The Biblical saying is that those who live by the sword perish by the sword. But, times have changed and those who wield double-edged bloodthirsty words as weapons of mass destruction, inciting hate and violence seem to end up, always, as smug survivors continuing to lead charmed lives however dangerously they may appear to be living.
These thoughts spring to mind as the social media is abuzz with the explosive leaks regarding Arnab Goswami’s WhatsApp chats with Partho Dasgupta, then of BARC. But then maybe we are wrong in presuming that Arnab lives dangerously taking what others would consider unacceptable chances.
When you know that the umpires and referees are all on your side, you can swing the bat like a bludgeon tilting not at windmills but carefully targeting whom you and your masters arbitrarily and routinely name ‘enemies of the people’.
Well padded and guarded; even better, where is the risk? Some may feel that the writer of these lines is being exceptionally harsh on an individual who never tires of yelping that he is a victim of political vendetta; others may opine that he was doing what everyone else in the industry has been doing for decades—‘match fixing’ to dupe the gullible to rake unimaginable profit and power without responsibility. We strongly believe that it would be unwise to take our eyes off this individual.
When this anchor, editor, proprietor finds himself in conflict with law, he shouts himself hoarse claiming that the partisan police is trying to stifle the freedom of press/media. He knocks at the doors of the highest court in the land and gets to be heard immediately thanks to the battery of heavyweight lawyers. Seldom has he failed to secure interim relief from coercive action by law enforcement agencies. His bail applications are treated with urgency with their Lordships thundering about Freedom of Expression being the Essence of Democracy. Alas, other journalists or citizens have never been so fortunate.
Their petitions await disposal for proverbial eternity. A stand-up comedian continues to languish in jail, denied bail, merely on the suspicion that the police have had that he intended to hurt religious sentiments.
Others who have dared to exercise this freedom guaranteed in our Constitution as a fundamental right have had their lives wrecked and ruined. They continue to be prisoners of conscience for months, some for years now. The courts, with a few honourable exceptions, have left us in no doubt that rights are indivisible with might and the privilege of those protected by the powerful.
Arnab Goswami has unwittingly done a great service to the Indian Republic. As he stands exposed without a tattered wilting fig leaf, common people are forced to ask how could this despicable blot on journalism continue to froth and foam harming innocent lives for so long? Even more serious question is: what happens to him now?
He pioneered the weaponisation of WhatsApp in the Sushant Singh Rajput case and it will certainly be difficult for his defenders to plead that the veracity of his WhatsApp is doubtful, and in any case are these admissible as evidence in any court of law? It is for the courts—from trial courts to the apex one—to decide on this question.
Technical and procedural challenges may delay the course (due process etc) for a long time but shouldn’t the standard of evidence—factual, documentary and circumstantial—be the same for all litigants, victims and predatory defendants?
The Supreme Court delivers sermon-like lectures on Liberty of the Citizen during the hearings and in interim orders but doesn’t seem to have time or inclination to examine draconian laws that have no place in a real democracy or civilised society. Arnab’s signature tune is inspired by filmi dialogue in Mughal-e-Azam and the TV serial the Mahabharat: Main Hindustan ki Awaaz Hun and Waqt ki Awaaz Hun.
He equated himself with the Nation and morphed as Frankenstein’s monster. The law may yet absolve him but he will remain dented beyond repair in the public eye. We must still thank him for administering repeated painful shocks to us forcing us to rethink the concept of Nation, Pluralism, Patriotism, Rights and Obligations, and the role of judiciary in these fraught times.
Fall of a bully and a braggart doesn’t deserve a lament. His hysterical antics had ceased to provide comic relief long ago. Arnab’s act was carefully choreographed to confuse the viewers that he was a loose cannon where in reality he may well have been a well-guided missile to destroy adversaries.
Once having served its purpose, can the multiple targetable vehicle be relaunched? Only time will tell.
In the meantime, one can only hum lines that some think apply to the outgoing POTUS Donald Trump:
‘This is the end, my only friend, the end!’ Just spare a thought for those whose lives have been irreparable harmed by this Charmed Life.
Pushpesh Pant firstname.lastname@example.org
Former professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University