Is Arnab Goswami more equal than others?

The unusual speed in which the Supreme Court granted interim bail to Republic TV’s editor-in-chief raises questions about whether the Indian justice system provides a level playing field to all, writes Kumkum Chadha

The storm may have settled; but the issue has not. It is raging in minds as also raising questions about whether the Indian justice system provides a level playing field.

A case in point is the unusual speed in which the Supreme Court granted interim bail to Republic TV’s Arnab Goswami. The “quick listing” as it was described in a letter shot off to the Secretary General, Supreme Court of India, attention was drawn to the “bias” and “special treatment” that Goswami received.

It was claimed that preference is given to cases filed by influential petitioners. “Lightning speed” was the word used in a tweet.

Pitch this against urgent matters, including bail petitions, pending for months on end; or the example of former Finance Minister P Chidambaram languishing in jail before he was granted bail: nearly four months against Goswami’s eight days.

Within a day of petitioning the Supreme Court, a vacation bench convened to hear Goswami’s appeal against the High Court’s decision to grant him relief in an abetment to suicide case.

Goswami had moved the Supreme Court on November 10; the following day he walked out of jail.

A showman that he is, Goswami milked his release to the hilt. He did a kind of a road show, whipping up hysteria and shouting slogans: “Vande Mataram” and “Bharat Mata ki Jai” as he popped his head out from the convertible car he was travelling in. Cheering and waving to the “crowds”, many seemingly his employees, Goswami came across more as a politician than a journalist.

Yet when Goswami was arrested, it was for some “justice delivered”.

A case in point is actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s live in partner Rhea Chakraborty. who, perhaps, had then breathed easy. For her, Goswami’s arrest was a replay of events.

Time, to say the least, had come full circle.

What happened to Goswami in November was what Rhea went through two months earlier. It was Goswami’s relentless campaign to see Rhea behind bars for what his channel perceived to be Rajput’s “murder” earlier this year. For days on end, his “Arrest Rhea” campaign was the mainstay of the channel he heads.

Rajput, whose death got him more fame than his acting prowess ever could, was found dead at his apartment in Mumbai on June 14. The Police termed the death as a suicide.

But there were twists and turns: selective channels painted Chakraborty black, following a complaint from Rajput’s family. A section of the media demanded her arrest. Goswami led from the front: in the name of Truth.

In Goswami’s case, Truth is hazy: rather a perception. He often sees it as he chooses to, irrespective of facts. So also here. In his perception Rhea was the culprit. So he decided to go for her, to put it bluntly. He called out his competitors who tried to bring in balance to the one sided reportage of Goswami’s brand of journalism.

Quoting author Walter Kim, actor Sonam Kapoor had tweeted: “Everyone loves a witch hunt as long as it’s someone else’s witch being hunted”. Nothing could describe Goswami’s tirade better. Goswami was enjoying every bit of what he chose to hunt.  Very few are as privileged as Goswami: he heads a TV channel and can bend truth the way he wants. In Rajput’s case, in the clamour for justice for the dead actor he demonized the living: in this case Rhea Chakraborty. He did not rest till she was put in jail.

Except now the shoe was on the other foot. On November 4, cops reached Goswami’s home with an arrest warrant.

He was wanted in a suicide case of an architect and his mother. The clincher was a suicide note which stated that they took the extreme step because of unpaid dues by three companies including Goswami’s Republic TV.

Unlike Rhea, Goswami did not go quietly. He protested and refused to budge. There was a hullaballoo with Goswami alleging that his arrest was illegal. Finally he had to be dragged and bundled into the police van. Even while being driven away, he said his piece to the camera alleging assault by the cops.

The case was an old one: registered in 2018 but closed a year later for want of evidence. However, in May this year, the state government reopened the case following a complaint by the victim’s family that the Police had not investigated the case properly.

Ironically, in Rajput’s case, Goswami’s tirade against the Police was improper investigation. The thrust of his argument was that there was a cover up and therefore the case must be investigated by CBI.

It is also an interesting coincidence that the case against Goswami was closed when the state government was ruled by the BJP. It was reopened during the Shiv Sena regime led by Uddhav Thackeray.

Goswami’s political affiliations are well known. He joined hands with politician Rajeev Chandrasekhar to launch his television channel in 2016.

Two years later Chandrasekhar formally joined the BJP. Following Goswami’s arrest, Union Ministers slammed the state government and BJP activists took to the streets demanding his release. That apart, Goswami’s antipathy to the Shiv Sena and Congress is well known. He has had run-ins with the state government headed by Shiv Sena in Maharashtra.

Following Rajput’s death, he targeted Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray and his son, Aditya, for shielding Bollywood’s drug mafia.

Earlier Goswami had hit out at inaction in a lynching case of sadhus in Palghar. Goswami’s contention was that the tirade against the state government was the reason for it gunning for him.

To an extent, he is right.

It is political vendetta, to say the least. The state government is hitting back and wants to teach Goswami a lesson. At the same time it is delivering a message to the media as a whole: bend even when we don’t ask you to.

There is also substance in the argument that an old case was reopened to settle scores. Cases are often reopened, but it is the timing that is in question: clearly coinciding with Goswami putting the government on the mat.

His arrest, therefore, can be interpreted as misuse of state power to silence a journalist promising exposure.

Yet, this is too simplistic an argument. The cover of being a journalist does not shield wrong doing, particularly criminal in nature. Being a journalist is not a license for freedom to violate the law. On that count all are equal. If a crime was committed, the law must take its course as it did in Goswami’s case, the riders notwithstanding.

Opinion is also divided on Goswami’s credentials as a journalist. His lackeys may have drummed up “international support” for their “world hero” but the truth of the matter is that Goswami has singlehandedly violated every rule that even average journalists should follow.

For one he has thrown objectivity to the winds. Most of the reportage on his channel is opinionated and subjective.

The other is that he follows an agenda and tweaks his script to voice it. In the process facts are usually a casualty. This is more by design than default.

Third Goswami has given a go-by to all norms. Using foul language often bordering on abuse and name calling is a rule rather than an exception.

He has often referred to Sonia Gandhi as “You listen Sonia” physically pointing a finger at her or degrading her on grounds that she “hails from Italy” or is “Italy wali Sonia”.

If reports are anything to go by, Goswami has called Gandhi a “bar dancer” before she met Rajiv Gandhi.

Ditto for Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray wherein he has gone on a rant: “Listen to me Uddhav”.

Clearly, Goswami has got it all wrong. He has mixed up his definitions and confused indecent language with fearlessness. He has tried to sell abuse in the garb of journalism to a gullible nation who unfortunately revels in a slanging match, however unequal the fight may be.

 In the process he has shamed a profession. Till he defiled it, journalism and journalists were trusted and respected. But in his bid to sell stories, Goswami not only sold his soul but has put the entire profession to shame.