The arrest of Republic TV’s Arnab Goswami this morning drew immediate condemnation from ministers in the Narendra Modi government, BJP leaders and supporters at large. That was to be expected.
However, in our polarised times, we don’t expect liberals to stand up for the freedom of a very illiberal hate-monger. Yet, we see so many liberals condemning Goswami’s arrest as an assault on freedom of speech and expression, as well as obvious political vendetta. Many liberals have made the point that they don’t agree with Arnab’s witch-hunt journalism but he doesn’t deserve to be arrested.
When liberal journalists or activists are arrested for political vendetta, we don’t see Right-wingers being so magnanimous. Nobody says, ‘I disagree with Prashant Kanojia’s politics, but he shouldn’t be arrested.’ Nobody says, ‘My politics is different from Sudha Bharadwaj’s, but she doesn’t deserve to be in jail’.
In different parts of India, so many people are facing cases or spending time in jail just because they had the temerity to oppose the Citizenship (Amendment) Act or CAA, but we don’t see a Right-winger condemning this assault on freedom for a mere difference of political opinion.
How many of these people issued even a token condemnation of the repeated arrest and harassment of a good doctor named Kafeel Khan? Rather, they have cheered such arrests. Why is it ok for Umar Khalid to rot in jail while only the arrest of Arnab Goswami is singled out for condemnation, for reminders of the Emergency and lo and behold, “fascism”?
Justice for Anvay Naik?
While a newspaper office in Kashmir is shut down, freedom of the press is violated only when Arnab Goswami is arrested for alleged abetment of suicide. Incidentally, Arnab Goswami led a ‘witch-hunt’ by TV channels against Rhea Chakraborty, demanding her arrest for abetment of Sushant Singh Rajput’s alleged suicide, with even insinuations of homicide, when there was no evidence.
Sushant Singh Rajput left behind no suicide note, Anvay Naik did. Anvay Naik blamed non-payment of dues by Arnab Goswami’s Republic TV and two others as the reason for taking his own life. His family has been demanding justice for him. If #JusticeForSSR was legit when Rajput didn’t even leave behind a suicide note, why not #JusticeForAnvayNaik?
Please note that Goswami has not been arrested for his comments against Sonia Gandhi or Aaditya Thackeray. He’s not being arrested for anything he said on his channel about the Palghar incident of the murder of sadhus, which he needlessly tried to communalise. He’s not been arrested for his ‘witch-hunt’ against Bollywood actors. If he was arrested for any of these, you could have said it’s an assault on free speech. He’s been arrested for alleged abetment of suicide.
When Left-liberals are put in jail as political prisoners, Right-wingers say the law will take its own course. Why not let the law ‘take its own course’ in Arnab Goswami’s case?
While Arnab’s arrest is obviously caused by politics, please also note that the suicide in question took place in 2018 when there was a BJP government in place and the Mumbai Police didn’t make much of it then. If Goswami’s arrest today in an abetment to suicide case is political vendetta, then his getting away with the same charges in 2018 can be called political protection.
In other words, Arnab Goswami is getting a taste of his own medicine. India has now officially descended into legal harassment and politically motivated cases from both sides of the political divide. That’s terrible, but who started the fire?
Freedom, in other words
How many ministers in the Modi government condemned arrests of journalists in Uttar Pradesh for reporting about children being made to sweep the floor in government schools? When a journalist in Yogi Adityanath’s UP was booked and accused of criminal conspiracy for exposing how a government school was serving roti and salt for mid-day meals, where were our Right-wingers and their concern for press freedom? Why is the BJP not reminded of the Emergency when a journalist in BJP-ruled UP is killed for reporting on a land dispute?
Smriti Irani says Arnab Goswami’s arrest is “fascism” but we didn’t hear anything at all from her when a journalist in Tamil Nadu was arrested for his Covid-19 coverage. Where was Prakash Javadekar’s concern for press freedom when journalists in Kashmir were detained and allegedly assaulted by police during the Covid lockdown? When a journalist in Gujarat is arrested and charged with sedition merely for a speculative story that the state may see a change of chief minister, how many people demanded universal condemnation?
The Modi government is arguing in court that sedition charges against journalist Vinod Dua should not be dropped. His crime? Abetment of anyone’s suicide? A suicide note blaming him? No. Merely criticising the Modi government.
It is inexplicable why Arnab Goswami deserves greater freedom than Parashar Biswas, a journalist in Tripura who was beaten up after criticising Chief Minister Biplab Deb’s threat to the media on his handling of Covid-19 pandemic.
It makes sense for liberals to condemn the arrest of Arnab Goswami because they have been consistently condemning legal action as a form of political vendetta, the suppression of free speech, and the chilling effects on freedom of press.
Liberals spoke up for the journalist who was only doing his job in trying to cover the Hathras gangrape and murder recently. You know who was silent or even justifying their arrests? The same people who were championing Arnab Goswami’s ‘witch-hunt’ of Rhea Chakraborty on fictitious charges.
When Right-wingers speak of Arnab Goswami’s freedom, they reek of hypocrisy, because for them freedom of speech is dependent on the person’s politics. Liberals, however, are condemning Arnab Goswami’s arrest because they are in principle opposed to putting political opponents in jail.
If the Right-wing may please agree with this principle and start demanding the release of political prisoners regardless of political ideology, we’d be a freer, better, saner country.
The author is contributing editor to ThePrint. Views are personal.