Putting the Arnab storm in perspective

By GauravL 26 Comments

Yesterday morning Republic TV Host – Arnab Goswami was arrested in the early hours of the morning for a two-year-old suicide case. The arrest and especially the nature of his arrest created a mini storm on Twitter, with Hindutva twitter making it a FOE issue and a reflection “fascist” nature of Maharashtra government and some sections of Liberals seeing this arrest as Karma.

I would highly recommend Shekhar Gupta’s Cut The Clutter on this topic

Some of the criticism of Karma on Arnab appears fair if you look at the way Rhea Chakravarty was hounded by Arnab and journalists on his side of the political spectrum with Arnab as the ringleader. But it’s the Optics of the arrest and high handedness of the Maharashtra government (using encounter specialists for the arrest) needs to be called out. This comes a week or two after the arrest of Sameer Thakkar for “objectionable” tweets about Uddhav Thackeray and his son. That issue created some outrage on social media but nothing compared to the Arnab issue. Personally, I find such arbitrary arrests (Sameer Thakkar) that have been known to happen in India very frequently, more troubling than the arrest of Arnab Goswami. The arrest of Arnab is surprising due to his stature and popularity and not due to the arbitrariness of his arrest (which is actually banal in India).

Within hours the BJP big guns jumped into the fray with condemnations from Smriti Irani to S Jaishankar. Even comparisons of Emergency were made by Devendra Fadanvis. However one must point out that Hindutva twitter was unhappy with BJP’s response. They wanted a more violent defense of Arnab by BJP (what that would entail is best left to the imagination). However, hypocritically though not surprisingly – the same establishment is silent on the arrests of journalists, which have happened regularly for actually doing their job (in all states including a lot of BJP governed states). Hathras was a prime example where some arrests were made by UP police (the exhaustive list would be too damning). Similarly, the famous arrests of so-called “Urban Naxals” – especially Sudha Bharadwaj, are followed by their detainment for over 2 years without any solid proof coming up in the due process comes to mind. Recently, Dhaval Patel from Gujarat was arrested because he wrote a piece alleging Gujarat CM being replaced because of poor handling of the Covid crisis. He was released on bail after an order from the court. I can go on and on and keep on pointing cases of significantly worse handling of journalists by all states under all governments in India. Uttar Pradesh under Yogi is particularly harsh when it comes to handling journalists but no state passes the basic smell test when it comes to protecting freedom of expression.

Taking it to a next level, there are routine deaths of journalists when they report lesser-known criminals and politicians. The Sand Mafia, the Mining Mafia, the other lesser and greater known criminals (and politicians) are famous for threatening, killing, and killing entire families of journalists. I would like some documentation with trends of murders and mysterious deaths of journalists in India over the last 70 years (couldn’t find any on a cursory search).

My aim here is to not indulge in whataboutery but to put the Arnab arrest in perspective. It’s not an extraordinary event in itself, just it grabs so much space (even in NYT) because it is Arnab – the TRP king and apparent favorite of the BJP Regime. Press freedom in India has a long long way to go, but using this particular case to make that point is not a great idea. Where this case may affect a change(or escalation) is the interplay of journalism (or media) and politics in the future. Politically this moment might turn out to be a significant yardstick for future abuse of state power for politics. Shekhar Gupta alludes to it in the video, this may be a slippery slope leading to an escalation in vendetta politics across the country. The central government under BJP has till now troubled NDTV (with Tax fraud etc), the Wire, and all the usual suspects for 6 years now. But in no case was the action OPTICALLY as drastic as the arrest of Arnab. Maybe such drastic optics are where we are leading, whenever someone raises the level it’s fair to expect others to follow. With more and more public figures getting partisan (Kangana Ranaut, Bajaj, etc) could one expect politicians to attack them too? As was the case with Kangana? Probably. But that doesn’t bode well for either the debate or the partisanship.

