Generalissimo Goswami’s War


Generalissimo Goswami’s War

Illustration: Saachi Mehta/ Arré

The fear of the unfamiliar and the unknown creates its own perpetuators across nations and civilisations. If we have Donald Trump in America, Jean-Marie Le Pen in France, and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Turkey, we have our own Arnab Goswami – but unlike others of his ilk, he’s no rabble-rousing politician.

The vote-gathering machines of Trump and Le Pen feed on fear, so does Generalissimo Goswami, the foremost TRP warrior of the nation he purportedly protects with his brand of shout-down-the-opposition journalism. The Generalissimo’s loyal audience not only delivers him the numbers, but is also drugged by the opiate of misguided nationalism.

The Nation by now knows very well about his political proclivities, and the party his heart beats for. But I wonder if he remembers the immortal words of one of the founders of this party, Lal Krishna Advani, now put to pasture by the new leadership. Describing the supine response of the press to Indira Gandhi’s State of Emergency in 1975-77, Advani had so memorably said that it would crawl when asked to bend.

Generalissimo Goswami wants the media today to replicate the behaviour that had so shocked Advani. He will go down in history textbooks as the first journalist to demand that the media be gagged. Had the Indian Express thought like him, it would have put Indira Gandhi’s idea of nationalism above the nation’s interest, and not challenged the actions of the Emergency Raj.

The very same newspaper took on the establishment without fear to report on the dark truth of the anti-Sikh riots unleashed by the Congress. It also led the protest against Rajiv Gandhi’s Anti-Defamation Bill, which sought to equate critics of the government with anti-national forces in order to bludgeon the press into silence. The most influential journalists of the time, starting with Khushwant Singh, spilled out into the country’s streets to protest the bill.

One can multiply instances of journalism with a conscience, but what is common to all of them is the call that some journalist took at some point of time in some part of the world.

Nationalism is the last refuge of bullies. Soon, journalists will have to wear the Generalissimo’s favourite hashtag, ProPakDoves, as a badge of honour.

For sure, Generalissimo Goswami is upset about Pakistan meddling in the affairs of Jammu & Kashmir and letting loose hordes of stone-throwers, as our Intelligence Bureau (which turns intelligent only after the fires start burning) would like us to believe. But how can he, as a member of the Fourth Estate, demand the gagging of journalists who are “pseudo-secular and pro-Pakistan”?

Should he then not expose the BJP, which has aligned with the PDP in Kashmir – a party known for its pro-separatist leanings –and want the arrest of its leaders for entering into this “pseudo-secular and pro-Pakistan” arrangement? Should he not wonder if a 13-year-old boy blinded by CRPF pellets can ever forget the atrocity committed on him and forgive the Indian Union? Is the Centre not creating a new generation of terrorists and terrorist sympathisers with its thoughtless provocative actions? Can pellet guns silence the voices of the oppressed?

Like a good general hoping to be rewarded with a sinecure post-retirement, Goswami is loyal beyond doubt to the political flag he battles for. He doesn’t ever pose uncomfortable questions to the Prime Minister or the Home Minister, or the External Affairs Minister, who seems to operate only through tweets.

It is not hard to flaunt an imaginary 56-inch chest at election rallies, or from the comfort of air-conditioned studios, but journalists are paid to ask uncomfortable questions, even if they are sometimes wrong, and to constantly challenge the establishment without letting go – as we were taught at The Indian Express by Arun Shourie, another respectable, though not always acceptable, voice of the BJP now in the doghouse.

I still remember the words of Shourie (I was then a sub-editor), uttered in the presence another dyed-in-the-wool RSS-BJP ideologue, S Gurumurthy: “You should be like dogs. If you get to snap at the heel of a person in power, don’t leave it until justice is done.”

If journalists, bloggers, and political dissidents around the world worked with the mindset of Generalissimo Goswami, the evil of Guantanamo Bay would have been perpetrated forever, the brutal treatment of prisoners at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison would never have come to light. Julian Assange would never have found a voice. The numerous scandals that rocked the previous government would have remain bound in official files. The pain of the atrocities perpetrated on Dalits, tribals, trade-union leaders, and students on the pretext of action against Maoism would have died with the victims. The communist empire would still have been thriving. Watergate would have been just a hotel in a suburb of Washington, D.C. And The New York Times would have sat on the “Pentagon Papers”, which exposed the extent to which the Johnson Administration had been lying to America about the involvement of U.S. troops in Vietnam.

It may not be inopportune to remember the words of U.S. District Judge Murray Gurfein after he refused to restrain Washington Post, which followed the lead of The New York Times, from publishing the Papers. The words are particularly relevant to the present debate. “Security,” ruled Judge Gurfein, “also lies in the value of our free institutions. A cantankerous press, an obstinate press, a ubiquitous press must be suffered by those in authority in order to preserve the even greater values of freedom of expression and the right of the people to know.”

One can multiply instances of journalism with a conscience, but what is common to all of them is the call that some journalist took at some point of time in some part of the world. And the call was taken in reply to the question that each journalist must ask each day: “Do I work on the side of truth and in the interests of the people, or do I protect national sovereignty as defined by rulers who live by the motto, ‘Self Above All Else?’” I wonder if Generalissimo Goswami ever asks himself this question.