As Arnab Goswami launches his new channel Republic today, it might be prudent to revisit his very last show on Times Now. In his last episode as anchor of The Newshour, Arnab tackled the Bhopal encounter, in which eight SIMI militants were killed by police after they escaped Bhopal Central Jail. Will Arnab’s Republic be a rehash of The Newshour, or will he heed the criticisms of his brand of journalism?
Shock across newsrooms in India. Arnab Goswami resigns. Twitter, social media abuzz. Why? Where to?
Will Arnab’s guns fall silent? No more noise at 9 pm? I thought, let’s watch what may be his last prime time show for a while. Maybe he’d drop a hint about where his future lay.
And, of course, Arnab Goswami totally did his thing. And it wasn't journalism.
With that signature Ekta Kapoor-inspired fire raging at the bottom of his screen, Arnab laid out his first discussion point – Was it wrong to kill the eight SIMI militants in an encounter? For a few seconds I felt, okay, going by his own standards, calling them ‘militants’ and not ‘terrorists’ is decent. He also called them 'terror suspects’ for a bit. Correct.
But then… #FactsTwisted No1 – Arnab claimed these eight escapees were "planning a major terror strike". Essentially mouthing what the MP Home Minister had said to the media earlier in the day, without offering any evidence to support the claim. But it suited Arnab’s narrative to take that at face value.
#FactsTwisted No2 – Arnab claimed that these eight escaped undertrials (will come back to this shortly) were "obviously a grave and serious threat to national security". How so, Arnab? Because of that ‘major terror strike’ theory that you bought into?
An unsuspecting audience had already been supplied with two crucial bits of spurious ‘information’ to help colour their views on the encounter. Doing this to a loyal, even devoted, audience doesn’t seem to bother an iconic news journalist.
Next, Arnab laid out five questions for those he called the "usual suspects", people who would be critical of the encounter. Drama. Masterful. Strong graphics in sync with the boss’ script. Arnab’s team at Times Now have this mastered. They have my genuine envy for the speed and clarity with which they project the gospel according to Arnab onto the TV screen.
His first question was roughly – Weren’t these eight people hardened criminals and terrorists who had executed bomb blasts, and not just petty thieves?
Sailing straight into #FactsTwisted No3 – How did Arnab know these eight men had executed bomb blasts? Which Indian court has convicted them? Arnab knew these eight men were undertrials. But he hid that from his audience. Does an unbiased journalist do that?
These eight SIMI members did face grave charges, including execution of bomb blasts and murder. But they had not been caught in the act like an Ajmal Kasab. So, theirs are not Kasab-style open-and-shut cases. Their guilt has to be proven in an Indian court of law. But in Arnab’s kangaroo court, convictions had already been handed out.
And so, #FactsTwisted No4 – In his Question No 1 itself, Arnab dispensed with words like ‘suspects’ or ‘undertrials’, simply calling them ’terrorists’ who had carried out ‘bomb blasts’. He could do that since he had already declared them guilty.
Also read: Arnab Goswami: From Bite-taker to Bite-maker
Arnab’s next two questions were – Would the "usual suspects" have taken responsibility if the eight SIMI ’terrorists’ had conducted a major terror strike and killed hundreds of civilians? High on rhetoric, this question. But here’s a counter-question for Arnab – Would he take the responsibility for the murder of these eight men, if it was proven that this was a ‘fake encounter’? Would he take the responsibility for the murder of these eight men, if they were found ‘Not Guilty’ of the terror charges against them? I really wonder.
Arnab’s fourth question – What about the human rights of Constable Ramashankar Yadav, whose throat was allegedly slit by the eight SIMI men? Why does Arnab assume that Constable Yadav’s brutal killing hasn’t shocked someone who questions the encounter? Of course, it shocks us all. His killers must be brought to justice. But not summarily executed. And even if it bothers Arnab, I will say here that these eight men remain the alleged killers of Constable Yadav, until it is proven that they killed him.
Ironically, both Yadav and these eight men need the same evidence for justice to prevail – CCTV footage from inside the jail. For now, we’re told that at this high-security central Jail not one CCTV camera was in working order. And so, no footage exists of these eight men breaking out of their cell block, killing Constable Yadav and scaling the boundary wall using sheets and blankets. Convenient. And the Arnab who would normally pounce on such a glaring lie turns mysteriously gullible here.
In fact, it seems Arnab has ignored several inconsistencies in the ‘encounter’ story. Perhaps because he believes these men did deserve to be executed without trial by the Indian state. For him, SIMI = Islamic terror = punishable by death. No questions asked. If my cranky retired dad or some lout on the street swore by this form of mob justice, I’d perhaps understand. But this, coming from one of India’s foremost TV journalists, by far the most popular face on news channels, is scary.
A day after Arnab’s show, the Madhya Pradesh anti-terror squad chief Sanjeev Shami, talking to NDTV’s Sreenivasan Jain (ironically one of the serious contenders for Arnab’s job at Times Now) conceded that the eight men did not have any weapons on them. No mention of them being in possession of four country-made guns that were mentioned in another ‘version’ of the truth by the MP Police.
Wonder whether Arnab felt like questioning the encounter after this admission – Were the eight unarmed undertrials asked to surrender? What danger did they present to a 25-man-strong armed ATS force? Why was gunning them down, each one of them, the ONLY option possible? The nation wants to know. But Arnab doesn’t. It seems he’s given up journalism and become an agenda-driven politician.
Only, he’s kept this not-so-subtle shift a secret from the public that reveres him. And that is dangerous. If more journalists and senior editors follow suit, we would be well on our way to surrendering our watchdog role as the fourth estate.