4+

26 Replies to “Putting the Arnab storm in perspective”

  1. Shekhar Gupta was awarded the Padma Bhushan by the UPA govt for “services” provided. Very shady character. No mainstream Indian journalist ever wins awards for investigative or long form journalism. Perhaps in the past. Today they are awarded for covering up or skewing the picture.

    The points lack awareness of legal minutiae – the Hathras journalists were arrested with specific intent – 153A, 295A, UAPA – which carries sections (against individuals) for trying to vitiate law and order. Basically they were not arrested for “who they are” but “what they were doing”. Same goes for Sudha Bharadwaj, Dhaval Patel or Sameer Thakkar. There is a “core of individual actions” for which they can be tried – like Sameer specifically alleged things about Aaditya on twitter (case for perjury and devious intent).

    There is no such cognizable offence for Arnab – he does not have any dues to pay to the person who committed suicide, only legal entities transact debts and liabilities. There is simply no case here against individuals – perhaps against the firm and only a civil case at that!

    Again the lightning flashing behind the clouds is that Kaka and his chelas are rattled – the RW ecosystem is coming of age and hitting where it hurts. And second, this is not the doing of Congress – they have far more sophisticated and finer methods – even Congress backed media outlets like HT, NDTV have come out against the arrest.

    Mumbai has a feather-lite intellectual pedigree (Kangana and Javed Akhtar are its high achievers lol!). Everything is hardcore politics, business and crime. Very funny to read about supposed linkages to national level debates on FoE. Good try, Gaurav!! 🙂

  2. Nothing is gonna happen. Against the BJP u have to make ur shot (at power) count. Especially if u are on borrowed(NCP-Congress) capital. Not use ur power aimlessly in those silly ego battles. Because u bloody well know, the Modi-Shah counter punch would be a knock out.

    UPA used various agencies on Modi, and put Shah in jail. Their counter punch was coming to power and finishing the entire Congress for 10 (possibly 15) years.

  3. Here is a case where anticipatory bail is not given?. What is the logic in that. No notices either?. You must allow bail for nearly everyone is what i believe in most cases except on issues of national security, muder,rape or where there is fear of escape of the accused or influence on judicial process. Something the great journalist shekar gupta has missed out on. And we shouldnt be innocent about our country, many journos do try to stir the pot in sensitive areas like riots etc which is bad for law and order for the local people. Govts have the right to preserve law and order. Even there, bail is to be allowed once a certain period passes. People should be allowed to go in those areas after certain time.(Largely due to poor law and order in this country and we really must improve.) Again, I believe journos are capable of wrongs as much as anyone and cases can be applied to them as well, its about the civility of how it is carried out.

  4. In case of Arnab, I think it is all about “bending the knee” to Uddhav Thackeray.

    Uddhav doesn’t command the same respect as Balasaheb. He can accept that, but he can’t accept the contempt that Arnab has for him and his son.

    Tangentially, Aditya seems like a weird guy to me. He is a Mumbai guy, hobnobs with Bollywood.

    Just shows how far Shivsena has traveled since the time of elder Thackeray. I remember meeting Anand Dighe (a Sena stalwart from Thane) as a young kid, don’t think Sena has that kind of leaders/members anymore.

    1. SS wants 2 become the TMC,DMK of Maharashtra, having ceded the ‘Hindu’ space to BJP. But 2 issues remain

      1) Their competition is with NCP-Congress which still represents a bigger chunk of Rural MH, and Pawar might not cede it, at least till he is alive. So the play of SS is post Pawar.

      2) Marathi subnationalism cannot be seperated cleanly from Hinduism/Hindutva unlike Bengali or Dravidian subnationalism . In that sense its more like Gujju subnationalism . So a tougher sell.

  5. One can only laugh at BJP supporters discovering the virtues of free speech when their guy is subjected to the intimidation and coercion which is normative behaviour among Hindu nationalists. There is nobody to side with in a dogfight between Shiv Sena and the BJP.

