Arnab Goswami

President’s Rule: What’s stoking this buzz in Maharashtra

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

India is worried on count of Maharashtra. The Western state appears to be losing the battle against Corona Virus. There are three matters which suggest we haven’t seen the worst yet.

One is a measure by the Mumbai Police. While imposing Section 144 till June 8, it prohibits any attempt on social media to incite mistrust against the government officials. It’s a loosely worded order which empowers the state machinery to take punitive measure on what it doesn’t like and considers as creating “mistrust” in public against it. It’s censorship otherly-worded.

Second is Rahul Gandhi going public in distancing himself from the Maharashtra government of which his party Congress is a part. In a video message, Gandhi said his party doesn’t have a say in key matters in running of the state.

Third is an Indian Express report which claims that there is “resentment in the cabinet” over Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray’s reliance on the bureaucracy who virtually are running the state’s Corona strategy and are “keeping ministers in the dark.”

Further, the Indian Express claims that the three partners in coalition—NCP, Congress, Shiv Sena—differ over lockdown. While Thackeray prefers an extension of lockdown, Pawar (NCP) “is keen on granting some relaxations.”

In plain terms, Corona is like a mad dog on the leash which is taking its master, the Maharashtra government, all over the place.  There is no firm hand to keep the canine on its trajectory. The Maha Aghadi (The Great Development Front) is a grumpy house where a key partner has distanced itself, the cabinet is sore over the bureaucracy and there is bickering on the lockdown strategy.

A few side issues haven’t won Maharashtra government many friends. The harassment of media personality Arnab Goswami is viewed prejudiced. The Palghar Lynchings of Sadhus is hanging fire. Then we had a few barons in the Yes Bank scandal, sought by state agencies, moving without intervention in their caravans amidst the lockdown. We now have reports where Shiv Sainiks (Shiv Sena cadre) have vandalized shops of individuals who allegedly didn’t have complimentary words for Thackeray. A FIR against the owners, two individuals, has added insult to injury.

Predictably, BJP has mounted pressure. The Railways minister Piyush Goyal has run hourly tweets on how Maharashtra government is doing nothing to avail Shramik Trains for stranded migrants. Now there are reports that a few BJP functionaries have met the governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari raising speculation over the President’s Rule. Former chief minister Devendra Fadnavis, on his part, has stated that they don’t need to win over any sitting MLAs as “they (Maha Aghadi) would collapse under its own weight.”

Meanwhile Loksatta, a Marathi news outlet, ran a twitter poll on whether the state should have President’s Rule. Within five hours, the voters leaned in favour of dissolution of assembly. Though the regional newspaper promptly dropped the poll, the twitteratis went to town on the mood of the people in Maharashtra.

Politics and power is small price compared to the catastrophe which is unfolding in the state. Cynics would say that it perhaps is the reason why Corona is spiralling out of control. So far up to 40 per cent of India’s numbers and deaths to the pandemic are accounted by the state of Maharashtra. The prized city of Mumbai has been gripped by the curse. The commercial capital of the country is bleeding and no end is in sight. It’s not good for state, definitely not for India. Besides, there is this question: How long could you keep the people locked out. How long would they watch the rest of india limp back to life while they are sealed between their four walls?

The alliance of convenience in Maharashtra must show itself as an alliance of saviours. Or give way to those who could get the job done.

 

State and Indian media: The gloves are off; Where are the arbiters?

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

I am in the middle of writing a book on World History where I show strands where the reality is vastly different to the narrative we have been fed through newspapers and academia. My compass is big, covers all continents, and this endeavour would take up my four years by a modest estimate.

One of the problems I am confronted with is references. Most books I pick have references which appear untrue. For instance, Pyarelal Nayyar, the personal secretary of Mahatma Gandhi mentions an incident from Second Boer War (1899-1902), quoting Natal Mercury where the date is before the event happened. It’s not typo, there are several such instances.

We are not talking of biases here. That is given in most cases. You pick facts and incidents to your liking. My issue is with “creating” those facts and incidents. People in social media, newspapers, TV channels are doing it all the time. These “fakes” are repeated, read or seen by millions and shape people’s opinions—and actions.

