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Arnab Goswami, stop attacking JLF. It’s not just a political platform for lost Lutyens souls

Republic TV's recent 'debate' on Jaipur Lit Fest was a one-sided, vicious attack on an event that is a hugely successful demonstration of India’s soft power.

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Yes, I am at the Jaipur Lit Fest. Or are we better off calling it the Jaipur Lit Sham, as Arnab Goswami does? A Republic TV staffer called me up on 23 January to ask if I would come on the channel’s evening “debate” in which Goswami tagged JLF with the ‘Sham’ moniker. Or should I say expletive? Of course, I declined.

Why? Isn’t Republic TV India’s most-watched news channel these days? I do admire Arnab. He’s turned this enterprise into one of the most popular media houses in India. In a few years. From scratch. That takes guts, vision, business sense, and a killer-mentality. All of which Arnab displays every day with incredible stamina, indefatigable gusto. But to shout at others or be shouted at on his show is to risk losing one’s credibility.

Also read: Despite Rajasthan’s regressive march, India’s liberals flock to Jaipur Lit Fest

One-sided attack

Friday’s show was a hatchet job on the world’s greatest literature festival. It was a one-sided and vicious attack, quite far from the actual reality of what happens at JLF. Arnab’s central contention was that the festival is the last resort of the trounced and vanquished Lutyens’ Delhi cabal or the Khan Market gang. This is where they congregate to commiserate with one another and lick each other’s wounds at champagne parties in palatial settings.

I disagree. But first, let us give the devil his due. That is what the Bharatiya parampara of purvapaksha demands. You have to present your opponent’s case in the best possible light before you refute it. Did a politician, Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, inaugurate the festival? Yes. Did he use that slot to attack the Narendra Modi government? Yes. But here is where Arnab Goswami’s slant needs to be called out. Gehlot’s dig was very gentle, just an innuendo really. He only said that along with “mann ki baat, kaam ki baat bhi honi chahiye.”

Well, what does that really mean? I can’t be sure. Does it mean he was encouraging panellists to attack the Modi Sarkar? Later, in another interview with the press, Gehlot spelt out his intent a bit more clearly. He said he hoped that the Modi government would listen to the voices of intellectuals, writers, and poets, their mann ki baat, too. Now, is that hijacking the whole festival to political ends? No.

Arnab’s second allegation was that non-writers abound at the JLF and they make hugely political statements all the time. Like Nandita Das’s claim that Shaheen Baghs (Delhi’s anti-CAA protest site) are erupting all over India. Yes, again, Arnab is partly right. JLF does abound with actor-activists and celebrities. Many of these do hate the present dispensation and are waiting for its downfall. It also attracts politician-author-celebrities, like Congress MP Shashi Tharoor, who also use this platform to attack the Modi government.

Also read: Shashi Tharoor on why the Jaipur Lit Fest is not just about parties and celebrity writers

JLF is diverse

But this doesn’t mean that there are no speakers from the other side. Lyricist and CBFC chairperson Prasoon Joshi, for instance, openly praised Narendra Modi on the opening day, saying the Prime Minister wanted nothing for himself and was working day and night for India’s welfare. He was greeted with loud claps and cheers.

JLF’s title sponsor continues to be ZEE, a media house that openly supports Modi. Similarly, BJP’s Rajya Sabha MP Swapan Dasgupta, Niti Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant, historian Vikram Sampath, author Hindol Sengupta, Panchjanya editor Hitesh Shankar, and several others, all usually identified with the Right-wing, are also at the JLF. In this list, I might include myself. I do consider myself centre-Right, if that is some sort of ideological position. And I am a supporter of PM Modi. But above all, I am a pluralist; there are many valid points of view. Not just one. Whether it be the party line or a theological dictum. More importantly, I am a writer. Not just a polemicist or a publicist. I have authored over 20 books and edited as many more, covering a range of genres — from poetry and fiction to criticism, non-fiction, and the intellectual traditions of modern India.

The diversity of opinions at the JLF came out clearly during the panel discussion on “Gandhi: In Our Times.” While moderator-activist Ruchira Gupta tried to politicise matters from the very start, both Edinburgh academic Talat Ahmed and I tried to keep our different views evidence-based. Filmmaker Ramesh Sharma openly said that M.K. Gandhi would fast against Modi, but I replied to cheers that Modi would join the fast too, though not necessarily at Shaheen Bagh. So there was ample scope for different points of view at the JLF.

Also read: Pondy Lit Fest shows India’s Right-wing has more disagreements within

For controversy’s sake

It is, therefore, incorrect to say that the JLF has no writers of note or that it is purely the political platform for lost Lutyens souls. It has plenty of good writers from all over the world. Most important publishers show up. There are synergies and exchanges that promote the pursuit of literature and the arts.

The directors of the literature festival, Namita Gokhale and William Dalrymple, have worked very hard for over a decade to ensure the success of JLF. As has its producer, Sanjoy Roy, and the entire Teamwork Arts group. JLF is a hugely successful demonstration of India’s soft power. It has proved that we can be world leaders, even world beaters, in this field.