  6. If the point of this blog is that Indians should strive for a much higher standard of freedom of expression – a French or US style, then I agree and I’m interested.
    If that’s not the aim, and we just want to have “nuanced” discussions about this case or that case, and bring “perspective” to the twitter chatter, then we can argue till our grandchildren are dead. It will all be spectacularly inconsequential. Regardless of whether we claim not to dabble in whataboutery, it’s going to be inevitable.

    For freedom of expression, you’ll find a lot of Dharmic allies – enough to win over the (a)Dharmic bigots. The transition will be brutal on the Abrahamic side, a lot of lives will be lost.

  7. As usual, Ugra has straw manned the argument . But that’s fine. That’s what Ugra does.
    If you really think all those arrests are legit and not an attack on Freedom of expression and more importantly journalism – then either one is being too partisan / too naive or simply dishonest.
    As about the use of laws – In India, it’s often said the only reason one is not in jail is that no one wants you in. The moment someone in power decides to put you in Jail you are in. Sedition, UAPA is used left-right, and center for political convenience. The case of Dr. Kafeel Khan which I missed – is the most pathetic case of abuse of that law to screw over a man who questioned government inaction on a legit problem. None of the slander held in court though and he is out.

    Phyceon1
    About anticipatory bail – what MH govt has done is use some pathetic excuse to avoid granting the bail to Arnab – it’s pathetic but none the less from the indian abuse state playbook 101.
    And what prevents state from abusing the severe crime as a cover for vendetta then ?

    VVD;
    My points of the post were two
    ONE was closest to the comment by Roy
    “One can only laugh at BJP supporters discovering the virtues of free speech when their guy is subjected to the intimidation and coercion which is normative behavior among Hindu nationalists.”
    This is comparatively mild abuse (though its abuse non less) of state power if we really want to argue about FOE and press freedom I guess a lot of other severe cases of Criminal – politician nexus need to be tackled before ONE FAVORITE CELEBRITY journalist.
    TWO:
    This arrest will set bad precedence which other states will only emulate. Maybe the overtone window will shift and that is bad(IMO). On the left i see this as a self-goal like bloomsbury for failing to defend Arnab. it only gives further ammunition to the right and creates a slippery slope situation

    1. @Gaurav It seems to me that actually you are strawmanning Ugra’s argument. His point is: “Basically they were not arrested for “who they are” but “what they were doing”. Same goes for Sudha Bharadwaj, Dhaval Patel or Sameer Thakkar.”

      You can disagree with this, but he is not saying that “all those arrests are legit and not an attack on Freedom of expression” – forget Sudha Bharadwaj and Dhaval Patel, do you really think he is supporting the arrest of Sameer Thakkar? It is about pointing a distinction between two categories of alleged offence.

      1. Yes. That’s why I had also meant to separate those arrests from Arnab. I don’t disagree with that line of thinking but he is implying i do – rather I was trying to make a distinction between those and Arnab and stating that I find the earlier worse than Arnab arrest though I am against Arnab’s arrest too.
        I get Arnab was arrested because of his Pro BJP and anti-SS/INC stance more than what he did – but all arrests are essentially a combination of “who they are” but “what they were doing”. WRT Thakkar he was clearly also arrested due to he being BJP member as well as what he wrote. Clearly Kafeel Khan was arrested after anti CAA speech – but to think that was the only reason he was arrested ?

        All these cases are a combination of politics, identity and “What they were doing” – there is obviously gradation – and my whole point was giving context for Arnab’s arrest not link to some other arrests and incidences

  8. GauravL

    I agree. My point was that everyone is complicit directly or indirectly, and this case is just the latest example. Only way out is consistent support for FOE across the board. Otherwise we can continue to be spectators as this is not going to be the last case.

    I don’t even watch Indian TV news, nor care about Arnab.

  9. The point of bail is about being civilized. It might seem like a small thing, it is infact huge. It is these little freedoms that goes a long way to create a norm. As to fos. This should be the reason to propagate the need and necessity of fos for people on the right, and the repercussions due to this on the left to get them to support fos. V important to advocate this and not to just explain.

