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Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 49, New Delhi, November 21, 2020

Arnab Goswami, Bihar Election Results and Indian Democracy | Sukumaran C V

Saturday 21 November 2020, by Sukumaran C.V.

What Arnab Goswami’s TV Channel has been doing can’t be called journalism. He is spewing venom through his channel against all that is sane and sound in politics. He is insulting secularism, plurality and dissent under the label of journalism. He is a vociferous propagandist of the Hindutva Mr Modi and team represents. While Mr Modi has degraded politics into meaningless rhetoric, Mr Goswami has degraded journalism into mudslinging and abusing those who question his skewed views being presented as news. He is a best specimen to be arrested under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, if it is meant to really curb the actual unlawful activities. But he was allowed to blabber whatever he likes by the earlier BJP-Shiv Sena government in Maharashtra as he subscribes to the jingoistic nationalism of the BJP. And the same government arrested the human-rights activists Varavara Rao, Sudha Bharadwaj, Gautham Navlakha, Vernon Gonsalves, and Arun Ferreira in August 2018 accusing them of inciting the Bhima Koregaon violence in January 2018. On October 23, 2020 Stan Swamy, an 83-year-old Jesuit priest, was also arrested in connection with the Bhima Koregaon case. All of them have been in judicial custody ever since their arrests.

On January 1, 1818, the soldiers of the British East India Company defeated the army of Peshwa Bajirao II at the village called Koregaon on the north bank of the Bhima river in Pune District of Maharashtra. To commemorate the fallen soldiers in the Battle of Koregaon, the Company erected a victory pillar at Koregaon. Of the 49 fallen soldiers whose names are etched on the pillar, 22 belong to the Mahar caste and the Dalits have transformed this battle and victory into legends in the Dalit narratives since. Even if the pillar was built as a symbol of the British power, it now stands as a memorial of the Mahars. Ambedkar visited the battleground on January 1, 1927, and to commemorate this visit, Dalits in large numbers assemble at Bhima Koregaon every New Year’s Day. The Dalit scholar Anand Teltumbde says that portraying the Battle of Bhima Koregaon as a fight against caste oppression is a myth. I personally subscribe to the view of Teltumde. But that doesn’t mean I am against the right of the Dalits to create their own myths and narratives. On the 200th anniversary day of the battle (January 1, 2018), “Dalits of Maharashtra, mostly Mahars, gathered to commemorate this event. On the eve of the event, an Elgar Parishad (Congress for Speaking Aloud) in Pune saw speakers contesting ‘homogenising Hindutva’ and criticizing the Narendra Modi government.” [1] The so called Hindu nationalists attacked the Dalits assembled at Bhima Koregaon on January 1, 2018 and the ensuing violence resulted in the death of one Rahul Fatangale. The Maharashtra police under the BJP-Shiv Sena government failed to curb the anti-social elements from disrupting the Bhima Koregaon commemoration event and alleging that the Elgar Parishad incited the violence, started arresting the human rights activists participated in the Elgar Parishad conclave clamping UAPA on them!

While these activists, who raise their voice for the less privileged people who are oppressed by the governments and the law enforcement agencies, have been languishing in prisons; the Supreme Court of India’s act of granting bail to Arnab Goswami who was arrested on Nov. 4 within a week while his bail application is pending before a lower court, reveals the fact that even the highest court of India stands aligned with the Hindutva forces.

Justice D.Y.Chandrachud is a judge I respect very much because of his role in the quite progressive Shabarimala veridict. [2] And the judge rightly said during the hearing of Arnab’s case that “if we as a Constitutional Court do not lay down law and protect liberty, then who will? If we don’t interfere in this case today, we will walk on path of destruction. If left to me I won’t watch the (Republic) channel and you may differ in ideology but Constitutional courts will have to protect such freedoms. If state governments target individuals, they must realize that there is an apex court here to protect liberty of citizens.”

