Ranjona Banerji: Arnab losing mojo outside studio?

11 Sep,2012

By Ranjona Banerji

 

According to popular opinion, the normally bristling with national outrage Arnab Goswami went easy on Raj Thackeray. He was gentle in his technique and let Thackeray get away with confusingly contradictory rhetoric. Perhaps Goswami loses his mojo when he’s out of his studio. Maybe Thackeray’s sneering aggression troubled him. But it was an interview which exposed both participants. Thackeray was petty. And Goswami was not in his best “India wants an answer” mood.

 

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By the time the weekend was over however we had new excitements in our lives. A young cartoonist with an FIR and court order against him was arrested in Mumbai on charges of sedition. Aseem Trivedi arrived in Mumbai from Kanpur, went to the BKC police station and surrendered. He has some connection with the India Against Corruption movement, so some of them were there with some TV-inspired drama all around.

 

Social media was spewing venom at the political class for being against cartoons as were general comments on TV news. But which politician had got Trivedi arrested for sedition? Politicians may be against freedom of expression at most times, but who was the villain here?

 

There was no overt political villain as it happened. A Republican Party of India worker had taken exception to Trivedi’s cartoons. Information and broadcasting minister Ambika Soni said the UPA government was all for freedom of expression but desecration of institutions was unacceptable.

 

The problem is that viewers were not shown the cartoons. Later, on Times Now, we were told they were so horrible that they could not be seen.

 

After that, the discussion went from freedom of expression to sedition laws to bad taste and everywhere but didn’t inform the view about the exact charges. Kiran Bedi did try on both CNN-IBN and Times Now but none of the senior editors found the details worthy enough to be revealed.

 

Rajdeep Sardesai and Press Council of India chairman Markandey Katju had a discussion on CNN-IBN about how politicians had to be taught a lesson and how we were a democracy and the importance of freedom of speech. But Katju did not seem to know that politicians were not directly involved – if at all – and Sardesai did not enlighten him.

 

None of the TV discussions looked at the sedition laws in detail either, although surely they are an issue. Because cartoonists like Sudhir Dar, Sudhir Tailang and artists like Anjolie Ela Menon were guests, the tenor was more civilised than usual.

 

Sardesai spoke over his guests so we missed some of what they had to say. Goswami was very upset that the cartoons were so disrespectful and crass.

 

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Tuesday morning’s newspapers put some of the facts out there – that the Maharashtra home minister had distanced the state from the sedition charges, that the local police had perhaps gone too far with sedition, that the state home department had pressed the police to drop the plea for further police custody. Most importantly of all, the newspapers introduced us to the complainant, who had filed the charges after the IAC rally at the Bandra Kurla Complex in December 2011.

 

The Times of India also quotes Jawaharlal Nehru on the sedition law (he wanted to get rid of it). But an informed debate on this sedition law is perhaps now required, which is what this cartoonist also wants. Whether we as a nation are still capable of public informed debates is another question.

 

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