    1. why r we talking about bail ? i didnt imply bail isnt fundamentally important. just that denying bail due for N number of reasons has been happening for decades and will continue to occur – this isnt an aberration.

      Even in this case i guess police wouldve made the argument that Arnav would pressure the Naik family. And it all depends on how sincere the police sounds. Not condoning it but its not something special i feel

  10. FoE developed in the west in a bottom up manner because the junta fought for it over time.

    Do Indians really even want FoE?
    Not people like you and me. I don’t think there’s even a very vocal minority who’s going to fight to death for FoE. You won’t get it till that’s the case.

    And it’s not even about FoE. Most of the times these case are dismissed by the courts. But it’s about the harassment you have to go through to get there.

  11. If you look at the issue from other angles, it can throw up “problematic” aspects that are orthogonal (not contradictory but orthogonal) to your take:
    1. Your own quote, But in no case was the action OPTICALLY as drastic as the arrest of Arnab.
    Doesn’t it say something that a party in a certain kind of alliance can get away with optically drastic actions and the supposedly powerful party in control of the center doesn’t?
    2. I the context of analogous allegations against the BJP, NYT and other western media explicitly tie the allegations to Hindutva; have they shown the decency to revise that view, i.e., that BJP is targeting others only like other parties do, and that it is not an exclusively Hindutva thing? Or is the “all parties bad” thing to be brought in only when non-BJP parties do this, just like other religions are bad when their followers do bad stuff but “all religions bad” when my favorite religion does it?
    3. Shouldn’t it be troubling that some journalists say they would have supported Arnab Goswami if he were a journalist, but what he does cannot be considered journalism (implying that “real” journalists have rights others don’t)?
    Finally, is there a take away from the observation that your own post puts up strong arguments against the dominant Hindutva narrative, but a similar spirit of contrarianism or “speaking truth to power” against the secular narrative is absent, though the offender in this particular case is the secular faction? If it isn’t too personal, is that because you are rebelling against your Hindutva background or because you genuinely are more sympathetic to the non-Hindu side?
    Aside: regarding The central government under BJP has till now troubled NDTV (with Tax fraud etc), the Wire, – I haven’t followed this issue, and you can perhaps explain it for me: is this being assumed because there is a mood affiliation in intellectual circles to assume that the Government is bad unless proved otherwise and journalists are good unless proved otherwise?

    1. 1. Your own quote, But in no case was the action OPTICALLY as drastic as the arrest of Arnab.
      Doesn’t it say something that a party in a certain kind of alliance can get away with optically drastic actions and the supposedly powerful party in control of the center doesn’t?

      In eyes of liberal media such alliances have a very wide leeway I presume. Anything to stop the BJP juggernaut. BJP doesnt admit it (or its supporters wont) but somehow its still restrained a bit by the extreme adversarial position of some media.

      2. Or is the “all parties bad” thing to be brought in only when non-BJP parties do this, just like other religions are bad when their followers do bad stuff but “all religions bad” when my favorite religion does it?
      All party’s bad is more for abuse of state power whenever they can get away with it. But even there I think there are gradations. Who you abuse would change but abuse would be present (as seen in most cases). Here I clearly meant to imply that the MH government has raised the bar beyond what has happened till now (to this the liberal argument (not my) is that Arnab had raised the bar and partisanship to such a level that the reaction was expected – naturally I don’t buy this). SS has always made it clear that they don’t respect laws and r quite willing to take the law into their hands.

      3. Shouldn’t it be troubling that some journalists say they would have supported Arnab Goswami if he were a journalist, but what he does cannot be considered journalism (implying that “real” journalists have rights others don’t)? Yeah that’s a false line of thinking – if Arnab isn’t a journalist most TV anchors arent. And it doesn’t matter how u define journalism. It’s not like journalism is some holier than though thing – just journalists think it – Gupta included – people don’t by and large


      Finally, is there a take away from the observation that your own post puts up strong arguments against the dominant Hindutva narrative, but a similar spirit of contrarianism or “speaking truth to power” against the secular narrative is absent, though the offender in this particular case is the secular faction? If it isn’t too personal, is that because you are rebelling against your Hindutva background or because you genuinely are more sympathetic to the non-Hindu side?