This is the background in which I want the present issue of journalists in India being hauled up be seen. Two prominent names, Sudhir Chaudhary and Arnab Goswami, are such. The are perceived to speak the Centre’s line and it has put them in crosshairs of opposition states. In Himachal Pradesh, 14 FIRs have been filed against five reporters. This is likewise in UP, Gujarat, West Bengal, Rajasthan and in many other states. Indian Express is moving heavens on one of their reporters facing action for what Delhi Police believes to be “fake news” on Tablighi Jamaat’s head, Maulana Saad. Is media’s freedom a thing of the past?

There are no clear-cut answers and there would never be. None of us can expound an opinion and say: Yes, that’s it. How can journalism survive if State is the Big Brother watching them all the time? How would State function if media is like an ass in a pottery shop, to borrow a metaphor from Aesop’s fables.

None of us would deny that State is prejudiced; and media is biased. Or that we don’t live in the world of corporate media. Power and money, the two essential evils, are working all the time to grow bigger today than they were yesterday. It could only be at the cost of citizenry, the sheep to be sheared, Where are the arbiters in this toxic, noxious air?

There could be many arbiters but let’s begin with judiciary which has the final word. What do they go by with? Our Constitution doesn’t provide freedom to press as an enshrined Article. Most of it is presumed under Article 19 (1-a). This is the Right to Freedom of speech and expression to individuals. This is Liberty, the root of democracy.  Ideally, media shouldn’t be interpreted from this prism. Unlike individuals, media is a “watchdog” for public interest which gives them privileged access to men and matters.

Yes, there is Press Council Act of 1978. It’s to ensure freedom of press as well as pull up media if untruthful. In essence Press Council is just a talk shop. Most members are hand-picked. Editors’ Guild of India and News Broadcasters Association (NBA) are no better. Their credibility is zilch. In essence, it’s a Big Boys Club who keep public interest out of their rounds of drinks.

Ombudsman, a neutral voice of credibility, was once deemed an important self-regulatory organ, to keep the content truthful. It has been a joke on us for last two decades if not more.

Then there are unseen arbiters, we the readers, the citizens, the suckers. Both the State and media would prefer us to be blindfolded, to be goaded into alleys of their own mischiefs. We don’t get the truth from either; yet we tilt one way or the other. An irony: Those who can’t do without us, have little of our interest on their minds.

The time has come to draw a line in the sand. Ambiguity must give way to well-defined laws. Journalists must follow the time-tested dictums: Present both sides of story; name your source who wish to be quoted or don’t use it at all. I agree it’s not possible in political reporting but don’t let a good story come in the way of a patient’s good who is on a ventilator.

I also know it’s easier said than done: your editors are mostly handpicked by your employers to serve their business or political agenda. That “little journo” on the desk, the sub-editor, also is prone to rejig your story in a manner which could induce a saucy headline and cause you embarrassment next morning. I doubt if there is any reporter who hasn’t muttered a swear to an editor/sub-editor on the final output.

State, on their part, must not allow mischief by press. But it also shouldn’t use the long arm of law to settle personal scores or come down on an investigative story. Mostly, States should limit itself to denying a news or offering a clarification. Or be a mouthful like Trump is to despicable US media. But state action or imprisonment isn’t on. Individuals could evoke defamation suit: Like Sonia Gandhi should have done against Arnab Goswami. It was shameful to involve a state machinery for her personal score.

Press is the breath of democracy: All you need is a strong filter. Putting a lid would suffocate it to death.

Who are the Right Wing voices you admire most in our public domain?

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

It’s difficult. You see right-wingers are as high-nosed as anyone who is first among equals. A little like the elites they criticize. They ought to put cause ahead of self; blow wind to voices in the society. Those who could step in when they leave. For this is a long overhaul. One life-time is not enough. They are battling an entrenched monster. There is need to harness. Less preening, more scouting.

You cast your eyes around and it gets stuck in three dimensions: Social Media, Academic, Debaters. I don’t know who are the right-wingers in languages other than Hindi and English. Isn’t that sad? I am also leaving out backroom worthies: websites, historians, field-workers, organizers etc. True, they are a mighty force. But this is about individuals.

Here I name my Playing Eleven, captain and all. There are also support staff and motivators.  Inevitably, those out would be miffed. But I promise this is an annual list. So there would be another in 2021. (In bracket, you have their twitter accounts).