Varavara Rao’s wife P. Hemalatha approached the SC for Rao’s release. But a three judge bench headed by U.U. Lalit refused to grant him bail. [3] I wonder why the apex court was not bothered ‘to protect liberty of citizens’ when it comes to Varavara Rao and others who are languishing in prison as the state and centre governments target them only because they "differ in ideology". I wonder why the highest court of our nation hasn’t felt "if we don’t interfere today, we will walk on path of destruction" while the human-rights activists have been arrested and denied bail long since.

As Fahad Hasin thinks, I too think that the selective approach of the apex court won’t prevent the "path of destruction". [4]

Arnab Goswami was arrested by the police of the Congress-Shiv Sena government on Nov. 4 on a charge of abetting the suicide of Anvay Naik who committed suicide mentioning in his suicide note that Goswami had to pay him bills amounting to ₹. 83 lakh for the interior works of the Republic TV studio. Of course, there is political vendetta in his arrest and I don’t support the motive of the Congress-Shiv Sena government behind his arrest. That is another story.

Goswami was remanded to judicial custody and instead of approaching the Sessions Court for bail; he moved a habeas corpus petition before the Bombay High Court, even if such a petition is relevant only in cases of unlawful detention. After hearing his case for five hours on Nov.9, the High Court asked him to move the Sessions Court for bail.

Goswami not only did file the petition before the Sessions Court but also approached the Supreme Court too. And the Supreme Court, instead of asking him why he had moved the apex court for bail while his bail application was pending before the Sessions Court, granted him bail (on Nov.11)! [5]

In the case of the 81 year old poet and human rights activist Varavara Rao, the same apex court asked his wife to approach the Mumbai High Court and this old man has been behind the bars since August 2018!! And the words of Justice D.Y.Chandrachud, “if…governments target individuals, they must realize that there is an apex court here to protect liberty of citizens,” reverberate in my ears and I laugh sarcastically. Will I be accused of contempt of court?

In our country today people who really perpetrate unlawful activities and who ought to be behind the bars under the UAPA are let loose and those who speak against the human-rights violations are put behind the bars.

But the unlawful activities of the governments are not a new phenomenon in India. G N Saibabha was arrested and put in prison by the UPA governments. The Home Minister of the UPA governments Mr. Chithambaram’s Operation Green Hunt that terrorised the Adivasis of Central India was the most bizzare unlawful activity of the Indian state in recent history. And the draconian UAPA is the contribution of the Congress led UPA government.

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As every election result has been unequivocally pointing out, Bihar Election results also point out that the Congress party has decayed itself beyond redemption or rejuvenation. The mother-son-daughter trio miserably lacks the political acumen and vision to revitalize the grand old party and yet they are not ready to step aside and let the party survive. The Congress party today represents nothing.

The Congress party, that is supposed to be secular and liberal, kept looking the other way whenever our secular democracy and liberalism were torn asunder by the fringe elements; and it allowed the vigilante forces to grow as influential political parties and undermine the very base and foundation of our secularism. Its inability to promote young leaders like Jyotiraditya Scindia in Madhya Pradesh, its willingness to form government in Maharashtra with Shiv Sena that masterminded the gruesome Mumbai riots (1993) in which hundreds of innocent people were massacred in the name of religion, its number of MLAs shrinking from 27 to 19 in Bihar, everything indicates it is passing away.

Let’s examine why the Congress party has come to such a pathetic plight.

After the Babri Masjid demolition, between December 6 and 10, 1992 and between January 6 and 20, 1993, communal hatred turned Mumbai into a virtual hell. See the opening sentences of the Srikrishna Commission report: “For five days in December 1992 (6th to 10th) and fifteen days in January 1993 (6th to 20th), Bombay, urbs prima of this country, was rocked by riots and violence unprecedented in magnitude and ferocity, as though the forces of Satan were let loose, destroying all human values and civilized behaviour. Neighbour killed neighbour; houses were ransacked, looted and burned, all in the name of religion…”

The incidents like the following happened in Mumbai when Congress was in power nationally and in Maharashtra too.

