Arnab’s arrest: And why it must concern us beyond BJP-Congress, Right-Left binaries

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

A case is filed on two deaths/suicides. The complaint is that the two deceased were driven to take the extreme step because some THREE didn’t pay up. After a while police gives up. Admits in court there is not enough evidence to incriminate the THREE. The case is closed.

A year later the case is reopened in May 2020 at state government’s behest. On November 4, 2020, that ONE is arrested. Manhandled and with policemen toting AK-47s in tow. A measure you and I would recommend for a dreaded terrorist.

But Arnab Goswami is no terrorist. He could be one in the TV news industry or for certain forces. He could have been an asset for the ruling dispensation in the Centre. You and I could be on one side or the other. But none of us would deny he is a media celebrity. Possibly the biggest name on our media firmament. It sends signals, right or wrong, across the country. It affects India’s millions and millions of citizens. If not now, then pretty soon.

I am for law to take its course. I am not here to argue Maharashtra government reopening the case. I am not too worried about Mumbai Police too. Arrests are made in India, there are courts who on the basis of evidence take a call. I am not worried too about missing Arnab Goswami in my evenings. I hardly watch him. But I have the option to go for remote. As everyone has. You want to watch him, watch him. You want to shut him out, do it.

I am not going hysterical on either of these two lines of arguments:

One says it’s a revenge for raking up Palghar, dogging the drugs-Bollywood connection, and pursuing the Sushant Singh Rajput case with relentless vigour. After months, Arnab didn’t let up on these themes. He also took Sonia’s original name with certain contempt which upset the Queen Dowager no end up. What more proof do we need against the fascist nature of present Maharashtra government when it beats up ex-soldiers, locks up ordinary citizens for social media posts and make a crane comfortable within the drawing room of a nationally acclaimed actress? And don’t we have multiple sting operations which reveal that “Arnab-would-have-no-option-but-to-commit-suicide”, such would be the ferocity from the state government? That you get Arnab and you take heat off Bollywood and Sushant Rajput?

The other side is driven to despair at Goswami not letting up on Palghar, Sushant Singh Rajput, Bollywood and Kangana Ranaut. They feel such attacks are motivated. That it’s Centre which is working overtime to sink the rather unholy alliance between Shiv Sena, NCP and Congress. They argue what’s so big about Arnab when journalists are being hauled up all around the country, including in a few BJP states.

You and I could differ. Hindus and Muslims could differ. Political parties could differ. Ideologies could differ. But there is something we must not differ. And that’s about the nature of our Republic. We won’t be a democracy if media is under a siege. There is no gain showing me International Press Index which shows India very poor in freedom of press. That India is turning fascist. If it was so, NDTV’s alleged financial scams would’ve been taken to logical conclusions. The Telegraph won’t be so openly abusive. If people were under fetters, there won’t be open threats to Narendra Modi and Amit Shah, and more than just on their lives. Vilest language on social media goes unpunished.

A free media though doesn’t mean unfettered media. If Arnab is arrested or some journalist in Uttar Pradesh is, there are redressal mechanisms. One or the other would be shown up wrong. Law would take it’s call. But if you manhandle a media celebrity and bring in armed men toting Ak-47, this is more than justice pursued. This is criminal intimidation. The is State trying to send the message across: to media and to people. That even though we derive our power from you, our naked force is meant to terrify you. That if this could happen to arguably one of the 10 biggest names in the country, you could be the next.

There is no gainsaying that Mumbai Police has acted on its own accord. It’s answerable to State government who, by now, ought to have taken a public stand on the matter. I scanned the twitter-lines of Uddhav Thackeray (office), Sharad Pawar, Congress (Sonia Gandhi) and Rahul Gandhi. Blank. Shashi Tharoor? Blank. Priyanka Gandhi Vadra? Blank. Mamata, Pinarayi Vijayan, Ashok Gehlot? Blank. looked up for Shekhar Gupta and Rajdeep Sardesai. Bland. I could promise you they would be the next. And then you would go to town on the “fascism” of Modi government. And then you would be teased on your silence on Arnab Goswami. Be principled or drop the pretence.

In a jungle, might rules. Humanity was no better than jungle. But it was centuries ago. Since then, Magna Carta happened, Napoleon happened, Tocqueville happened, Voltaire happened. We all agreed to the way a society functioned. A cobbled-up state government today wants to tell us we were wrong. That a Genghis Khan or a Taimur still lives. No sir, they no longer do. Before long, your fate would be decided as its done every five years. You are too weak to fetter a billion voices. India would assert and show you your place.

Revisiting Porus and Alexander: Who did really win?

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

On evenings these days we have a television serial “Porus” on Sony channel. It’s a lavishly mounted production; the costliest-ever at Rs 500 crores. The producers retain the IP rights of the serial, Sony is a mere first broadcaster of it. The makers of the show have a global audience in mind.