Openers:  Swapan Dasgupta. Swati Goel Sharma

It’s a kind of Gavaskar-Sehwag choice. One, orthodox, steeped in academics, never caught on wrong foot. Other, flamboyant, swings hard, stares down the bowlers. While Swapan (@swapan55) could be run-less for long hours, Swati (@swati_gs) is a busy-bee, swatting propaganda on lynching and riots. The two are not of the same kind.

Swapan could be irked to see Swati as his partner.  My criteria is who contributes more to the “team” – in terms of rattling the Lutyens’ agenda. Swapan could be too politically correct at times, tries too hard to be neutral, and in my view that’s a bit underwhelming to the cause. (Truth to tell, I like Swapan the debater better than the writer). Swati doesn’t carry any such baggage. She puts her skin in the game.

Middle Order: Amit Malviya, R.Jagannathan (Capt), Aravindan Neelakandan

All three are my favourite and I put them in that order: At number 3, 4 and 5.

Amit Malviya (@amitmalviya), of course, is the IT cell head of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). But his value to masses lies in TV debates in which he chooses his facts and words like Rahul Dravid did with his flicks and drives.  Pretty well-organized. He could be nasty without a snarl on his face. His directness is unnerving to the likes of Rajdeep Sardesai.

R. Jagannathan (@TheJaggi) is heads and shoulders above the rest. A Sachin Tendulkar of this team. He brings so many dimensions on so varied subjects that it’s almost unreal. A most original thinker.  An erudite man who in my opinion is the best journo in the country. Swarajyamag is lucky to have him on board.

Aravindan Neelakandan (@arvindneela ) who? Well, look for him in swarajyamag.com. He takes up the most contentious issues which Liberal-Leftist forces are fond of passing as truth. There’s a certain rootedness in his pieces which convey the essence of India, be it on architecture, archeology or even in culinary domain. A most credible voice who prefers his work to do the talking.

ALL-ROUNDER: Dr Anand Ranganathan

Dr Anand Ranganathan (@ARanganathan72 ) is the Jacques Kallis of this “team”. Could defend and attack as it suits him. Immaculate with his facts. Sarcasm and poison comes easy to him, as does humour.  But sometimes “labours” with his idioms and metaphors.  Prefers a monologue than to a real debate. But he’s a work in progress—I sincerely hope the “professor” takes this comment in the spirit it’s said. Life is rewarding to those who are its’ students.

WICKET-KEEPER:  Rahul Shivshankar

Rahul Shivsankar (@RShivshankar) hands down is the best anchor in the business today. A MS Dhoni, if you may. He brings on nasty Left-Liberal forces on his show and then schools them with facts. Ups a mirror which reflects their ugly visage. Puts everyone at ease, irrespective of their bent. Extremely good with words and expressions. Earnest to a fault.  Doesn’t let a debate flag.

BOWLERS:  Arnab Goswami, Dr. Subramanian Swamy, Tarek Fateh, Pushpendra Kulshreshtra

Arnab Goswami is often rash, a sledger, who arguably isn’t as good as he once was. But he was a trend-setter. His put-downs make no distinction between a Rahul Gandhi or a Shashi Tharoor or with people he once shared the studios with. These days he gets his runs like Steve Waugh, often ugly, but, as said, the opposition hates him, and that’s good enough.

Dr Swamy (@Swamy39) has too many distinctions to his name. He does some “real” damage to biggies of India’s political landscape.  Gandhis and Owaisis amongst present times. Karunanidhis of the past. He could make legal hawks like Ram Jethmalani twitch on TV debates. Some of India’s biggest headlines–UPA Scams, Ram Janmabhoomi etc—bear his imprint.  Indefatigable. Brutal with his words. Erudite.  Quite a bit his own man. Friends and foes fear him in equal measure.

Tarek Fateh (@TarekFatah) isn’t often seen on TV these days. But his value lies in exposing the “muddled” mindset of Muslims.  He defends Islam but believes it’s hostage to Mullahs and Jihadis.  He doesn’t as much spew venom as he spits it. Few have put Islam under as sharp lens as he does. If Islam needs a “Reformation”, Tarek Fateh could be its’ Martin Luther.

Pushpendra Kulshreshtra (@Pushpendraamu @PushpendraKul  ) has kind of burst on consciousness in recent times. A former journalist, he is excellent in front of camera. Has a good grounding in Quran. History is his armour. Logic his shield. Words his halberd. He is a rage amongst Hindi-speakers and that’s a sizeable number to help the team’s cause. Needs to be more Social Media savvy though: Has two twitter accounts!

