You Are a Powerful Man Arnab, But India is Not You
NEW DELHI: It is with some reluctance that I write this Arnab Goswami, as for a long time I too believed that a person who anchors news shows is a journalist and should be given that due. But somehow over the years the power of television has influenced you to a point that when you come on air, you project yourself not as a journalist but as a sort of nationalist messiah, sitting on judgement on all citizens who catch your flight of fancy at that point in time, pronouncing the one as national and the other as anti-national.
Is that the job of a journalist Arnab? Well certainly not the journalism I know. And believe me I have worked myself up from the bottom, covered all the beats, worked with brilliant editors across the board, and while I have the right to write opinion I certainly do not have the right to question a citizen’s nationalism.
And that Arnab you do almost every other day, as your USP has become a strange version of nationalism where you believe police allegations, give them legitimacy, and pillory persons without even a ruling from the courts. Perhaps you do not know that a person under our law is innocent until proven guilty and while we as journalists can cover the facts of a case, raise questions about the investigation, we cross all ethical boundaries when we raise our fingers and condemn a person even before he or she is heard in the courts. But you do that because you are a powerful man Arnab and few dare challenge you today.
Of course your nationalism reaches new heights whenever it comes to Pakistan, as you wage war on that country almost as if you are in the cockpit of a jet fighter and bombing those blokes. But you know what? You are not, you are in a television studio, and in a suit and a tie. War is ugly, horrific and we as journalists are bound to and by peace---that is the unwritten code of all except embedded scribes perhaps, across the world. So while we unfortunately have to cover war and conflict with facts and not Bollywood passion, we are certainly stepping out of that unwritten but very real code of ethics when we wage war, when we justify violence no matter what the provocation. You know that editors far bigger than you or I would caution us always not to predict communal violence when we went out in the field as cub reporters, as that could actually encourage those perpetrating violence and result in tragedy. And for journalists who necessarily must have a soul---that is be humble Arnab and compassionate--- violence constitutes tragedy, as it takes lives, it destroys homes, it maims, it kills.
But you don’t know that do you? Or is it that you just don’t give a damn so long as you get the eyeballs and your bosses keep you on the show?
I do not like watching your show---excuse me for not saying news as you seem to be more in the nature of a reality show than news---but was asked to just the other day by some viewers. And I was shocked. Absolutely stunned at what I saw for that moment. I saw you virtually terrorising a young man, raging at him, not allowing him to speak as you damned him as a terrorist, an anti-national. On what basis Arnab? On allegations made by the police? Where is your evidence Arnab? A video? Really? Is that enough to pillory a man without giving him a chance to defend himself and even before he has been tried in court?
India is still democratic right? And the three pillars of the Constitution and this democracy that our forefathers fought for are the legislature, executive and the judiciary. And that the judiciary alone can declare a person guilty or otherwise. And until then even powerful journalists like you Arnab have to hold their horses, and can and should only report the facts of the case without becoming the jury and the hangman.Right? Or being powerful means you can subvert the ethics and the law, and ride roughshod over all that does not fit the story?
You first went after the JNU Students Union President Kanhaiya, based of course on whatever the government and police were spreading about him.You say you are quick to respond then how is that Kanhaiya’s speech at that spot where he defended the Indian Constitution more passionately (and of course more reasonably) than even you was not telecast by your channel? That would have diffused the situation early on, as the charge of sedition that muddied the environment would have been punctured by the video then. Of course it is not for us to give him a clean chit or otherwise, but surely as part of the package of ‘facts’ (much of it fed to us by the police and other agencies) this was very relevant.
You then went after Umar Khalid, and while it is no ones case that the slogans heard in the JNU campus were correct, it also cannot be the case under the Indian law that these amounted to sedition. We are just journalists Arnab and have to go by the facts right? And here Soli Sorabji and Fali Nariman, both senior and well reputed, have spoken on sedition. Perhaps you and I both need to read them again, to revisit the law and to actually try and understand what crime exactly was committed in JNU. And by whom? Or is it our case now Arnab that Universities cannot encourage debate and dissent, but have to be a mirror reflection of the status quo inspired these days by a skewed nationalism and the language of hate? We were all students once, but power often makes us forget that fact.