      Frankly ideologically I am sympathetic to Liberalism and not Hindutva. But I don’t see my ideology espoused by any political party in India. If this post comes off as more against Hindutva than others then its a problem of my hasty writing of this post. I meant to end it as – the degree to which partisanship has crept into media (Arnab and Kangana) with personal attacks on them (physical and property) it’s troubling. The so-called “Secular” parties have gone where BJP hasnt. Somehow this article was an attempt to balance some tweets I had put up where i had been very very critical of MH government. So this post was an attempt (hasty) to put that in perspective of my larger thoughts


      Aside: regarding The central government under BJP has till now troubled NDTV (with Tax fraud etc), the Wire, – I haven’t followed this issue, and you can perhaps explain it for me: is this being assumed because there is a mood affiliation in intellectual circles to assume that the Government is bad unless proved otherwise and journalists are good unless proved otherwise?

      That seems to be true for a section but the converse is also true for a growing section which is atleast in middle class india is dominant.
      Personally i dont feel afraid of criticizing Modi or Shah or RSS in even the harshest of words. But when i write stuff critical of MH govn – especially SS and NCP i tend to think before i type. It may be a tribalism on my part – i still see myself a Hindutva rebel than an anti hindutva person.

      On FOE the people i would be afraid of criticizing in MH in 2020 are in decreasing fear
      1. Prophet
      2. Ch. Shivaji
      3. Bal Thackeray
      4. Shri Ram / Krishna
      5. Uddhav
      ………………………….
      6. Modi

          1. I meant isn’t it a bit high, not low. I would put Ram/Krishna below Modi/Uddhav considering that MH falls outside the ‘Ram’ region (notwithstanding Bal and Uddhav visit to Ayodhya and all)

          2. You may be right here; Though with competitive offense taking it may just be a matter of time.
            But 1& 2 are very high up there. Daylight separates the rest.
            maybe here and there a bit of up down is possible.

  12. Just came across a news article that Eknath khadse has joined NCP. I hope MOdi-Shah have war gamed this thoroughly. As it stands now, it is looking like Marathi Brahmins + non-Marathi against Marathi manoos. This, in my opinion is a losing proposition. Also worth keeping in mind that back in 1999, MH was the spring board that helped launch UPA. I am wary of a repeat.

    1. It does indeed seem that BJP is committing blunder after blunder in Maharashtra, or at least suffering from lack of initiative, but is Khadse’s exit that big a deal? For a while it has seemed like more of a when than an if.

  13. It does not matter how we get to fos, through elites or bottom up or any other way. Over time once it is there it can be used to normalize things. Also I differentiate between fos and foe and also incase of sc/st. We need to get fos on religion and politics/politicians first, then maybe few decades later foe. Then perhaps on communities etc, maybe. A start has to be made.

    As for bails, I think we need to bring it in front of people on value of bails. No one can deny cases can be launched for legitimate reasons or maybe not, it wont stop, But bails are simple things to aim for. With every drop is an ocean made. Need to change the norm/culture of society by giving more and more freedoms. That is the direction we should push for.

  14. I’m much more optimistic than most on this thread about FOE. Once people get a taste of it, they will aspire towards it. Truth is, usually two small groups fight it out while the majority just watch the ‘match,’ and privately debate it within their circles. This silent spectator forms a massive majority, but the Overton Window will shift by the small fights that happen publicly. This is how it will play out for the most contentious issues in the future.

    The only people who don’t ‘want it’ are politicians and maybe historians. Also, I disagree that it will take decades for FOS from being applied to political criticism to other areas. It will happen simultaneously. Even though I understand the gradualism being implied in this argument, that’s not how it will play out in practice.

Comments are closed.