One of India’s best known and most high profile Supreme Court lawyers has said Arnab Goswami’s WhatsApp conversations reveal “a cosy club” comprising him and the Centre (and in particular the prime minister), which breaches the Official Secrets Act and prima facie the Prevention of Corruption Act as well.
Prashant Bhushan has said: “He (Arnab) and the government and the prime minister in particular formed a cosy club which served both to increase his TRPs whilst promoting the government’s political interests.” Bhushan says there was clearly a cosy club in existence whereby Goswami’s channel’s commercial interests were promoted at the same time as the government’s political interests. “His channel was being used to promote the political interest of the government and, in turn, the government was promoting his commercial interests.”
In a 28-minute interview to Karan Thapar for The Wire, Bhushan first addressed the question: do Arnab Goswami’s WhatsApp conversations about the Balakot strike breach the Official Secrets Act? He said: “If you are telling a journalist and he is boasting this to a friend then clearly you are running a risk of letting other people know, including Pakistan, and that will certainly endanger India’s security interests.”
Bhushan also made a second argument to support his interpretation that the Official Secrets Act has been breached. “We don’t know who else Arnab has boasted to about the Balakot strike (other than Partho Dasgupta) and, additionally, we don’t know who else was told by the government apart from Arnab.” Both of these issues also need to be examined, he said, to determine the extent of the potential breach of the Official Secrets Act.
However, Bhushan also said this “cosy club” relationship could have prima facie breached the Prevention of Corruption Act. As he explained, Goswami was promoting the political interests of the government – a good example of which is the extent to which Republic TV allegedly went to cover developments in Kashmir in August 2019 – and, in return, it seems was given advance information that was not available to other channels. This, Bhushan said, could constitute a bribe under the Prevention of Corruption Act. He said it needs to be carefully studied and investigated.
Speaking about a second aspect of the Gowsami WhatsApp conversations, where Goswami suggests he can help Dasgupta get a job at the PMO, Prashant Bhushan said this clearly raises ethical and propriety issues. He said it seems the “cosy club” relationship between Arnab Goswami and the Centre was being used to find jobs for possibly undeserving candidates.
Speaking about a third aspect of the Arnab Goswami WhatsApp conversations i.e. a seemingly clear suggestion of collusion between Goswami and Dasgupta to tamper with and rig TRPs, Bhushan said this does seem to amount to criminal collusion. He said these conversations will stand up in court as evidence because WhatsApp will be able to vouch for their authenticity.
However, despite being asked twice, Bhushan made clear he is reluctant and unlikely to take up in the Supreme Court either the corruption issue or the security breach raised by the Goswami WhatsApp conversations. He explained this is because the attitude of the court has changed and he cannot be confident of the court’s behaviour and, in particular, whether it’s prepared to stand up for a correct and proper enforcement of the law. Prashant Bhushan admitted this means he has lost confidence in the Supreme Court.
Watch the full interview here.