Have you ever bothered to ask why a particular kind of love for the motherland, professed for instance, by the lawyers as they beat up students and journalists at the Patiala court, is always expressed through vitriol and violence? And why suddenly India is no bigger than Pakistan in her democracy and her vibrancy, and how suddenly debate and dissent---even by young students---becomes a threat to the nation. I know you speak for the nation every night (perhaps you need to examine that delusion as well), and perhaps you should ask what indeed is Indian nationalism? The Indian constitution does not define it, but allows it to lie in the realm of a vision strengthened by rights and principles. But you Arnab and those who run you want nationalism to be reduced to a monolith, a strait jacket, rather than the free flowing sea of opinion and rights and equality and justice and peace that the framers of the Constitution wanted it to be. Before you accuse me of fabricating the last, I would advise you as the keeper of the nation to read the Constituent Assembly debates, to read Ambedkar, Nehru, Gandhi----amazing stuff out there you know. And then perhaps you, like most of us journalists, will stop questioning a citizen’s nationalism. It is as natural to Indians as being a man or a woman. Or are we to know ask every man we see whether he is a man? And pillory him just because he is darker (well I guess it cannot be fairer!) than the other, perhaps?
Do you know you are playing with fire Arnab? You are helping those who want to divide and polarise this country on the basis of nationalists and anti-nationalists. You came on air on Wednesday night---yes yes I switched on for a while---shouting at the media for being hypocritical. I was spellbound, what a performance! And then realised that this was just because you were doing a bit of a turn around. You had to finally question the lawyers (goons you said) for beating up journalists on a second day of violence, of attacking Kanhaiya in the court and for spreading an atmosphere of terror. How can there be a free verdict if lawyers are allowed to terrorise all inside and just outside the court? And the police becomes a bystander, allowing this to happen? So even you had to raise this issue Arnab as the entire nation you claim to speak for is exercised about this issue, but you kept that brand of nationalism sticking to the story of course.
You spoke of people looking at the JNU controversy through a prism of being left, or right, or as you disparagingly said left liberal; you criticised the lawyers and the cops; but you continued with your strange brand of nationalism as your News Hour hashtags demonstrated: “one India, one voice’ and “Stop anti-India campaign.” How can this diverse, beautiful, pluralistic country be pushed into one voice? Are you serious? Have you ever travelled out of those studios across the length and breadth of the country to hear the different views, the debates at tea shops, the chaotic, excited, passionate arguments? Are your hashtags not feeding into the propaganda that many in the Opposition today are dubbing fascist, where one view, one thought, centering around support for the government and what it represents alone is acceptable? Do you realise how dangerous that is, in any country, today or as has been demonstrated by history?
As is this constant reference to an anti-India campaign as voiced by you, your hashtags and of course also by OP Sharma and the lawyers who justified their violence at the Patiala courts by pointing to this so called campaign. Are you not Arnab making that classical mistake, where you are equating government with the nation. Political governments are always too small to absorb dissent and criticism but the country of India is big, generous, and loves debate and diversity. Indira Gandhi brought the Emergency and her party president Barooah at the time coined the slogan ‘India is Indira, Indira is India’. Is it? India is above her politician, and it is only when governments become insecure that they start pushing this equation that should be ringing alarm bells in your studio Arnab, not endorsement.
And remember friend, neither do you as a journalist no matter how big your channel and how many the cameras can never speak for the nation, just as India does not even try to speak for you. You can. however, strengthen India by courageous, honest journalism that finds its feet in her diversity, her Constitution, her poor, her marginalised and her deep love for freedoms and rights.