Before 26/11, I used to be an Arnab Goswami regular. The ‘Newshour’ show moves fast, the debates are brief, he moderates the debates well and comes prepared with the stuff. But post 26/11 and the attendant success for Times Now, something has changed. Arnab seems to have mutated. The aggression has been replaced by smugness, incisiveness by invective, research by rhetoric and debate by discourse.
Especially when he is on his pet topics of Pakistan and Ajmal Kasab, Arnab can lose not just his shirt but an entire wardrobe. Wednesday’s (April 29, 2009) debate was sparked off by Kasab’s demand for facilities such as perfumed toothpaste, Amitabh Bachchan DVDs, a walk in the verandah, etc. Laughable demands, but Arnab was not humoured. He saw in it a sinister strategy to prolong the trial. The lawyer guest on the show, Majeed Memon, tried repeatedly to tell him that this was not central to the trial and would in no way delay it.
But Arnab’s mind was made up so he decided have a debate! “National outrage over Kasav’s demands” screamed the headline (Arnab outraged = nation outraged?) and his question for the debate was: “Why should Kasab test India’s patience? Have we forgotten what he did?”
Arnab looked angry, indignant, overbearing and paid no heed to the basic fact that his outrage would have been justified only if Kasab had got all he asked for. I’m reproducing some of the questions (in bold type) that he asked followed by the answers I think the guests should have given him but did not:
Arnab Goswami: This is the man responsible for the biggest act of barbarianism this country has seen, overconfident and pampered, why should India accept (his demands)?
Answer Not Given: Firstly, who has accepted Kasab’s crazy demands, Arnab? Let’s pass the ‘overconfident’ bit, but what’s your evidence to show he is being ‘pampered’? Are you not making a holiday destination out of Arthur Road’s 32 sq ft Anda cell?
AG: It makes your blood boil doesn’t it Mr Krishnan, to see Kasab go ahead with all this? I mean, how long will this farce carry on? Your initial thoughts Mr Krishnan (the second guest)…
ANG: You’ve decided my blood is boiling and that all this is a farce. So why are we having this debate, Arnab?
AG: I must say Mr Krishnan, you are using an extremely honorific word in calling him a criminal. The point that needs to be made is that we are not a barbarian-welcoming country. (Mr Krishnan had said that we should not look like a criminal-friendly country.)
ANG: Got the hint, Arnab. On this show, I don’t need to pussyfoot, don’t need to tread softly.
AG: But have we become so conscious Mr Memon… that in the course of being extra careful we make it seem as if jails in India are hotels for people like Kasab?
ANG: Where’s my AK 47? I feel like a weekend in a hotel!
AG: But Mr Memon, he’s warning, look at his language, I’m not exaggerating. Look at the language Kasab has used… he is daring to warn the Indian courtroom. His words are like this: Staying in one room, I’m getting mentally sick. It should not happen that in future things might go out of control…”
ANG: Crime of crimes! He is daring to warn the India courtroom! But Arnab, since you are not exaggerating, will you tell me how the words “staying in one room, I’m getting mentally sick, it should not happen that in future things might go out of control” translates to a “threat to the Indian courtoom”?
AG: Mr Memon, you can dismiss this by saying that a journalist like you (Arnab) or a few people might feel that way… that that is not the way to look at it… that there are legal aspects to look at… but there are sentiments in this country, there is an anger in this country. This is not an emotional response…
ANG: Thanks Arnab, all these wasted years I was thinking “sentiment” and “anger” were emotions. I’ll sue my school, seek a speedy trial and demand the principal be given a Thesaurus instead of books with entertainment value in her “hotel” room.
AG: But you see this issue is going to be used politically. Varun Gandhi has already made it into a political issue. If you don’t stop the problem, it’ll become an ugly political issue.
ANG: And pray who will stop it from becoming a pretty Prime Time issue?
AG: These are demands, they have not been accepted. Mr Krishnan the court has not acquiesced. It is important to make that point.
ANG: Are you telling us, after two-thirds of the debate is over, that there was no need for it in the first place? I (Majeed Memon) made this point at the out set. You didn’t listen to me then, at least listen to yourself now, call off the debate here, now!
AG: But one thing must be made very clear. At this stage in our democracy and judiciary we are not going to be seen to be a banana republic if we simply follow tough laws with Kasab instead of giving him books of entertainment value, DVDs…
ANG: Relax, take a deep breath, Arnab, nobody has given him anything yet!
AG: Mr Memon, tell me, today are you not worried that somebody there, a Masood Azhar man is watching what’s happening in India and saying if you go to India it’s a very good option to be caught alive because if you are caught you will go into a long trial, you will get a fantastic lawyer, he will carry on for a long time… it’s a profitable option for you.
ANG: Yes, Arnab, post 26/11 Masood is training a new batch meant only for India: the pro-life Fidayeen or the suicide bombers who want to live!
AG: What scares me Mr Menon is that by simply going on and on about his demands, whether the court accepts or not, he is just buying time…
ANG: For the nth time Arnab, there is what is called a jail manual and Kasab will get what it mandates. There is no power on earth, not even The Newshour, that can stop him from desiring. So don’t get scared Arnab. Don’t be so without mirth, it’s not a crime to laugh at Kasab’s jokes…
AG: Gentlemen, because and only because I’m out of time I’m going to break into this discussion…
(End of debate.)
As I had said, one of the reasons I like Arnab’s debates is that he keeps them short. Justice-in-a-jiffy is his motto. And in his court, Kasab has been summarily charged, tried and convicted. All that’s left to do is to wring his neck.
Now, how dare the law interfere with a trial?
Tailpiece: Mumbai’s chill pill for Arnab
This show happened on Wednesday. And on Thursday, Mumbai delivered a sobering blow. Arnab had expected “at least 10-15 per cent” more voting than 2004 because Mumbai was angry post 26/11. So his debating point on Thursday was: “Has Mumbai forgotten what happened?” Quite a far cry from Wednesday’s “national outrage” line. Now that it seems even Mumbai is not as angry anymore, will we see Arnab cool down a bit?
Or will it make him only more angry?
(As you can see, Venkat, as the author is known, is hunting for something praiseworthy in news channels to write about. If you find something good, help him take up the challenge by writing to him at email@example.com.)