The serial has reached a critical stage. Alexander is about to engage Porus in the battle of Hydaspes (Jhelum), 326 BC. The most popular version of Alexander’s story is by Arrian, a general during the reign of Roman emperor Hadrian. We in India have grown up on the story how Porus valiantly went down to Alexander but was restored to his kingdom by the conqueror, impressed as the winner was by Porus’ bravery. Alexander then turned on his heels, his hands forced by his weary army, abandoning his plan to dig deep into India’s heartland where the mighty Magadha empire, ruled by Chandragupta Maurya, would certainly have brought him to grief. He couldn’t reach home, dead in the city of Babylon (Iraq) from a raging fever though there are also different accounts of him being poisoned or succumbing to alcohol-induced issues.

This story of our childhood lacks credulity. We all know that neither Alexander nor Porus died in the battle. Alexander’s generosity is beyond belief for he was an exceptionally cruel invader. He rose to the Macedonia throne killing his father and brothers; there are mentions of him killing his friends around the dinner table; the entire citizenry of a country being butchered by his frenzied sword. Why would he leave Porus standing on his feet?

Alexander massacred the complete male population at Tyre and Gaza, razed the royal palace at Persepolis and as per a doyen historian of his, A.B. Bosworth, “he spent much of the time killing and directing killing, and, arguably, killing was what he did best”

The modern historians have trouble believing the account of Arrian. After all, his seven books on Alexander were written some 400 years after Alexander was dead and buried. Arrian borrowed hugely from Alexander’s contemporary Ptolemy’s account which is widely regarded as hugely unreliable. Sure there is material in Plutarch’s Life of Alexander and Diodorus Siculus’ Library of History but the legend of Alexander as it has come down to us in the last few centuries is a lot of baloney for authentic historical records on the man are missing. The Journals of Alexander is pure forgery.

The tale of his “weary army” is unauthentic too: it is proven beyond doubt that he kept replenishing his army with fresh legs from home, replacing his dead and tired soldiers regularly. Mercenaries and young men from his conquered territories also served the purpose. The truth is: there is no contemporary, authentic historical record of Alexander prevailing over Porus.

The fact is that Alexander’s military exploits concern just 10 years. He did capture Persia and he did travel 3000 miles to the doors of India. But most of it was unplanned. He wanted to outdo his father Phillip, began with minor raids in neighbourhood, claimed Persia and kept pressing on before he was made to turn his back by the Indian challenge. Not for a second though anyone must doubt that Alexander wasn’t one of the greatest military commanders the world has ever seen.

Historians have noticed a thread in the making of “Alexander industry”. He was contemporary to the Roman civilization but could never set his foot in Italy. Quite a few Roman emperors, generals and their “historians”, built up his legend and measured themselves against him to add halo around own greatness. The term “Alexander the Great” was first used in a Roman comedy by Plautus in second century BC, some 150 years after Alexander’s death. In 51 BC, Marcus Tullius Cicero drooled at prevailing over a minor local insurgency only because the field of action happened to be one where Alexander once fought. “Pompey the Great” was hailed as the Alexander of his age after he returned victorious from Africa in the 80s BC. Julius Caesar similarly visited the tomb of Alexander in Alexandria during his times which was described by Roman poet Lucan as a stunt: “one demented despot paying home to another.”

Successive generations have built up the legend of Alexander. One of Alexander’s great admirer was Napoleon. He once commissioned a table which had Alexander’s profile at the center surrounded by other military giants of the ancient world. This stunning piece in porcelain and gilded bronze ended up in Buckingham Palace.

True, Alexander was a great military general but Roman historians have tended to soak his legend for the benefit of their own great generals and emperors. When colonialism and imperialism of the West spread its dark shadow across the East, the image of Alexander was further refurbished to show an all-conquering hero from the West taking on the chaotic East.

The great Russian general Marshal Zhukov for one was convinced that Alexander never defeated Porus. Addressing the cadets of Indian Military Academy in Dehra Dun in 1957, the great Russian general who chased Hitler’s army down over 2000 kms from Stalingrad to Berlin during World War II, was emphatic that Alexander had been beaten by Porus. He compared Alexander’s defeat no better than Napoleon’s own reverse in Russia. When an invader is chased out of a country it’s defeat, pure and simple. Both Alexander and Napoleon had their armies decimated by local forces.

Nobody knows how serial “Porus” would turn out in coming weeks. There is little doubt though that he was one of India’s earliest defenders against foreign invaders who chose the northwestern route to eye, loot and pillage our exceptional country. At a time when Lutyens media and corrupt academicians and politicians are hell bent on diluting the spirit of nationalism and patriotism, “Porus” is a welcome presence in our drawing rooms.