I say this not only as a participant, but as the founding-curator of another literature, allegedly Right-wing festival, the Pondy Lit Fest (PLF), which Arnab Goswami supported. In fact, today there are far more Right-wing lit fests in India than Left-wing ones. We should not run the JLF platform down unnecessarily, spitefully or unfairly.

Of course, this message may fall on deaf ears as far as Arnab is concerned. He and his channel thrive on controversy. But, then, so does JLF.

The author is a Professor and Director at the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla. His Twitter handle is @makrandparanspe. Views are personal.

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  1. The first 3 days of JLF was quite interesting. The one with Makarand, Hindole, and Vikram was quite delightful. While it’s quite fine to make a cheeky remark or two in a discussion, the ones by someone like Margaret Alva were disgusting to say the least. Overall it was fun and a learning experience. Vidhu Vinod Chopra s SHIKARA was a moving experience. Every Literature festival contributes to the overall Literary experience and exposure to the GenNext. It’s true of course it was dominated by one section of political thinking, perhaps the next one (if it continues to be in Jaipur) can bring the balance. A moderator like Arnab or Rahul Shivshankar would be a worthwhile addition as a moderator in the discussions.

  2. Wonderful article. I must admit that I really become a big fan of such authors who clearly and succinctly present the facts of both the sides and then give reasons in support or against it. Reiterating that it was a wonderful read.

  3. Most of JLF participants are Pseudos & hate concept of developing India in Modi Raj & are either with Urban Naxal mindset or are Anti nationals.

  4. Arnab goswami is right. All Lit Fests are organized to provide platform for anti-India and anti-Hindu people, who are steadily losing the monopoly over public discourse.

  5. Left, Congress, Communists, bogus secularists, Mullah’s AND writer doesn’t like to see mirror? Arnab is also using doing business like all the secularist news papers, Arnab is also using his free speech, democracy, human rights to express his views. What’s wrong in that? Explain. Only Left, muslims and tukde-tukde gangs have rights? Arnab, BJP’s RSS, myself also got same rights like writer.

  6. You were invited by republic for a TV debate. Instead you refused and yet all you done is to show intolerance for someone who disagrees what a shame. You are a disgrace

  7. JLF are indeed platform for like-minded corrupt people and self proclaimed “intellectuals”. They scratch each other’s back and go back home with hollow glory. No sane Indian pays a damn.

    • But no sane Indian write like such an insane comment.

      Or did you mean that you are insane as “no sane Indian pays a damn” but you did. Grow up brother, hate begets hate. Spread love and condemn those who are spreading hatred.

      And I wrote “brother” to really mean it. Take sides but never remain on one side because our brain is like water which starts to degrade in quality when left stagnant. Let’s pledge to not be reduced to a puppet of any party/side. Fight for common citizens not crorepatis.

      And check if the one you support is crorepati, do check because I know s/he is. Google it, don’t rely on the Whatsapp data. Google.

  8. Arnab is the face of new India, brimming with self confidence, with guts to call a spade a spade and unabashed to advocate for India’s welfare. This makes the older generations brought up on the congi-commy diet of hiding behind empty slogans and serving as a useful fools to the internal and external enemies wanting to break up India. This congi-commy brigade is still breathing life because they have captured the media, academia and babudom. But their days are numbered. They should either get out of the way of the rising new India, or get trampled in the tsunami.

  9. Intolerance. JLF can criticise everyone else from president to layman but they cannot stand if someone criticizes JLF. What a hippocratic liberals are these stooges

  10. We need Arnab to vigorously and effectively counter the vicious, sickular anti national offensive by likes of NDTV, IndiaToday or The Print etc.. Arnab is perhaps the only sophisticated English language channel and therefore ideally presentable to the national and international viewership. Most of the other pro-Modi channels, English or Hindi or regional languages are not that effective overall. Of course, Arnab goes overboard all the time and in fact, his initial introduction to the topic is a good enough summary of what he has to say on any topic; rest of the time is indeed juts a deafening sound bytes, insulting treatment of those who oppose him! But these sickular do appears on the show regularly and quite shamelessly, perhaps for the good amount of money Arnab pays for the verbal molestation. So Makrand, forget about advising Arnab; in fact, in the war against the sicukulars and anti nationals, the country needs Arnabs! For a factual, sober and balanced analysis of any current topic, there is of course Rajya Sabha TV anytime, if you care to watch!

  11. Arnab Goswami is a shameless ‘Yes-man’ of the Modi government. When has he had a discussion on our economy that shows no signs of emerging from the toilet? When has he uttered even a word on l’affaire Davinder Singh?!

  12. Surprised to see Arnab Goswami’s name missing from the Padma awardees list. Perhaps he is building up a fine body of work to qualify for the Bharat Ratna.

    • I thought he has already built up an enviable body of work to qualify for every possible award in India!
      What are Modi & Shah Inc. waiting for?!

    • Padma awards lost its value the day it was conferred to Burka Dutt ….so BJP might give bharath ratna to Arnab..

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