“(Witness No. 200) Salma Aziz Merchant’s husband was sick because of chronic ulcer, heart ailment and was under continuous treatment from Dr. Moledina. On 10th January 1993, at about 1200 hours, 20-25 policemen entered the house and ransacked the household articles under the excuse of searching for weapons. They took away Salma’s 16 year-old boy and sick husband. When she tried to protest they brandished rifles and threatened to shoot her and her son. Subsequently Salma learnt that her husband, Aziz Merchant, had died in a police encounter on 11thJanuary 1993. According to Salma, when she went to identify the body at J. J. morgue, the bullet-ridden body was virtually beyond recognition. Salma was emphatic that her husband was incapable of joining the riot in the state of his health and the police have murdered him. Her evidence is corroborated by Dr. M.J.M Moledina (Witness No. 201)."

We can see many such incidents in the Srikrishna Commission Report (Volume II, Chapter I).

“Three Muslims traveling in a Maruti car in Pratiksha Nagar were pulled out, severely assaulted, put back in the car and the car was set on fire resulting in their being burnt alive. The incident occurred opposite Building No. 20, Manohar Kini Memorial Library, Sardar Nagar No.1, Pratiksha Nagar on 14thJanuary 1993 at 14.30 hours. (C. R. No. 27 of 1993). Three police constables, one of them armed, were present on fixed bandobust duty at Shivaji Chowk in Sardar Nagar No.1 and they were all in uniforms. The place where this incident took place was hardly 150 feet from Shivaji Chowk where this picket was on bondobust duty. No attempt appears to have been made by the police picket to stop the gruesome incident.”

“An interesting fallout of this incident is that on 15th January 1993 the police arrested two persons in connection with this incident and on the same day amorcha of 3000 to 4000 men and women led by the local Shiv Sena Shaka Pramukh Prahlad Thombre, Shiv Sena MLA Shri Kalidas Kolamkar, Congress MLA Shri Eknath Gaikwad, Congress Corporator Smt.Karuna Mahatre, Shiv Sena Corporator Shri KrishnaVishwasrao, Shiv Sena Vibhag Pramukh Sudam Pandit and one Arvind Samant came to the police station demanding release of the arrested accused.” (The Srikrishna Commission Report, Volume II, Chapter I, 2.14).”

“One 18-year-old girl, Shamim Bano, was kidnapped and, in spite of the names of the culprits being disclosed to the police, the police took little action in the matter and the girl was not traced thereafter (C. R. No. 27 of 1993)" (SrikrishnaCommission Report, Volume II, Chapter I, 2.23).

“Nazneen is a resident of Room No. 19, 2nd floor, Ellam Mansion, Dongri. On 9th January 1993, her husband returned from Pune and was in bed as he had kidney pain. At about 19.20 hours on 10thJanuary 1993 policemen barged into her room and smashed up household articles with rifle butts under the guise of searching for weapons. When she protested saying that her husband was sick and her father was suffering from cancer, and requested the police not to bother them, one of the policemen said to another, Hila ghya, Kami yeyeel (Take her; she would be useful). Her husband who protested was later on shown as accused in TADA Special Case No. 32 of 1993” (SrikrishnaCommission report, Volume 2, Chapter 1, 11.75)

"One handicapped person, Abdul Mannan, was brutally murdered by the miscreants and though their names were given to police, no action seems to have been taken. (C. R. No. 114 of 1993)" (Srikrishna Commission Report, Volume II, Chapter I, 2.24).

“Babu Abdul Shaikh had been taken into custody by Police Inspector Salvi, PSI More and PC-24242 Vidyadhar Raghunath Shelar. But because of their conduct he was attacked and murdered by Hindu miscreants…” (Volume 1, Chapter 3, 1. 30. G).

“In C.R.No.91 of 1993, there appears to be a case of mistaken identity. Three Hindu accused are alleged to have chased a Tamilian Hindu boy under the impression that he was a Muslim and, being unable to understand his shouts in Tamil, killed him.”

