Arnab Goswami in Jail: Right Place, Wrong Reasons

In the game of chess a pawn has only one use: to protect the king. It is totally expendable. Arnab Goswami has probably realised this in his Raigad cell, or will soon when the other cases catch up with him. Oh, to be sure, some of the BJP’s medium artillery has come out in his support- Messers Amit Shah, JP Nadda, Smriti Irani, Javadekar- revealing once and for all the nexus between the party and this charlatan journalist. But their’s are xeroxed pro-forma statements, ritualistic and meaningless. Mr. Goswami is now of no further use to them, his credibility demolished, his TRPs suspect, his legal options uncertain, and they shall lose no time in finding an equally pliable and conscienceless surrogate for him from among the other channels and anchors who have made the nation’s gutters their homes.

Arnab’s arrest itself was nothing short of a burlesque, like one of his prime time shows. The performance of the Mumbai police was most unprofessional, taking them almost twenty minutes to apprehend an accused; another few minutes and he might even have been released on anticipatory bail, given how accommodating the courts have been to him of late! Mr. Goswami’s supporters might think his swan song performance was masterly- he held forth for fifteen minutes on his rights, his injuries, his innocence, the need for family consultations- incidentally, a privilege which he never allowed to the persons he mercilessly traduced, vilified and condemned on his programmes. But in reality his conduct was craven and cowardly, without any dignity, as he had to be dragged by four policemen from his flat. In those few minutes his bravado, rodomontade and posturing were exposed. Also in evidence were his over weening arrogance and bloated sense of entitlement, fully displayed in his recent foul mouthing of the Chief Minister and Commissioner of police.

Notwithstanding the fulminations of the BJP and even the cautious statement issued by the Editor’s Guild (a balanced compromise among differing factions, I suspect, rather than a protest carrying any conviction), Arnab Goswami is not a journalist, he ceased being one years ago when he hitched his wagon to the BJP. It doesn’t matter why he did so, whether out of ideological affinity, an out sized ego, a yearning for power and fame, an intrinsic amorality and lack of any principles and abiding values. Whatever the reason, he does not possess a shred of journalistic ethics or values, he had become a digital mercenary and, ironically, best fitted the description of his likes by a Minister of the same government he had sold himself to- a “presstitute ” The truth has an awkward way of revealing itself. For the truth is, he should have been in jail a long time ago.

But not for the offence for which he has now been arrested, or the manner in which it was done. I am not on the merits of the charges against him (that is for a court to decide ) but on the process. An FIR once closed by a magistrate cannot be reopened for investigation by the police without the order of a competent court- it does not appear that such an order was obtained. The Raigad police have not revealed the nature of the new evidence (including the suppression of old evidence by the Fadnavis govt earlier, if any) which could justify the reopening of a closed case. Why was Mr. Goswami not served a notice, or summoned and questioned, to hear his side of the story before arresting him in unholy haste ? And how was he remanded to judicial custody for two weeks by a judge when the Chief Judicial Magistrate himself was reported to have said that the reopening of a closed case was illegal and that there was no evidence to connect him with the ” crime”? This episode shows the Indian criminal justice system at its worst, and frankly, no observer of the state of affairs in the country would be surprised at the events on display here.

Because, over the last few years, the freedom of speech and of journalists has been subjected to persecution, vindictiveness and the gross misuse of state power relentlessly. One of the more successful initiatives of the BJP, it has been quickly emulated by all parties and governments. More than 55 newspersons have been reportedly arrested just during the pandemic period and many more have had FIRs lodged against them, including eminent editors and columnists. Not for revealing state secrets, but for reporting on the shortcomings of governments, states and central. They have been lumped together with terrorists and charged with sedition, inciting disaffection and revolt, causing enmity between communities, even offences under the dreaded UAPA which should have no place in even a half-democracy (as Chetan Bhagat would no doubt put it !). And when they cannot be accused of these offences directly, charges unrelated to journalism are brought against them, such as defamation or laundering of money or whatever else the febrile imagination of the I.O. can conjure up. The case against Goswami appears to be one of them. It is not without reason that India is at the 146th spot in the global index of journalistic freedom, and going further downhill rapidly.

The apparent vindictiveness and precipitate action of the Mumbai police and government in arresting Goswami post haste can only be a harbinger of worse times for Indian journalism. It will set off a chain reaction in BJP ruled states where the police have been hounding independent news persons with a feral ferocity not seen before. Journalists perceived to be either anti government or pro Opposition will now become the fodder for their vengeance. Even worse, the line between legality and illegality will become further blurred, and an already rampaging police will be emboldened to push the envelope even more. And all this just because the Mumbai police couldn’t wait to do a more thorough job in nailing the editor-in-chief of Republic TV.

For Arnab Goswami’s rightful and deserved place is in a jail. He has, almost single handedly, shrunk the space for value based and independent journalism in the country, and his “success’ has spawned a whole mob of dopplegangers who have practically taken over the media space. The fourth estate has become the fifth column of our democracy. Apart from the Deadly Duo he has been the one man who, with his reach, aggressive style and financial support from rapacious corporates, has done the maximum damage to the country’s social and moral fabric. He has spread hatred and communalism on a huge scale, instigated our basest instincts that lead to lynch mobs, destroyed reputations and careers without any evidence, demonised one particular community shamelessly, intimidated government agencies into doing the wrong things (such as the arrest of Rhea Chakrabarty). He is, in short, a danger to the community and should have been locked up a long time ago on any of a whole host of offences. But the validity and legality of the present arrest may not hold. It is an abuse of the law and just as two wrongs do not make a right, two abuses do not make for justice. Goswami should get his just desserts but it cannot be vindictive or outside the limits imposed by the law.

[As of the date of writing this article Mr. Goswami’s petition for quashing the FIR against him or his bail application is yet to be adjudicated upon by the Mumbai High court.]

Avay Shukla retired from the Indian Administrative Service in December 2010. He is a keen environmentalist and loves the mountains. He divides his time between Delhi and his cottage in a small village above Shimla. He used to play golf at one time but has now run out of balls. He blogs at http://avayshukla.blogspot.in/

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