This is the story of how BJP President and Home Minister Amit Shah became ‘Amit TV star’, and Arnab Goswami told the BJP that “what is wrong is wrong” and the BJP was indeed wrong.
First, here’s a question. Who said the following?
“I have reservations over the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill”, “I have problems with the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill”, “The BJP is trying to appease the Sangh Parivar”. The “issue” is of “illegal infiltration” — the issue was never about “religion”, “I have always said India is for Indians… now the BJP says India is for Pakistanis…” and Afghanis and Bangladeshis but not one Muslim can “walk into India” — “This is ridiculous”, “I am against the changes in the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill…”
Your options are: (a) Rahul Gandhi (b) Asaduddin Owaisi (c) Mehbooba Mufti (d) Mamata Banerjee and (e) None of the above
Answer: Arnab Goswami.
Doing the impossible
Yes ‘ladies and gentlemen’, as he is fond of saying, the love-me-or-hate-me and I-don’t-give-a-damn editor-in-chief of Republic TV told the BJP, politely but firmly, that it is making a big “mistake” on the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019 on his nightly TV news show ‘The Debate’.
It must be the first time in on-the-record memory that the media cheerleader-in-chief of the ruling party has publicly opposed the BJP’s top brass. However, it’s not all that unexpected: “I am from Assam”, Goswami admitted on his 9 pm show last week and in the past few days, news channels have shown Assam go up in flames during protests over the contentious bill. Goswami insists he speaks on CAB “as an Indian”. But we don’t have to believe everything he says, do we?
Of course, Goswami has carefully balanced his criticism of the BJP with his customary contempt for the Congress “the party which is the most communal and has divided the country…”.
Times Now vs Republic TV
Still, the very fact that he dared to go against the BJP is ‘sensational’ news, almost deserving a ‘Goswami v/s BJP’ or ‘#ArnabCABwar’ breaking news headline. Especially since his former employer and co-cheerleader, Times Now, is leading the BJP’s #CABwar.
On any given day, the two channels are practically mirror images of each other, with similar headlines, reports and opinion articles. On CAB, however, the contrast couldn’t be more compelling: while Republic TV said there were “massive protests across the country” against the CAB Tuesday, Times Now had “various protests against the bill.”
While Goswami told viewers why he disagreed with Modi-Shah on the bill, Times Now anchors Rahul Shivshankar and Navika Kumar played dictionary. They were at pains to explain what the BJP meant by what it said on the CAB, and then defended it against the “misleading” opposition.
For example, Kumar told us Monday that Amit Shah had refuted “each and every contention (of the Opposition), pointing out that the bill protects minorities who have nowhere else to go…”. The poor dears.
The bill only “deals” with citizenship — “Muslims can still seek asylum in India”, she added kindly. The Tamils of Sri Lanka and the Hindus in Myanmar are out of the bill’s “ambit”, so “how come this bill is communal then?”, she asked the opposition.
Shah the star
While we were entertained by the latest exploits of our TV anchors, the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill scripted history. And if there is one person who has written it into history books, it is Amitabh Anilchandra Shah.
Shah is the star of the Citizenship Bill (“Shah ka shandaar goal” — ABP), of the dilution of Article 370, of the BJP, and on television. As TV news would put it, ‘Shah chha gaya TV pe’.
Since August, the Union Home Minister has been an almost permanent fixture on TV, appearing probably more often than any other politician in the country, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi who, coincidentally, stepped back after his successful ‘Howdy Modi’ moment in September.
Amit Shah has replaced Narendra Modi — as the newsmaker, as the face of the BJP in the media: this week’s CAB in Parliament saw the debate framed by TV news as a battle between him and the opposition — ‘Shah takes on Oppn’ (India Today).
The PM was on Jharkhand’s campaign trail for the assembly election and barely in the picture while no other BJP leader who spoke on the bill was given as much spotlight. The most we see of other BJP leaders is when they are lucky enough to be seated next to Shah and are included in the photo frame.
Shah’s Lok Sabha speech Monday was played repeatedly by all news channels throughout the day — it’s a measure of how seriously he is being taken that Rajya Sabha TV blacked out opposition heckling Shah while he spoke Wednesday.
From the Kashmir issue to the political crisis in Maharashtra, Ayodhya or even the Special Protection (Amendment) Bill, 2019, it is Shah who speaks for the Modi government and the party in public, and in the media. This is understandable since he is the Home Minister, but he has two deputies in his ministry — do you even know their names?
As for the BJP, it has a Working President in J.P. Nadda, but when did you last see him or hear from him? Oh sure, he spoke on the CAB Wednesday in the Rajya Sabha, but his statements didn’t make it to the headlines.
Shah gave interviews after the dilution of Article 370 scrapping the autonomy of Jammu and Kashmir (India Today, CNBC TV 18); he was interviewed by Goswami even as the Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi government was being formed.
And when Times Now advertises its interview show ‘Frankly Speaking’ with Navika Kumar, it’s Amit Shah who gets pride of place.
Shah is Shahenshah, it’s as simple as that.