Why Arnab Goswami should not be arrested (By Ashwin Tombat)

By Ashwin Tombat
24 May 2020 13:46 IST

The Supreme Court (SC) recently quashed all but one First Information Report (FIR) filed against Republic TV Editor-in-Chief Arnab Goswami over comments he made during a news programme against Congress President Sonia Gandhi over the murder of two Hindu sadhus by tribals in Palghar taluka of Thane District. Arnab is protected from any coercive action for three weeks, but the investigation will continue. The SC also rejected his plea seeking transfer of the case to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).

Both Arnab’s supporters and detractors claimed victory. The former because 15 FIRs (all the complaints filed were apparently identical word for word) had been reduced to one, and the latter because the SC refused to quash all the FIRs and nixed transfer of the case to the CBI.

But the partisan brouhaha over this case obscures a very important issue that should be far more important to us all. Freedom of Expression, supposedly a constitutional fundamental right in India, is in very real danger.

On 3 May, World Press Freedom Day, India dropped two places on the 2020 World Press Freedom Index, a report by the Paris-based Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF) or Reporters Without Borders, a non-profit organisation that documents attacks on journalists around the world. India now ranks at 142 out of 180 countries. It is a very sorry position for a country that calls itself the ‘world’s largest democracy’.

What Arnab actually said is completely bizarre. During his 21 April show ‘Poochta Hai Bharat’ on his Hindi channel ‘Republic Bharat’, he declared in comments during the debate: “Do santon ki khule aam hatya... Jis desh ki 80 pratishat se zyada abaadi Hindu hai, Sanatani hai, kya wahan Hindu hona ek apraadh ho gaya hai? Arrey, mere desh ko yeh manzoor nahin hai. Aur yeh mera desh hai!” (Two saints have been murdered in broad daylight... In a country where 80 percent of the people are Hindu and follow the Sanatan Dharam, has it become a crime to be a Hindu? This is not acceptable in my country… And this is my country!) Would there be a similar silence if a Maulvi or Padre was murdered, he asked.

Later, he aimed his guns at Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray and Congress chief Sonia Gandhi: “Yeh Sonia-Sena wali sarkar ne char din tak isse desh se kyon chupaya…? Italy waali Sonia Gandhi... aaj woh chup hain, man hi man mein mujhe lagta hai woh khush hai... woh khush hai ki santon ko mara gaya, jahan pe unki sarkar hai. Report bhejegi woh... woh Italy mein report bhejegi... main bol raha hun... jahan pe maine sarkar bana li, wahan pe Hindu santon ko mai marwa rahi hoon. Aur wahan se waah-waahi milegi usko… waah beta waah, bahut accha kiya Sonia Gandhi Antonia Maino.” (Why did the Sonia-Sena government hide this crime from this country for four days? Sonia Gandhi of Italy… today she is quiet, but I think that deep in her mind she is happy… she is happy that the sadhus were murdered, in a state where her government is ruling. She will send a report… she will send a report to Italy… and this is what I am saying… that in a state where I have formed a government, there I am getting Hindu sadhus murdered. And she will get praise from Italy… congratulations, daughter, you have done a very good thing, Sonia Gandhi Antonia Maino.)

Even Sonia’s worst detractors will admit that these words are outrageous, false and defamatory.

Further, he proclaimed: “Kya Hinduon ko is desh ka sabse kamzor kaum maan liya gaya hai...? Kisi logon ne aaj socha hai ki Hindu kaum sabse kamzor kaum hai? Hindu kaum sabse kamzor kaum nahin hai. Aap ne dhairya dekha hai; taakat bhi aap samajh lijiye!” (Are Hindus considered the weakest community in the country? Do some people think today that the Hindu community is the weakest? But Hindus are not the weakest community. You have seen our forbearance and patience; now realise our strength!) As Manisha Pande says in an article on Newslaundry.com: “Replace the words ‘Hindus’ with ‘Muslims’ and imagine for a second one of the Owaisi brothers saying something like this… Goswami would have certainly have called for their arrest.”

The fact of the Palghar case is that rumours about child snatchers on the prowl had spread like wildfire across villages in this tribal area. Two days before the two sadhus and their driver were lynched, two doctors had been held hostage in an adjoining hamlet before they were freed by the police, and six persons were arrested.

Of the 110 persons arrested for the sadhu killings, not one was a Muslim, Christian or Communist, the three categories that people like Arnab variously blame for the murders. On the contrary, the village where this terrible incident occurred was a BJP stronghold, with a BJP Sarpanch.  

This was a gross distortion of the truth, as well as open incitement. But should we call for Arnab’s arrest?

Thousands are facing prosecution in India for something they wrote or said. This includes ‘secular’ intellectuals and journalists like Siddharth Varadarajan, Hindutva supporters or ‘bhakts’ like Arnab Goswami, as well as Islamic activists. But the vast majority of them are just ordinary citizens spilling their angst over social media.

BJP-led governments go after the ‘sick-ulars’, while Congress-led governments go after the ‘bhakts’. Both, unsurprisingly, go after the Islamists.

But let us be clear that neither television nor social media can be solely responsible for communal violence. The worst post-partition atrocities – the systematic massacre of Sikhs in Delhi following Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s assassination in 1984, the 1993 nationwide explosion of communal violence after the Babri Masjid demolition, and the terrible post-Godhra slaughter of Muslims in Gujarat in 2002 – were all before the advent of Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp. They happened even before Arnab Goswami’s peculiarly provocative brand of highly opinionated and inflammatory news television was born.

There must be a firm common consensus that the Right to Freedom of Press, which is a part of Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution – the fundamental Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression – is inviolate. While the right under Article 19(1)(a) is not absolute, the scope for restrictions on this right has very narrow contours. We cannot and should not allow the exception to become the rule.

The only kind of censorship which is legitimate in a democracy is the right that each of us has to switch channels or turn off our television sets. Handing over that power to the government is to help lay a firm foundation for a dictatorship.

Disclaimer: Views expressed above are the author's own.

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Ashwin Tombat

Ashwin Tombat has been the Editor of Gomantak Times and Herald. Worked as an Associate Editor of national magazine Gentleman in Mumbai, before shifting to Goa. Loves sailing, also participates in Marathons. Has worked as an activist in students's union and trade unions in Maharashtra. Also an artist of Street Theatre during student days.

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Previous Comments

Good piece of article with fine analysis.

- Pkm, Indore | 26 th May 2020 11:01


You have given incomplete description of what Arnab said

He stated that Ms. Sonia Gandhi had carried out the plan and would inform her Christian Italian masters about the massacre.

- P M, India | 24 th May 2020 20:24


This man, Arnab Goswami, is a blot on journalism. He has no ethics and no manners. The entire media should actually boycott him. Instead, you are trying to resurrect him. The country does not need him. The media does not need him.

- A S MURTY, Hyderabad | 24 th May 2020 14:45


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