M Aseem //
Though much of the mainstream media ignored it, a social media outrage and frenzy erupted when 500 pages transcripts of the WhatsApp chat messages between Arnab Goswami, owner and editor of Republic TV and Partho Dasgupta, arrested ex-CEO of Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC), the TV Rating company, became public on 15th January after being included in the 3600 pages supplementary charge sheet filed by Mumbai Police in court in the TRP manipulation case. Among other things, they are suggestive of a bid by top BARC executives to manipulate ratings in favour of Republic TV and the Hindi channel Republic Bharat. The screenshots also show the executives making suggestions to Republic TV on strategy to boost ratings. Goswami in return appears to have kept Dasgupta informed about government affairs, including the workings of the information & broadcasting ministry, cabinet reshuffle, appointment of secretaries, and more.
While these massages reveal much about the business including media business corruption, TRP manipulation and cutthroat capitalist competition to claim no. 1 spot for advertising income among corporate media channels, our focus here is more on its political implications. These transcripts included, among others, many messages between the two on Article 370 abrogation, Pulwama bomb blast, Balakot incident, etc among others and revealed that Arnab Goswami was privy to Article 370 abrogation as well as the 2019 Balakot air strike on February 26 after Pulwama attack killing 40 CRPF personnel. It also shows that Arnab Goswami celebrated the Pulwama attack as it enabled him to create a frenzy over the reporting which benefited both his channel business as well as BJP politics of national chauvinism. Arnab also repeatedly emphasises his direct contacts with NM, AS, PMO, Ajit Doval, Smriti Irani and other ministers and BJP leaders and his prior knowledge of cabinet reshuffles to important appointments, reminiscent of much discussed Radia tapes during UPA rule, though this time most of the media has ignored similar affair with studied silence.
Opposition parties including Congress immediately went on the offensive. Rahul Gandhi said that leaking national secrets to a journalist was a criminal act. Arguing that only “four or five people” in the government are expected to know these details besides “military people”, former Defence Minister A K Antony said, “No military officer will leak such sensitive documents or details… so these documents were leaked to the media… not to the entire media but one journalist… among those four-five civilian people who are in the top position in the government… either minister or one or two senior officials who are concerned with national security… only they can leak these documents.” He said leaking official secrets about a military operation, especially an air strike, is “treason”. Anil Deshmukh, Congress home minister in Shiv Sena led Maharashtra government even sought legal opinion on whether action can be taken against Republic TV editor-in-chief Arnab Goswami under the Official Secrets Act. “The WhatsApp chat shockingly revealed that Arnab had information about the Balakot air strike three days in advance of the actual incident. We want to ask the central government how Goswami got such sensitive information about the attack, which is otherwise known only to prime minister, defence minister, Army chief and few select people.” This issue is related to national security and the central government must reply on it, he said.
Similar criticism has been made by many liberal intellectuals, for example, Prashant Bhushan. “These are a few snapshots of the damning leaked WhatsApp chats between BARC CEO & #ArnabGoswami. They show many conspiracies & unprecedented access to power in this govt; gross abuse of his media & his position as power broker. In any Rule of law country, he would be in jail for long,” Bhushan said in a tweet with the screenshots of the conversation.
While this is as expected from the bourgeois opposition and liberal intellectuals to call it a national security issue and only focus on risks to national security by leaking of confidential information to Arnab Goswami by Modi government. They are essentially in agreement with this government and BJP on the issue of national chauvinism, only difference being that they want to demonstrate that Modi government is weak and derelict in its security policies and commitments while they (bourgeois opposition) are more dedicated, stronger and better nationalists then Modi. Hence, they have no interest in going deeper into the questions arising out of the affair. This is typical of them especially Congress which for long was the most trusted party of the Indian ruling capitalist class and still aspires to regain that position somehow.
However, what is more disturbing is the fact that the public comments on these chat messages shows that, besides bourgeois opposition and liberal commentariat, not only the parliamentary left parties but also many left intellectuals have also taken the same national chauvinistic approach and restricted their criticism to leakage of official secrets and risks to national security. It shows either the influence and hold over them of the sustained ideological propaganda of the national chauvinistic agenda of the ruling class in general and fascist BJP in particular, or at the very least their diffidence in criticising and commenting upon it.
However, if we go deeper into these messages we find that Arnab not only had advance/early knowledge of the attack on Balakot, attack at Pulwama or removal of Article 370 in J&K, but he was also discussing the strategy of TV coverage of these events with PMO, NSA and other leading government and BJP functionaries. Moreover, he in fact celebrated Pulwama attack in which 40 CRPF personnel were killed, saying “we won it like crazy.” What do we infer from all this? Only reasonable thing to infer from this is that instead of their being any national security issue involved Arnab Goswami and his channel was part of government and BJP/RSS planned project to create national chauvinistic frenzy. All these events were carefully planned and orchestrated with Modi Government, BJP/RSS and elements of civil/military bureaucracy all playing a role, wherein Republic TV, and some more channels, were assigned a specific responsibility to project a certain pre-decided propaganda on behalf of the Government and BJP/RSS so that a pseudo national security issue could be created to raise national chauvinism and war frenzy in the country to influence May 2019 elections in favour of Narendra Modi.
Such national chauvinism and war frenzy around risk to national security is a major political propaganda plank of India ruling class since long made its own now by the fascist BJP government. This helps them to, one, create a huge profitable market for weaponry and military industry for capitalist class; two, frame oppressive laws like UAPA and create institutions like NIA which strengthen the repressive machinery of the state to clamp down on all dissent; three, it assists in militarisation of the whole society and discourse which plays an important role in advancing the reactionary fascist movement.
Though the ‘free’ media like all organs of the capitalist society always furthers the ruling class ideology in the society, we have been seeing its increasingly clear role in manipulating and preparing social opinion in favour of fascist takeover of the state. While the role of Republic TV in some incidents has now been exposed to some extent through the TRP case, we can see several print media publications and TV channels owned by large corporate houses orchestrating such political agenda for at least the last decade especially from the times of orchestrated campaign by India Against Corruption (IAC) and Anna Hazare around Jan Lokpal. They indulge in orchestrated political propaganda and false/fake news shamelessly to create public opinion in favour of a specific party, create national chauvinistic frenzy and atmosphere of hate against specific communities as instructed by their masters. Similar thing can be seen in current farmers movement wherein first, they attempted to brand the farmers as Khalistani terrorists. On 26th January Tractor parade was ignored and whole media focused on Red Fort as if they knew in advance what was going to happen there and spread hate against farmers as anti-national violent elements to arouse common masses against them. On 27th January evening again we saw that certain specific channels who never covered farmers movement were present with 3-4 reporters and even senior anchors at Gazipur border and stared a pre-planned propaganda as if they knew in advance what the police was planning to do there in that night and they were there in force to show whole country how their strong masters would crush the farmers so that all dissenting people of the country should take lessons and cow down in fear.
Hence, to see the Arnabgate as only related to leakage of official secrets and risk to national security issue is to become part of ruling class agenda of ‘manufacturing consent’ around national chauvinism and warmongering. Not criticising its real implications shows an abject surrender to ruling class ideology.
[Originally published in The Truth: Platform for Radical Voices of The Working Class (Issue 10 / February 2021)]