This means there is a breach in national security.”

The messages have reignited tensions with Pakistan, with Islamabad’s foreign ministry saying the transcripts showed the strikes were engineered to coincide with a general election that Modi won by a landslide a few months later.