Leaking of official secrets of military operations is treason and those involved in it must be punished, the Congress said on Wednesday on the purported WhatsApp chats of Republic TV editor-in-chief Arnab Goswami and demanded that the prime minister must come clean.
The party said those involved in the 'anti-national act' deserve no mercy and the government should immediately order an inquiry into the 'information leak' about the 2019 air strikes.
The Congress fielded its top leaders -- former defence minister A K Antony, leader of opposition in Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad, former home minister Sushilkumar Shinde and former law and external affairs minister Salman Khurshid to launch a scathing attack on the government at a joint press conference.
The Congress said it would raise the issue in a big way in Parliament during the budget session starting January 29 and garner support of other parties for a joint offensive against the government including a joint parliamentary committee probe.
It also accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi and top ministers who are members of the Cabinet Committee on Security of violating the Official Secrets Act and demanded that action be taken against them and ascertain who leaked the sensitive information.
"Leaking of official secrets is a criminal act. Leaking official secrets about military operation, national security matters, sensitive military operations especially military strike is treason, anti-national. They have to be punished for anti-national activities, for treason. They deserve no mercy," Antony said.
Referring to the WhatsApp chats between Goswami and ex-BARC CEO Partho Dasgupta, he said India's national security has never been compromised in such a way and never have the high offices of the prime minister, home minister and others been 'brazenly compromised'.
'Does the prime minister, home minister, in fact the entire government have any moral, political, constitutional right to continue in office after such damning revelations?
'We demand that the prime minister should come clean on these accusations immediately in order to restore the severely damaged credibility of the highest office of the country,' a joint statement by the leaders said.
'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,' the statement also said.
Antony said having worked with the military for long as former defence minister, he can vouch that they could never leak information about such operations and only one of the top five persons in the government are suspect in the case.
"It has to be enquired immediately on war footing as to who that person is. Whoever is responsible for the leakage must be punished for treason and this journalist who was in possession of sensitive military operations he has to be punished.
"The government must order a proper enquiry. Whoever is responsible, whoever is party to the leakage of this sensitive military operation deserves no mercy," he said.
Shinde said the charges must be probed under the Official Secrets Act and added that the Congress would talk to other parties on a JPC probe into the matter.
Asked about the joint parliamentary committee (JPC) probe into the matter, Azad said he cannot speak on behalf of other parties and would leave it to the wisdom of Parliament as it is meeting in the next nine days.
He also said the probe must bring out whether Goswami was merely bragging about his proximity to the government or whether he actually got help, which was a serious matter.
Khurshid referred to certain references in the chats about the judiciary and asked whether it would take cognisance.
"Never before did our judiciary come under such an attack. Never before has a senior leader been divested of his dignity in his death," he said.
Khurshid said that the charge sheet filed by Mumbai police as part of the ongoing investigation in the TRP scam carries explosive details of 'connivance, collusion and corruption at the highest level of the Modi government'.
He alleged that a journalist colluded with the high and mighty of the government to get TRPs manipulated and he manipulated public opinion for the ruling party.
'In the process, India and every single Indian lose out on a chance for responsive, clean and progressive governance,' the party said.
'The shocked nation has witnessed a reprehensible conduct of those in the highest echelons of power in defrauding every government structure, the atrocious and scandalous attack on India's highest judiciary.
'The evil manner of playing with the life and dignity of BJP's senior most cabinet minister has shamed and compromised the Modi government beyond repair and recognition,' the party statement said.
Reacting on the issue, Priyanka Gandhi said most important things related to the country's security were leaked to a journalist.
'The brave soldiers of our country were martyred and the journalist says 'we will benefit'. Those who claim to be nationalists have been caught doing anti-national acts. This is very serious and there should be an independent probe into it,' she said in a tweet in Hindi.
Antony earlier said the leaks are a matter of serious concern and a shock for every patriotic Indian as it concerns the national security.
He said there are differences between people and parties on every issue but when it comes to national security all Indians are one, cutting across political and religious lines.
But, the way information about the most sensitive secret airstrikes are with people who are not expected to know has shocked everyone.
He wondered how a journalist knew about the Balakot air strikes three days before-hand and this could have affected the operation and its effectiveness.
On February 26, 2019, India had launched air strikes on what was said to be Jaish-e-Mohammed's training camp in Pakistan's Balakot.