Arnab Goswami’s arrest on charges of abetment to suicide has brought to fore the debate of freedom of speech and expression back in public discourse. The right-wing has termed his arrest as an attack on the freedom of speech, others appear divided on it.
The most vicious criticism of the arrest came from Union Ministers of the Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) government. Home minister Amit Shah termed it as an attack on democracy and misuse of the Police force. Others to join the chorus with him were J. P. Nadda, Smriti Irani, and Jai Shankar.
More so, some among the liberal circles of activists and journalists also questioned the way he was arrested with a disclaimer that they didn’t agree with Arnab’s style of’ journalism’.
Having been part of Arnab’s Newshour panel when he was still with Times Now, and being labeled as a terrorist sympathizer by the motormouth ‘journalist’, I understand that Arnab has no respect for freedom of speech and very often infringe upon others to defame and intimidate them. And when he can’t, he simply puts the mic off from their guests in his studio.
I still shudder in fear at the thought of being called a sympathizer of Indian Mujahidin once by him in 2016 during a live TV debate apart from facing the brunt of it in employment opportunities. But the point here is not me? It’s about the debate on Freedom of speech with Arnab being in the center of it.
While BJP leaders are clearly outraging selectively at Arnab’s arrest and his freedom of speech, some liberals also see the arrest as arbitrary and an attack on freedom of speech. These liberals probably do not understand that the politics of balancing will not work in their favor in a regime that is authoritarian and also vindictive.
One has barely seen a right-winger zealot condemning the arrest of activists and journalists across the country; in most cases, they have been celebrating it and passing despicable comments on an entire community. For Umar Khalid, they have targeted the entire Indian Muslim community and pushed forward a theory of Left- Jihadi’s nexus.
Likewise, they have celebrated the FIR against Scroll journalist for doing a critical story from Varanasi, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s constituency, FIR against Prashant Kannojia was registered for some of his tweets critical of the UP government.
Every attack on a Kashmiri journalist, activist, or political leader is celebrated by the entire right-wing echo chamber as an attack against enemies of India. There is no space even for a ‘Good and Bad Kashmiri’ narrative now, for them, everyone from Kashmir is an enemy of the nation and needs to be shown his/her place. And this not all paid hatred as many of us would like to believe. A lot of this generates organically on the social media platforms has its genesis in the debates conducted by ‘journalist’ like Arnab Goswami. The hate is generated inside the newsroom and then disseminated in its crude form outside the newsroom.
More so, despite all the provocations led by Arnab Goswami against several individuals, the toxic campaign against Rhea Chakraborty, ugly remarks against Sonia Gandhi, he is not arrested for all that. He has been arrested for pushing someone to suicide where the victim had held him responsible in his suicide letter.
The last thing that liberals could do here is to invoke the freedom of speech argument against his arrest on the pretext of him being a journalist. For one and all, it is time to make a distinction between Arnab and journalism.
Right-wing leaders and intellectual on the other side need to understand that arguments around democracy, freedom of speech and expression doesn’t go down well with them. Any affirmation of these values by them will be like mocking at their own self. The world has seen how they subverted the democratic set up in Kashmir, how protesters against draconian CAA-NRC have been charged under UAPA, journalists critical of the government have not just been sidelined but also face criminal charges against them apart from being attacked and killed.
According to Reporters without borders, India’s position in the Global Press Freedom Index is at 144 among 180 countries, definitely no sign of a healthy democracy under Modi’s regime.
Indian right-wing needs to look in their own backyard before coming in defense of a ‘journalist’ who has emboldened mob culture and killed the sanctity of a civilized debate inside newsrooms.
For Arnab it’s time to reflect and what could be a better place than isolation in jail to do so, away from his studio, that often stinks worse than a fish market. We can only hope that he lets go of his vileness once back into the studio and also realize that his Radio Rwanda type job will only make him be recalled as the biggest disgrace to the history of Indian journalism. And if still wants to do all this, he should spare journalism and join the street lynch mobs.
Asad Ashraf is a journalist based in New Delhi.