Goswami’s journalism is a TRP-driven apology for the broad ideological moorings of the educated Indian and such is the force of his modus operandi that he can breach any number of journalistic codes without offending his core viewership.
Arnab Goswami’s call for punitive action on journalistic non-compliance with the official line on Kashmir is perhaps a watershed moment for journalism in India.
While it is hardly unusual for journalists to bow down in obeisance before money and power, such blatant transgression, especially in a purportedly free media environment, is far from routine.
The celebrity news anchor’s audacity in turning on its head the very first principle of journalistic ethics is a testimony to the impunity he enjoys. So much so that the censure emanating from his own fraternity can only be expected to elicit from him further vitriol, disdain and ridicule.
But explanations that locate this phenomenon in the tabloidisation of news, or to personal bias arising out of closeness to the ruling party, are inadequate because they cannot account for the role that viewers play.
On the other hand, the idea that Goswami merely echoes a widely held set of views, quite regardless of personal convictions, stops short of identifying the peculiar disposition of a relatively small, but powerful demographic.
The mainstay of English news channels is India’s post-liberalisation, techno-managerial, English-speaking elite, who not only command advertising revenue, but also set the agenda for public discourse. They are a product of a system of higher education that is geared towards the building of marketable skills. The Indian elite pursues this goal to the exclusion of nurturing critical faculties in young adults, unlike its Western counterparts who are schooled in the values of liberal university education.
In Western democracies, educated elites have been taught to understand and recognise that the preservation of a liberal democratic order depends on the consent of lower classes and marginalised groups in society. To this end, the handing of concessions to such groups becomes an important policy imperative.
In discourse, this translates into a largely liberal agenda of accommodating dissent and finding ways to assuage the hurt of those located at the bottom of the class pyramid.
In contrast, the Indian elite espouse a technocratic ideology that purports to uphold a ‘neutral, value-free, scientific and rational worldview’, hence negating the very grounds for socio-political conflict. Thus, being in denial about caste violence, the persecution of minorities, the distress of farmers and adivasis and the discontent of Kashmiris and Manipuris becomes par for the course in India’s public discourse. The political ambient of majoritarian nationalism merely catalyses this unyielding narrative.
Goswami’s editorial positions are without exception strategically aligned with the technocratic perspective on every issue. In the few instances where technocratic posturing is untenable, Goswami chooses silence or a diversion to other issues. Therefore, he is content covering the Turkish coup when Dalits are beaten, and refrains from speaking when Kanhaiya Kumar is thrashed in the courtroom or when the BJP government must be held answerable for its alliance with the PDP in Kashmir – a party he would otherwise freely attack as separatist or pro-Pakistani.
Thus, far from being driven by deep ideological commitments, Goswami’s journalism is a TRP-driven apology for the broad ideological moorings of educated Indians. Such is the force of his modus operandi that he can breach any number of journalistic codes without offending his core viewership.
Technocracy has all along shared a deep affinity for the right-wing movements. Most recently, it was Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption agitation of 2011 that flirted with the Hindutva movement by adopting its symbols and slogans, and by accommodating its friends and allies. It also garnered unprecedented support from professionals for flaying the political class as a whole without allusions to caste or class. Interestingly, Arvind Kejriwal, who entered politics with the unwavering support of this professional bloc, incurred its wrath as soon as he spoke the language of class conflict and called out the right wing for its complicity in the crony capitalist nexus.
Over the years, the technocratic bearings of the upwardly mobile segments of the Indian middle class has shaped societal attitudes and has offered a silent backdrop to the genesis and the rise of right-wing politics in the country. In 2014, Narendra Modi’s election campaign appealed to the middle and upper class Indians for technocratic reasons. Slogans such as ‘sabka saath, sabka vikas’ purportedly conveyed the idea of inclusive development, but also signalled an approach that would not be dictated by the usual democratic impulse for social justice. The overlap of majoritarianism and technocracy ensured the consolidation of a Hindu vote bank and secured the allegiance of the affluent and influential voters.
In Western democracies, the appeal of technocracy has considerably diminished because of its tryst with fascism in the course of the 20th century. In fact, educational programmes in countries like Britain and Germany are stringently focused on sensitising young people to the conditions that led to fascism, war and destruction across the continent. America too, learnt its lessons from the European experience.
A movement called Technocracy Inc. by engineers and other professionals during the Great Depression sought to eliminate cronyism and corruption in the government. But it lost steam because of its growing resemblance to the fascist organisations of Europe in its adoption of a rigid hierarchical structure, uniforms, emblems and salutes.
A cursory glance at recent political developments in Europe and America illustrates the attitudinal difference of educated elite in the Western democracies. For instance, the rise of a far right politician like Donald Trump in America is not backed by this segment. Instead, it is fuelled by the discontent of the poor and working class Americans who are weary of the elite’s liberal posturing sans any significant impact on their lives.
This is supported by data on party affiliation in the US, which shows an inverse relationship between the level of education and support for right-wing Republican politics. Similarly, the Brexit vote was opposed tooth and nail by Britain’s educated and cosmopolitan elite on both sides of the political divide. The elite beneficiaries of the free movement of people, cultures and ideas were pitted against the economic insecurities of heartland Britain, including Labour strongholds.
Contrast this with the Indian beneficiaries of economic liberalisation who claim their privilege by alienating – rather than co-opting – those faced with greatest incentives to rise in rebellion against the democratic status quo. Their advocacy of unrestrained economic liberalism thus goes hand in hand with antipathy towards Dalits, religious chauvinism and belligerence towards neighbours. The expanding techno-managerial universe of India’s aspirational elite in fact consolidates and legitimises this dangerous confluence.
Goswami’s intuitive grasp of this dynamic, in tandem with his utter lack of compunction, is what drives his model of news television that has by now spawned several clones. Yet, it has to be said that his recent tendency to appeal to the lowest common denominator of the Indian elite’s political and moral universe ought to test the limits of insensitivity of his captive viewership. Unless this segment of television viewers calls out Goswami’s lack of integrity in peddling views that he may or may not personally hold, India’s English-speaking elite might soon have to contend with the wrath of an increasingly un-silent majority.
Simantini Krishnan is an independent researcher and columnist based in London.