Mumbai: The Congress, which is part of the Uddhav Thackeray-led Maha Vikas Aghadi government in Maharashtra, has voiced its support for the arrest of Republic TV Editor-in-Chief Arnab Goswami for allegedly abetting suicide in 2018. However, several senior Congress leaders have privately expressed discomfort with the number of cases piling up against Goswami and Republic TV, saying it smacks of political vendetta.
The leaders have chosen to remain silent as the Congress in general has no love lost for Goswami’s style of reporting and his past criticism of its leaders, several members of the Maharashtra Congress told ThePrint. Leaders from the third MVA ally, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), are also largely silent as the home minister is their party colleague Anil Deshmukh.
Right from the time the post-poll coalition was formed in November 2019, Congress leaders and ministers have shown signs of being uneasy alliance partners of the Shiv Sena, a former BJP ally and a proponent of the ideology of Hindutva. But Wednesday, when the police in Raigad district arrested Goswami for allegedly abetting the 2018 suicide of an interior designer, Anvay Naik, and his mother Kumud, the party spoke out in support of the MVA government.
In a statement, Maharashtra Congress spokesperson Sachin Sawant said Goswami’s arrest was akin to the MVA government “paying its last respects to Naik and giving him justice”.
“It is justice for the mother (Anvay Naik’s wife) and daughter who kept struggling for two years, but the Devendra Fadnavis government did not give them justice… The suicide note mentioned Arnab Goswami’s name, blaming him for it. But, the police did not act against him, and didn’t even call him for an inquiry,” Sawant said in a video statement.
“There was pressure from the Fadnavis government for the investigation to not happen because Arnab Goswami runs the Modi government’s agenda,” the spokesperson alleged.
‘Shiv Sena’s mindset similar to BJP’
A senior Congress MLA said on the condition of anonymity that the matter is “delicate”, and several leaders are seeing it from a “nuanced perspective”.
“The criminal justice system is applied selectively and the integrity of the whole system is at stake. If you want to target somebody you can tinker with the system and find reasons to do that. We can reach the conclusion that the slew of cases (against Goswami) could be because he was critical of the government,” the leader said.
However, the leader added that if the complaint is genuine, such as in Naik’s case, then it’s not right for the government to hush up the case.
Another senior party functionary said, “The BJP has also similarly used the system to target its detractors. We formed the MVA government to keep the BJP out of power, but the mindset and mentality of the Shiv Sena in many ways is similar to that of the BJP.”
Apart from reopening the Anvay Naik suicide case, Maharashtra’s police machinery is also questioning Goswami and members of the Republic TV network in many other cases. These include the alleged rigging of Television Rating Points, allegedly spreading disaffection among the Mumbai Police, making defamatory statements against Congress interim chief Sonia Gandhi in connection with the Palghar lynching incident, and allegedly creating communal disturbance in the channel’s reportage on a migrant workers’ gathering in Mumbai’s Bandra in April.
‘Political vendetta, but no love lost for Arnab’
Another member from the Congress’ ‘old guard’ said the developments over the past couple of months smack of political vendetta.
“But, we chose to distance ourselves from it. Yesterday’s arrest is based on definite proof… There’s a suicide note, and it’s not related to press freedom or freedom of expression. Within the Congress, there’s no sympathy for Arnab Goswami, given the way he has been criticising the party and disrespecting its leaders by questioning them using first names,” this leader said.
“If it was anyone else and we had smelled a political agenda by the chief minister’s office or the home department, our reaction may have been completely different,” he added.
Another Mumbai-based Congress leader said: “Arnab Goswami has been driving an anti-Congress campaign for years now, whether it was in his reporting of the Adarsh housing case, the targeting of former Congress CM Ashok Chavan for it, and how he made Rahul Gandhi look in a 2014 interview. Does he behave as a journalist and maintain any decorum? The answer is no. He has become a campaigner.”
Chavan was accused of granting additional Floor Space Index for the Adarsh Housing society in south Mumbai, in exchange for two flats for his relatives. In 2017, the Bombay High Court gave him relief by quashing the governor’s sanction to the Central Bureau of Investigation to prosecute him.
“Congress karyakartas have a lot of anger towards him. At the end of the day, everyone is happy and the sentiment is that Arnab Goswami should be treated like this… Whether it is because of the Thackerays or the home department, no one cares,” the last leader quoted above added.