Partho-Arnab chats: Will judiciary ignore reference to 'buy' a judge, asks Khurshid
Will the judiciary turn a blind eye or set an example to restore the faith in judiciary, former law minister Salman Khurshid asked on Wednesday around the same time the Chief Justice of India lamented the tendency to cast aspersions on the judiciary.
Chief Justice S.A. Bobde was decrying the culture that branded the members of a panel the Supreme Court had appointed to talk to the protesting farmers.
Khurshid was referring to an intriguing entry in the purported chats between Republic TV promoter Arnab Goswami and a rating agency boss. The former law minister and several of his Congress colleagues asked whether the judiciary would ignore the reference to “buy” a judge or act against those denting people’s faith in the justice delivery system.
From a series of messages on May 24, 2017, one attributed to Partho Dasgupta, then chief executive of the rating agency BARC, talks about being unable to afford to lose an unnamed case.
It then says that a well-known lawyer would go “all out to nail” Goswami, adding “wonder if he is doing some setting tonight… with the judge”.
The purported reply from Goswami says the lawyer cannot do so because another lawyer “is aggressive”. Dasgupta replies: “But him na… that’s why I appointed him (the second lawyer).”
The next two messages attributed to Dasgupta read: “Buy… the judge.”
The messages do not show Goswami, known for exploding in outrage in his studio at the faintest hint of moral turpitude, chiding Dasgupta or even demurring with him. Goswami merely says: “Just one point needs to be made in the note.”
The casual manner in which the conversation unfolds makes it appear as though the most routine matter was being discussed. So far, in spite of multiple responses from Goswami, he has not denied the content of the chats.
It is not clear which case Dasgupta and Goswami were discussing. Around the time the conversation took place, Goswami’s channel and another media house were locked in a case.
The suggestion in the chat to “buy the judge” was raised at a news conference on Wednesday by former ministers from the Manmohan Singh government who had been part of the cabinet committee on security -- A.K. Antony, Sushil Kumar Shinde and Salman Khurshid -- alongside Rajya Sabha leader of the Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad and Congress spokesperson Pawan Khera.
“The comments (on the judiciary) are painful and raise some questions,” Khurshid, a former law minister, said.
He clarified: “We are not saying any judge may have been influenced. But anybody having the audacity to even talk about buying a judge is completely unacceptable.”
Khurshid asked several pertinent questions. “Have there been attempts to pressure or influence the judiciary? Have they succeeded in extracting a wrong judgment using those illegal tactics? There is a mention about a meeting with the law minister. I have been a law minister and I know what the responsibility of a law minister is. If the law minister is brought into the loop on something of this nature, it will be extremely unfortunate.”
The former minister added: “I have no qualms in saying this that the BJP has let loose people whose job, mandate is to influence judges. Question is, what would the judges do? They react, rightly so, to irresponsible reportage with processes of contempt. Will the judiciary turn a blind eye or set an example to restore the faith in judiciary?
“We stand with the judiciary to ensure it remains above the dirty politics that has been unleashed by these people.... What will be left of democracy if judges are on sale?”
The Congress leaders asked Prime Minister Narendra Modi to come clean on the issues of national security as well as corruption and lobbying at the highest levels of the government that the WhatsApp messages have raised.
One of the purported messages from Goswami to Dasgupta, dated February 23, 2019, appears to reveal advance knowledge of the sweep of the February 26 Balakot airstrike while implying that one of the government’s objectives behind the operation was to gain popularity before the general election.
On the messages relating to the Balakot airstrike, former defence minister Antony said: “No military officer will leak such sensitive information. We have to find out who in the government indulged in this treason. The government must order a proper enquiry and punish the guilty. This should not be about party politics, this is an anti-national act.”
Former home minister Shinde referred to a purported message from Goswami to Dasgupta, sent just hours after the February 14, 2019, Pulwama attack that killed 40 CRPF jawans, that gloats about the “only channel with a ground presence” and says: “This attack we have won like crazy.”
Shinde said that celebrating the martyrdom of 40 CRPF jawans was a blot on journalism.
In a joint statement, these leaders said: “The leaked chats show Arnab Goswami gleefully informing Partho Dasgupta about the deadly terror attack in Pulwama. On February 23, three days before the Balakot strikes, this lackey journalist was not only in unauthorised possession of top secrets of defence operations, he also further disseminated these secrets to another individual on a social media platform.”
It added: “In a shameful exchange, it is mentioned ‘It is good for big man in this season’. ‘He will sweep polls then’. Can the martyrdom of 40 Indian soldiers be a matter of victory for any Indian?
“Was Arnab controlling the government or was the government controlling him? Both these situations are dangerous for our democracy. Never before has India’s national security been so completely compromised. Never before has the office of the Prime Minister, office of the home minister, office of the law minister, office of the information and broadcasting minister been so brazenly compromised. Never before did our judiciary come under such an attack. Do the Prime Minister, home minister, in fact the entire government, have any moral, political, constitutional right to continue in office after such damning revelations?”