Times of moral certainty carry an inherent danger. When the opposing view is so clearly demarcated and our own cause seems just, it is easy to forget that our consensus hides contradictions that contributed to the situation in the first place.
What happened in Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) on 9 February 2016 and how those events have unfolded since, suggest that we are living in just such a time. It takes extreme stupidity to react to a bunch of students shouting any slogans within a university campus. Worse has been said before, without damage to the republic. But we now have a ruling party that, unable to deliver on poll promises, finds itself looking for symbolism to bail itself out from electoral disaster. In doing so, it is only serving the larger interests of its parent organisation, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). The RSS sees things not in terms of an election or two over a year, but in terms of how the country changes over decades. Its eventual aim is to subvert the very Constitutional arrangement that defines our republic.
Under these circumstances, not only is the choice to resist by speaking against what is taking place easily made, perhaps it is even forced. But it cannot lead us to conclusions that disregard what we have learnt in the recent past. Around me, I hear liberals voice the need to see the Congress strengthen itself to lead the resistance against this government. This is a party—still led by the inept Rahul Gandhi—which gives pride of place to people such as Kamal Nath, who are complicit in the mass murder of 1984. This is a party embroiled in corruption that hastened Modi’s ascent to power through its ineptitude in the first place. Principled protests today cannot regress into recreating the dangers we seem to have left behind.
Just as the country is cleaved by strong opinion, so is the media. A large part of the electronic media, ranging from ZEE TV to Times Now, have taken on the same garb of national interest that the Bharatiya Janata Party has donned. Others—from electronic, digital and print media—have opposed this by pointing out that this witch-hunt of a few students depends on meagre if not concocted evidence and only serves the politics of the ruling party. For my part I think the choice before us is simple, our job is to speak truth to power, not speak a concocted truth on behalf of power.
This internal debate is personified in the larger-than-life figure of Arnab Goswami, the editor-in-chief of Times Now and ET Now. I have appeared on Times Now for over five years as a panelist. My appearances stopped barely two months ago when I refused to moderate my views about Arun Jaitley—the finance and information and broadcasting minister of India—for the channel. Over these five years, my reaction to Times Now has ranged from admiration to disgust. Its exaggerated theatrics notwithstanding, the channel spoke truth to power when the United Progressive Alliance was at the centre. It took on the ruling alliance in ways that were new, given the cozy relationship between that dispensation and journalists such as Barkha Dutt—a consulting editor with NDTV—as exemplified by the Radia Tapes. In the run-up to the 2014 elections, I was disturbed by the apparent contradiction between Goswami’s aggressive and admirable interview of Rahul Gandhi and the soft touch that was apparent in his interview of Narendra Modi. But much of this apprehension was allayed when the channel took on Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhra Raje and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj over Lalit Modi’s revelations in June 2015.