Voltaire

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.

Why nobody is allowed to criticize Sonia Gandhi

Take a deep breath and reflect who you are not allowed to criticize in India. I could think of no other than Sonia Gandhi, former Congress and UPA chairperson. Run the entire gamut, pore over the worksheet of honchos of Indian media, Shekhar Gupta, Barkha Dutt, Vir Sanghvi, Rajdeep Sardesai, Sagarika Ghose etc; google as you might; dive into the archives of Lutyens Media like Hindustan Times, Times of India, Indian Express, The Hindu; Sonia Gandhi, much like Caesar’s wife, has been above reproach.

That’s astounding. I mean nobody has been the president of 134-year-old Congress longer than her (19 years); she got her party two consecutive Lok Sabha victories; a whole lot of scams were unearthed; yet not a word against her. I mean yes, BJP and her bete noire Dr. Subramaniam Swamy keep pelting her windows but that’s par for course for any opposition. But what accounts for no “black sheep” within Congress bleating ever? No media house opening its edit pages for trenchant views; no historian/academician offering critiques? No scholarly paper in JNU? No diagnosis on a person out on bail?

I do recall two embarrassing Sonia interviews, that is for any self-respecting journalist, by Rajdeep Sardesai (he kept saying “fought like a tigress,” both in 2005 and 2016), as it was for Aroon Purie on another occasion, coy and adolescent.  Yes Shekhar Gupta (“she keeps a formidable dynasty on her slender shoulders,”), Barkha Dutt (“she has made a public commitment to Women’s Reservation Bill”) have also interviewed her;  Vir Sanghvi has been profound in “Nobody-in-Nehru-Gandhi-Family-Has-Given-Kind-of-Authority-she-has-to Manmohan-Singh,” echoed by a gushing Sagarika Ghose ( “She never undermined Manmohan Singh, always backed him up”). Both Sanghvi and Ghose don’t touch upon how another Prime Minister, PV Narasimha Rao, was humiliated, even in death. And these clowns happily go toting about “bhakts” to everyone else. Phew.

Two books on Sonia immediately come to my mind. One is a pathetic account by a sychophant;  another is “Red Sari” which was unofficially banned in India for six years due to machinations by Abhishek Sanghvi, as alleged by its author.

There was though one voice of dissent which was muzzled without much ado by this “deep state” in India. Margaret Alva, a former Union minister of state and Governor, was quite scathing in her autobiography: “Courage and Commitment:” Excerpts:

“While Pilot, Prasada and Scindia got all the honours due to them as Congress leaders—with shamianas erected at the AICC to receive their remains before the last rites—PV Narasimha Rao, the tallest of them all, was denied a state funeral in Delhi. His body was not even let into the AICC compound; instead, the gun carriage carrying the former Prime Minister and Congress President was parked on the pavement outside the gates, with chairs lined for party leaders. I was shocked…ever since, I have regretted not protesting and walking away.” – On PV Narasimha Rao’s death in 2004

Alva details that she played a peacebroker between Sonia and Rao: the latter falling out probably for deciding to appeal against the Delhi High Court’s decision to quash a complaint against the Bofors case. Sonia Gandhi once retorted to Alva: “What does the Prime Minister want to do? Send me to jail?”

Alva’s outburst about the unfair ticket distribution in Karnataka led to her ouster. She was asked to resign from the post of All-India Congress Committee (AICC) general secretary in 2009. In her resignation, Alva wrote thus:

“Times have changed and for the first time I have come to feel like a misfit in an organization that I considered as precious as my own home. A look at our recent candidates lists show a distinct patter of patronages to the wealthy and rich lobbies like mining, education and real-estate…”

Just reflect on the above in line of recent Karnataka assembly elections and ponder why no newspaper or media celebrity ever brought this book out of the shelves to examine Congress’ candidates in 2018? Why Congress’ demise in the state is not looked through the prism which Alva afforded us?

As per one reviewer of the book: “Alva’s book offers an amazing insight into the maneuverings of 10 Janpath—the home of Congress president Sonia Gandhi. Without being too harsh, Alva clearly indicts Gandhi for lacking transparency in her manner of functioning, her penchant for surrounding herself with a handful of loyalists…”.

Alva was made to leave Delhi, appointed as she was governor of Uttarakhand. In her words: “Once I had made the mistake of saying: `The Alvas are the only political family to have a member in Parliament without a break for almost half a century.’ This statement sealed our fate.”

(As an aside, Alva was Governor of Rajasthan when Narendra Modi came to power in 2014. Alva describes her meeting with Modi thus: `I told him I had come to pay my respects, not plead for an extension, adding `I am not prepared to quit anytime.’ “There is no question,” He (Modi) replied. “You are doing a good job please continue where you are.” She was subsequently given additional charge of Goa and Gujarat!).