By Parnal Chirmuley
Here is yet another ‘half baked’ piece by an academic you might be tempted to call an anti-national, simply on account of institutional affiliation. This is how Arnab Goswami described the entire spectrum of serious, sober, well informed, nuanced, if anguished engagement by the academia with the present moment of crisis unfolding at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, where student leaders are being arrested, picked up for interrogation, intimidated, as though they were dangerous criminals, because a few ‘anti-national’ slogans were heard on the campus.
We are all used to media trials now. Those of us watching things from the ‘inside’, as it were, are watching the disturbing repercussions and consequences of this trial. The social media are awash with calls baying for the blood of innocent students, calling for a shutdown of the country’s most prestigious university, ranked as the best by the State’s own ranking mechanisms. Many are given to an outright dismissal of the news media, but most recognise its vital importance in sustaining a democracy. That is also why there is great alarm at journalism that is not only irresponsible, but an instance of criminal intimidation, using hate speech to incite violence against those who voice their opinions and stand by a progressive politics.
Arnab Goswami of Times Now is on the frontlines of this parallel war against nuanced thought, against honesty, against intellectual freedom, and against truth. Over the past week since ‘news broke’ (yes, the truth is shattered to pieces when presented by Him), he has used a range of careful strategies to achieve the end of the demonization of public education. It is easy to see these if you put aside the sick froth of vitriol.
First, he asks the wrong questions, deliberately, to mislead the audience. Here is an example: ‘Why did Kanhaiya not try to stop those slogans???’. Absolutely everyone in their right mind knows that the Jawaharlal Nehru University Students Union (JNUSU) did not organize this program, that Kanhaiya Kumar and other JNUSU members went there in their capacity as elected representatives to alleviate the confrontational situation created by the right wing Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP). Kanhaiya’s speech is ample testimony to this fact. Arnab does not ask why the law on sedition (124[A]) is inapplicable, and what can be done to stem this travesty of justice.
He uses specific terms repeatedly, ad nauseam: ‘Anti-national’, ‘secessionist’, ‘unpatriotic’ are urgent favourites. In fact, exactly a year ago, when he did the same to civil rights activists protesting the harassment of Priya Pillai of Greenpeace, there was an open letter signed by prominent feminists, lawyers, and civil liberties activists pointing out that this was hate speech, that this was incitement to violence against those who expressed their views. They rightly pointed out that in the current political atmosphere, such figures are subjected to hate crimes, and are even killed. What he does is not to simply wipe out the possibility of nuance in a discussion, but rather use every weapon – be it language, gesture, or decibel – to brand people in order to feed into the imaginations of fear and anger among the viewers. It is always people from minority communities, civil rights activists, prominent voices from women’s and people’s movements, everyone from the Left that are subject to this vitriol. He has never levelled these accusations against the organization whose very emblem (the Khaki Shorts) is said to be an import from Italian fascism. Interesting, isn’t it?
He uses coercion and intimidation through the means of right wing members on his panel. On Monday night, the only time He was quiet on the show was when Sambit Patra of the BJP shouted at Shabnam Lone, Saba Naqvi, and Waris Pathan and challenged the three to chant Bharat Mata Ki Jai after him. This is extremely dangerous intimidation. And he does this on absolutely every show.
One other strategy is suggestion: he ‘suggests’ through the apparently casual use of words such as ‘infiltrator’ as he did on the same show, that JNU is not a university, but a space that harbours ‘infiltrators’ from across the border. A baseless, yet devastating allegation. With serious consequences.
What are these consequences, and are they limited to a few students? No. We have seen that the Delhi Police has begun picking up young people for ‘looking like JNU students’. A woman journalist covering the court proceedings at Patiala House was asked if she is a JNU student, and was told that they would ‘break her phone, and break her bones’. Faculty members present there with legal representation for Kanhaiya Kumar, both women and men, were roughed up and beaten by men dressed as lawyers. A CPI activist was brutally beaten up by BJP MLA O. P. Sharma who was present there.
But between Monday and Tuesday, the tide has turned. A journalist was beaten right inside the courtroom, with the police watching. On Tuesday, journalists marched together in protest against the violence unleashed against the Fourth Estate. Lawyers came forth and categorically condemned the condemnable.
We must remind ourselves that journalists are also amongst the bravest, ferreting out the truth at great risk to themselves, from the State, from warlords, from disease, bearing a deep commitment to the voice of the oppressed and the dispossessed. Why go as far as Ken Saro-Wiwa - there are examples closer home. Take note, nationalist Arnab. In 1886-7, Dwarkanath Ganguly set newspapers alight with his expose on the ‘Slave Trade in Assam’ that laid bare the indentured ‘coolie’ system in Assam, that continued even after the abolition of slavery in British dominions. Ganguly went to great lengths, undertook arduous journeys, took great risks to expose this dark history. So much so that this was taken up as an important issue in the nationalist movement. He showed integrity and great bravery, lauded in the history of journalism, that resulted in real change for oppressed people. Arnab is a traitor to that tradition.
This needs saying: not only is this form of journalism doing a disservice to society in spreading lies and misinformation, it is taking on the role of fascist propaganda machines that single out individuals for intimidation, coercion, and at times elimination. Do not forget Narendra Dabholkar, M. M. Kalburgi, Govind Pansare. As I write this, we have information that faces of students have appeared on posters put up in parts of this city, urging the public to lynch them. In doing what Arnab does, he is guilty of incitement to violence against an entire academic community, the very foundation of a young nation. Who, I might ask, is anti-national in this case? And a society that targets its young minds is teetering on the brink of fascism. For this, I will lay the blame at the feet of the likes of Arnab Goswami.
The writer is Associate Professor, Center of German Studies, School of Language, Literature, and Culture Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University.
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