“On 12th January 1993, a Hindu mob surrounds, strips and assaults two Muslim women. The older woman manages to run away. The uncle of the younger woman, who comes to rescue the young girl of 19, and that girl are beaten and burnt alive by the violent mob. The names of the miscreants are disclosed to the police by a Hindu lady in the locality. Though the miscreants were arrested and tried, they were all acquitted.” (Srikrishna Commission report, Volume I, Chapter II, 1.15) And we live in the largest democracy in the world.

“Between 1100 to 130 hours on 10 January 1993, after having arrived at Pathan Chawl, the police forcibly entered the premises of the Muslims and started picking them up. They entered the residence of one Hasamaniya Wagale, terrorized his wife and daughter at the point of rifle, picked up his 16-year-old son, Shahnawaz, and dragged him out, all the while kicking him and assaulting him with rifle butts. Wagale’s daughter, Yasmin Hasan Wagale, saw Shahnawaz being taken towards police vehicle, when one of the constables shot him from behind at point blank range…..Despite overwhelming evidence which, in the opinion of the Commission, clearly indicts the police for cold-blooded murder, the Deputy Commissioner of Police has adroitly white-washed the affair.” (Srikrishna Commission report, Volume II, Chapter I, 5.58)

Srikrishna Commission Report meticulously records many such horrible crimes committed on the hapless people. We can’t but wonder whether such cruelties can be perpetrated on innocent people in the name of religion in a Secular Democracy.

Such bone-chilling atrocities were committed on the citizens of India while Congress was in power. The party showed little political willpower to protect the hapless people from the violence of the intolerant elements and it did virtually nothing either to curb or to punish the anti-social elements who perpetrated abominable crimes in the name of religion. This lack of willpower of the ruling Congress party to curb the anti-social activities of the intolerant elements allowed such elements to be formidable political forces and enter in the electoral arena and capture the state power. The damage of our liberal and secular democracy under the rule of such political forces is unimaginable. And when the Congress formed the State government in Maharashtra in 2019 allying with the Shiv Sena, the plight of our secular democracy reached a new low.

Section 153A of the IPC makes it an offence if by words, spoken or otherwise, attempts are made to promote..hatred between different religions.

Report of The Srikrishna Commission says: “…the communal passions of the Hindus were aroused to fever pitch by the inciting writings in print media, particularly Saamna and Navaakal...” (Chapter II, 1.27 ii).

Saamna is the Shiv Sena mouthpiece launched by Bal Thackeray in 1988.

And the Report further says: “Large-scale rioting and violence was commenced from 6th January 1993 by the Hindus brought to fever pitch by communally inciting propaganda unleashed by Hindu communal organisations and writings in newspapers like Saamna and Navaakal. It was taken over by Shiv Sena and its leaders who continued to whip up frenzy by their statements and acts and writings and directives issued by the Shiv Sena Pramukh Bal Thackeray. (Chapter III, 1.2 i). Congress was ruling the State and the above acts were offences chargeable under Section 153A. But Section 153 A was never invoked by the Congress government against those who whipped up religious frenzy.

Today, the Chief Minister of Maharashtra is none other than the son of Bal Thackeray and Saamna is still the mouthpiece of the Shiv Sena and Shiv Sena leaders have never apologised for their role in the communal riots of 1993. And now the Shiv Sena rules the state with the support of the Congress!

I really don’t know what difference is there between the Congress, the new ally of Shiv Sena; and the BJP, the old ally of Shiv Sena. The irony is that this Congress is the party which tells people of India to vote them to power in order to save our secularism, our plurality and our liberal democracy!!

The foul deeds of the fanatics belonging to both the majority and minority communities under the decades-long Congress rule wreaked havoc on innocent people in our country. The exclusive and intolerant mindset of the fanatical political parties and the inaction of the ‘secular’ Congress to strictly curb the anti-democratic activities and atrocities of such political organizations inflicted irreparable damage in our secular democratic ethos.

