The WhatsApp chats, reported to have been made between former CEO of BARC (Broadcast audience Research Council) Parth Dasgupta and Arnab Goswami, head of 'Republic' TV channels bear dimensions with implications on rule of law, integrity of governance and national security. It is for experts to certify whether the chats are genuine or not; but BARC, Dasgupta , Goswami or the prominent names mentioned in them have not denied them so far, apart from the fact that at least some signs of truth in the chats have been confirmed. It is unlikely for chats to be accepted as evidence in law courts, but the exchange of messages does raise certain issues more grave than the recent issue of TV rating fraud. The charge-sheet filed by Mumbai police in the case of manipulating ratings of TV channels against those including Dasgupta had an appendix of about 500 pages of chats, and that is what has now been leaked. Any one making even a cursory look at the conent of the chats can see that the investigation into the artificial inflation of TV ratings has unravelled something much more serious. Regardless of whether the revelations will be legally proved or not, an examination can easily convince any that they are very unlikely to be false.
More than the legality of the leaked chat, what should disturb the people is the realisation that the corruption, misuse of power and the political conspiracy indicated in it are not impossible in India. Those involved in the operation have turned television rating into a total sham. The illicit benefits accruing to channels who stand by the ruling party on every issue, throw light beyond the scam and uncover sheer misrule. It can be gleaned from the conversations that impermissible influences, unimaginable in a government under rule of law, has taken grip over several areas. And this is how a series of WhatsApp chats, which otherwise would have ended up as a mere affidavit in a criminal case, has now become a matter that impinges on the very foundational principles of the country. As a related point, this having happened close on the heels of WhatsApp's claim that all messages including chats will remain private and secure with them, has hit the core of that claim. (It is pointed out that WhatsApp data can be leaked from their i-cloud backup)
The major concern the leaked documents raise is the illegal influence that extra-governmental players exercise at different layers of administrative decisions. From the mention about Goswami interfering in a way that blocks the installation of new software to ensure fool-proof channel ratings, the facilitation of private consultation with the then Information & Broadcasting minister Smriti Irani, to Dasgupta's request to Goswami to establish for him a consultant's position by influencing the prime minister's office (PMO), the chats provide a glimpse into the inner secrets of the upper echelons of the government. In addition to seats of power such as PMO, NSA and MIB, a super-powerful AS also figures in the chats quite frequently. The likelihood indicated by these chats is that a parallel coterie gets formed above established the law and rules. The Nira Radia tapes that had surfaced during the rule of Manmohan Singh government had hinted at the existence of a corporate-media-political axis. Those tapes had contained diverse conversations. But the one at the centre of the current scandal is just one chat between two chiefs. They point a finger at political plots far more than mere profitable transactions.
It was when an assessment that the popular mood in the 2019 Lok Sabha election was not in favour of the ruling parties that the Pulwama-Balakot attacks became a crucial turning point. The question that has now arisen is what Goswami meant by his description about the Pulwama attack as one 'We have won like crazy'. And when the Balakot strike was carried as a reprisal for the terrorist attack, the chat shows, Goswami had known about it three days in advance. This means that those like Arnab, through some mysterious ways, get access to crucial administrative decisions such as the repeal of the special status of Jammu-Kashmir. Many of them are decisions which only those at the highest level of government are privy to, and that too as highly confidential matters. But the impression created by what transpires from the WhatsApp chats is that all of these are decided and implemented in a cavalier fashion and they are preceded by not democratic processes but certain parallel government courtesies. The spirit of the constitution and rule of law warrant that a free and credible inquiry should be conducted about the WhatsApp chats and the truth brought out. The grave doubts that have arisen in the conscience of the nation cannot be erased by mere denial or interpretative chicanery.