No cause so lends itself to vast, horrific violence as Nationalism. The way he conducts his debates, and the fact that the channel Goswami runs is entirely moulded to a personality cult, all point to an unhappy state of affairs for India’s future.
No man misbehaves on television as much as Arnab Goswami does, and still gains popularity with each of his Newshour episodes.
It’s as if the urban middle class is waiting for Goswami to make his appearance at the appointed hour, so it can sit back and watch murder by means of motorised mouths.
On July 24, Goswami, perhaps carried away by the heat of the moment, accused another TV anchor, Barkha Dutt, of connections with Hafiz Saeed – leader of the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, a terrorist organisation based in Pakistan – and recommended the gagging of the ‘anti-national’ media, of which presumably Dutt and others are active members.
Goswami is a nationalist. He avows his love for India almost every night. This is the a priori position he approaches his debates from.
That’s the chief reason why, in Goswami’s mind, he is already right before a debate begins. And it is guaranteed to end that way. Goswami emerges from each evening, more victorious and more righteous.The debates predictably end in his victory. Why, because “we know we are in the right, and you are in the wrong,” as he puts it.
The trouble is millions of Indians like Goswami to be triumphant. He fulfils their aspirations. Goswami refers to himself and his viewers as “We”, meaning India. He is the spokesman of the nation. Goswami in his vishwaroopam comprises establishments like the army, the law, the administration, and other apparatuses of the state, leaving little for the rest of us seditious Indians to hold on to.
Naturally, we are confronted with a problem even before the evening’s riveting debate has begun. If Goswami represents India and the good Indians, what in our binary culture do people like Barkha Dutt – or, in another breath, Kanhaiya Kumar – represent but Pakistan?
In any debate then, the critics of the establishment are fated to fail. When there seem to be the rare moments of little victory, Goswami will cut your sound, or switch to another panelist, who, infected by some curious Times Now studio virus, will shout and be boorish exactly like his hero. Anything less than frenzy in the studio could be deemed to be a betrayal of Goswami, and therefore, of the nation.
From Goswami’s position, then, we must logically conclude that most topics can’t be discussed at all. Take the example of Kashmir. This is a great instance, not just because of it’s great instrumentality in furthering the record viewership of Goswami’s channel. It represents most of India’s contemporary cultural and political narratives.
Nationalism versus nationalism. Kashmir separatists want to exit from Indi – Kaxit. Indian nationalists won’t even dream of it. Kashmiris want freedom of speech. India is all for freedom speech and her constitution guarantees it; nevertheless, India is ambivalent about granting that right to a place vulnerable to flames of all kind. India believes in no discrimination between castes and communities. Yet, the Muslims in Kashmir – and the Pandits now outside it – feel they are being discriminated against because of their faith. India believes in democracy. But she is not clear if that amounts to majoritarianism, or what the place for minorities’ interests is. India talks about the Kashmir’s accession when the state was under the rule of Maharaja Hari Singh, on October 26, 1947. The accession was accepted and even made conditional on a plebiscite to be held when the law and order situation was less critical; India has not held one so far, perhaps because she believes the law and order situation is always critical. Kashmir also represents India’s abiding problem with border states, say, like Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland. In a rather general sense, India’s federalism is in question in terms of its spirit.
So Kashmir throws up very large issues, which hold the key to the sustainability of the Indian state. To self-censor these issues amounts to wilful neglect of reality. In short, it’s a delusional frame of mind we are looking at, and one which Times Now propagates. Goswami contributes to it with great vigour. A debate where everyone shouts and goes back home to their original positions is obviously pointless. Why debate then?
Servicing the state
Most of the time, Goswami vociferously supports the Establishment. There are occasions, as in case of the unbridled violence of Gau rakshaks, when he does question the passivity of the police and the involvement of the right wing Hindutva government. But these are aberrations.
On the whole, the credibility he lends to the nationalist cause is such that there is little distinction between Goswami and the state. Unfortunately he leads a private channel, not a government institution like All India Radio. Which further lends the role of Goswami a muddled complexity. We are fast approaching the stage where nothing Goswami does can be questioned as, evidently, he is The Nation.
Nevertheless, between him and the Cause he serves, what we’ve got is a symbiotic relationship. Goswami prospers, spiritually and materially, from being seen as the only unacknowledged legislator of India. The state draws credibility for its often extremist assertions of power from a seemingly independent constituency, namely, Goswami. What Goswami is doing is eliminating the traditional lines of difference between the media and the Establishment. He is sabotaging the democracy he says he loves from deep within. Clearly, a terrorist of sorts.
In rather predictable ways, one can see the eventual destiny of Goswami’s politics: it would, given a chance, end in tyranny. At best, a kind of benevolent despotism. Is that an ideology? Possibly. Some of the most violent dictatorships of the 20th century were seen, at least at first, as benevolent despots: Hitler, Mussolini, Mao. And for all of them, the Nationalist cause was the fount of their political enterprise.
In an aside, we must mention, no cause so lends itself to vast, horrific violence as Nationalism. The way he conducts his debates, and the fact that the channel Goswami runs is entirely moulded to a personality cult, all point to an unhappy state of affairs for India’s future.
I have met him only once but in real life, according to reports, he is a rather modest and likeable person. It’s the performance part that alters his personality. But since that’s when millions of fans get to know him, the public persona is only more likely to reinforce the values that go into his personal politics as well.
Nationalism as tonic
I recall the small conversation we had on an evening in Bombay. The occasion was a memorial meeting for the late editor, Vinod Mehta. How do you get the same people over and over again to your studio after you bludgeon them to death, I asked. Oh, they rather like it because of the viewership, Goswami said, they actually feel good. Then he added, “I think I understand that; there have been days when I have been quite ill, but as the debate progresses, I feel better and better.”
I tend to think that Goswami’s wellbeing is seminally connected with the idea that he speaks for India. To his own mind, he is a kind of Statue of Liberty, with Indian variations of course. Yet, this image is precisely what complicates the nature of his contribution to the Indian discourse. As one senior MEA official said in a private gathering, “Times Now makes it very difficult to have meaningful negotiations with Pakistan.”
Perhaps no other single major factor, besides Hafiz Saeed, stands in the way of India-Pakistan peace. That’s an irony, but this is India. The owners of Times Now actually had put in quite a lot of money and effort into ‘Aman ki Asha’, an Indo-Pak peace programme. The irrationality of the project cannot be easily explained in anything but ironical terms, can it?
To come back to the question with which we started, since almost every media unit except Goswami’s is seen in his magisterial eyes as traitorous, his latest demand that the anti-national media should be gagged is his way of saying Just Listen To Me. That’s the voice of a dictator speaking to you from the studios.
In 20 or 50 years, when we look back at this divisive – and decisive – turn of politics in India, Goswami’s role would be seen as highly questionable in terms of ethics. Because the Goswami discourse, devoid of the history of the process, is foregrounded, the essential simplicity of his value judgements have a mass appeal. But it pulls the plug on two-way communication. If popularity is the due, that is what the devil takes.
C.P. Surendran is a journalist and poet