The Koran says that Paradise is for those who command their anger, for those who pardon offences and for those who return good for evil. As Jawaharlal Nehru says, Hinduism embraces many beliefs and practices; and its essential spirit seems to be to live and let live. When the two religions—each of them really urges the believers to be tolerant towards the people who profess the other—were hijacked by the fringe elements who preach hatred and destruction towards each other, India metamorphosed into an inferno. As Arundati Roy wrote in May 2002, “The more the two sides try and call attention to their religious differences by slaughtering each other, the less there is to distinguish them from one another. They worship at the same alter. They’re both apostles of the same murderous god, whoever he is.” [6]

And the terrible irony is that the Congress, the secular party that ought to save India from falling into such an inferno, really helped to push the country into it.

As the editorial of The Hindu, "Weak at the top", (12-11-2020) rightly pointed out, ‘a viable alternative to the BJP is still some distance away.’ The main reason is that the Congress is completely inept to impress the voters because its internal decay is beyond mending. As Thomas Piketty says in his latest book Capital and Ideology, “...owing to the weakness of the other parties (Congress and left), the Hindu nationalists were reelected in 2019.” Still this weakness of the secular camp helps the NDA juggernaut to be unstoppable. It seems Piketty’s observation on Indian politics is absolutely correct. He further says: “Several future trajectories are conceivable, ranging from intensification of conflicts of identity, religion, and inequality to the advent of a secularist redistributive coalition.” (Capital and Ideology, Chapter 16—Social Nativism: The Postcolonial Identitarian Trap). At present what we witness is the intensification of conflicts of identity, religion and inequality. The advent of a secularist redistributive coalition is yet to be seen. Anyhow the Congress is, either ideologically or politically, not in a condition to form and lead such a coalition.

And if secular democracy stands completely abandoned in the Hindi heart-land of India the onus is on the secular parties that used and still use secularism only as a tool for garnering votes. RJD under Lalu Prasad Yadav is the party that cultivated corruption as a phenomenal family business in Bihar. Chandrashekhar Prasad who was elected twice as the students’ union president of JNU, who said that the “future generations will hold us accountable for our role when people were fighting every day for their rights, when the oppressed were raising their voices,” was shot dead in broad daylight in Siwan on March 31, 1997 when Lalu Prasad Yadav was ruling Bihar. The RJD MP Mohammad Shahabuddin was the prime accused and his role in the murder of the journalist Rajdeo Ranjan was also explicit. RJD was virtually led by the goonda elements under Lalu Prasad Yadav. I wonder how the CPI ML parties to which Chandrasekhar Azad belonged could be the part of the Mhagatbhandan with the Congress and RJD. It reveals the abysmally pathetic condition of our secular democracy. It is high time Congress and the alliances against the BJP and NDA learnt that the hollow word secularism alone won’t help them stop the NDA juggernaut. Election after election the Congress is taught this lesson and yet it is unwilling to learn lessons and the soil under its feet continues to drift away.


[1See the article “Arrests in Bhima Koregaon case frame a transformation in India’s polity and police force”, The Indian Express, October 29, 2020.

[2See the article “Most Backward Notions of the Most Educated People”, Mainstream, Annual Issue 2018.

[3See the news reports:

(i) SC declines to consider plea for interim bail to Varavara Rao, Deccan Herald, Oct.29, 2020.

(ii) Supreme Court Asks Bombay HC to hear Varavara Rao’s Bail Plea Quickly, The Wire, Oct. 30, 2020.

(iii) Varavara Rao approaches Bombay HC again for bail, matter to be heard today, Scroll.in, Nov. 12, 2020.

(iv) Varavara Rao denied bail till November 17 on health grounds, Bombay HC allows another medical check, Scroll.in, Nov. 12, 2020.

[4Supreme Court’s Selective Approach Will Not Prevent the ‘Path of Destruction’, m.thewire.in, Nov. 15, 2020.

[5See the article “Protect our Republic, my lords”, The Hindu, Nov.16, 2020.

[6See Arundhati Roy’s essay Democracy: Who is she when she’s at home? included in the collection Listening to Grasshoppers: Field Notes on Democracy.

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