Post script:  These 11 are in people’s eyes. But the support staff and philosophers are no less significant.  Madhu Purnima Kishwar (@madhukishwar) is unlucky to miss out the first XI. Rahul Roushan (@rahulroushan)  and Nupur J. Sharma (@UnSubtleDesi) are excellent for OpIndia. I like Abhijit Iyer-Mitra (@Iyervval) too. Yaajnaseni (@yaajnaseni) is a rising star but you won’t believe it looking at numbers who follow her on Twitter. Vivek Ranjan Agnihotri (@vivekagnihotri) and Shefali Vaidya (@ShefVaidya) are popular. Among philosophers, True Indology (@TlinExile) is brilliant. Dr Koenraad Elst (@Koenraad_Elst) is without peer. Rajiv Malhotra (@@RajivMessage), David Frawley (@@davidfrawleyved) and Subhash Kak (@@subhashkak1) all are shining lights. Go out and look for them if you don’t already.

 

Judiciary: Dirty linen are now being washed in public

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

Clearly all is not well with Indian judiciary and these are anxious time for India’s democracy.

In what is emerging as a divided house in public domain, barbs are being exchanged and motives assigned by practicing legal luminaries, both advocates and judges. Practically, the dirty lines of our judiciary are being washed in public.

The latest such episode is Supreme Court asking for response from an NGO, Lawyers Collective, and its operators, lawyers Indira Jaising and Anand Grover on a plea alleging FCRA violations by them.

Indira Jaising and Anand Grover, and their NGO Lawyer Collective in a press statement have cried foul and alleged that this is a case of “victimization” since Ms. Jaising took up the cause of ex-woman staffer who had leveled sexual misconduct charges against the Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi which now have been rejected by an In-House Inquiry Committee earlier this week.

In these columns, reports have been published how corporate lobbies and corrupt lawyers derail justice. A young Supreme Court lawyer Vibhor Anand in series of tweet-threads has alleged that law firms which hire family members/relatives of judges act as a conduit to influence judicial processes. He has further alleged that the opaque system of Collegium appoints judges in High Court and Supreme Court on recommendations influenced by corporate lobby.

The delicious irony of this all is that the lobby which ignored CJI Ranjan Gogoi’s anguish that the sexual harassment charge was an attempt to “deactivate the office of CJI” is now crying hoarse under the umbrella of “victimization.” So while this could be a plot against Indira Jaising, Anand Grover and their NGO Lawyers Collective, the “plot” theory doesn’t hold true when it comes to CJI Ranjan Gogoi!!! So, what is true for one, isn’t true for another.

While a certain lobby of lawyers and media has worked with clockwork precision to pin CJI Ranjan Gogoi to the wall, treating ex woman-staffer has a hapless victim, no thought has been spared that the CJI himself could be a “victim” in this case. In series of columns, we have highlighted how CJI Ranjan Gogoi has been virtually declared “guilty” while not a single line has been spared to pursue his line of reasoning and argument. We have also outlined the background and the related story of a lawyer claiming he has evidence it was a plot against CJI Ranjan Gogoi.

The political machinations too have played a massive role in destabilizing judiciary. Reputed lawyer Harish Salve had reacted vehemently when an impeachment process was set in motion last year against then CJI Deepak Misra. He had slammed Congress and their lawyer-politicians for vilifying the constitutional institution.

The only way to stem the rot, Salve had opined, was for Contempt of Court Act to be used with firmness and people to be sent to jail.

Speaking to Arnab Goswami, this is what Salve had said: “I believe that it is with great hesitation that the court declined to initiate Contempt of court in the Justice Loya case and I personally think it was a mistake.” With the way things were going, Salve had said, we might as well wind up the constitutional courts…if it could be vilified…without any consequences.”

Salve had cited a personal instance. “I was in Ayodhya case when (Kapil) Sibal threatened to walk out of the court…it’s awfully disrespectful of the court.”

Damningly, Salve had said: “Now that the Congress is reduced to 44, they might use the court to destabilize the government.”

Now the desperation of political survival is spreading its poison in judiciary by invoking the various lobbies they had created in the past. Lutyens Media, as ever, is pliant to their machinations and act as a forward force. In all this, the credibility of the judiciary has taken a serious beating. If judiciary goes, what survives???