Arnab, Kamra and the Quest for Selective ‘Personal Liberty’
The moment Arnab Goswami was jailed it was expected that he was going to get bail soon and within seven days he managed to get bail easily. India’s press freedom and liberty index would be sky-rocketing if every case was handled the way Arnab’s case was handled. Later, comedian Kunal Kumra was facing contempt charges because he made fun of the judge and the Supreme Court as it was seen favouring Arnab over others.
Interestingly, this entire episode has brought out some interesting pointers that I found unique and worth thinking over:
It does not matter who you are, what principles you have and what kind of morality you have if you toe the line of the central government, be in their good books or laugh at their shitty jokes then you are more equal then others. It was only when Arnab was arrested that the BJP cabinet members discovered what free press is and the lack of it in Maharashtra. Places like Assam and UP, where journalist face a lot of dangers, are completely forgotten.
It does not matter who you are and how much of journalistic values you have in you if you attack the govt (in this case the Maharashtra State govt) you will be handled by the local state machinery aggressively. Let’s be clear, Arnab’s journalism standards are not exactly journalistic and his method and style of reporting against the Maharashtra govt is nothing but propaganda. So Maharashtra govt decided to bring out the TRP scam against him and when that did not work out then brought a 2018 case to gun him down.
The 2018 abetment to suicide was nothing but a political ploy to put Arnab in jail. Interestingly, Republic TV did not even do any kind of investigation behind the case after Arnab’s arrest. They had a petition to release him, ran a hashtag that said billion people with Arnab (Really? A Billion??) and they did not cover US elections at all because Arnab was arrested the same day. Newlaundry reported an excellent piece that laid out the facts of the case which showed that the allegation against Arnab was highly questionable. Republic TV did not bother to investigate the case where their interest was at stake, how can they expect to do any other kind of reporting.
When Arnab was being shifted to the Taloja jail he asked for his case to be taken to the Supreme Court, voila, two days later Justice Chandrachud appeared before a bench and started giving lectures on “Personal Liberty”, not to watch Arnab if you don’t like him (regardless of his vile news content) and letting India know that Supreme Court exists to protect the rights of the citizen. Bail was passed, Arnab was out of jail the same night shouting Vande Mataram.
One does not even need to do a fact check to know that the Supreme Court was highly selective from taking up Arnab’s case to granting him bail the same day. Decisions like junking of Rafale petition, the former CJI accepting a Rajya Seat, delayed hearing of demonetisation and electoral bonds make it clear that echoes of the executive are well regarded in the chambers of the judiciary.
The consent to initiate contempt against Kunal Kamra was surprising and baffling. Just two months ago advocate Prashant Bhushan was held guilty of contempt against the Supreme Court. When it came to punishment the court and the Attorney General were asking and pleading Bhushan to apologise. Bhushan did not apologise and was willing to face any kind of punishment. The court fined him ₹1 as punishment because the court realised that initiating a strict punishment for contempt for tweeting can have far-reaching effects. Many right-wingers were visibly upset that from now on anybody can abuse the court and the CJI and can get away with it by paying ₹1.
It was clear the AG does not reflect well from recent history. Kunal Kamra has refused to apologise for his tweets and has said that he wants to give away his privileged contempt hearing on matters of grave importance. It would be interesting to see what happens next.
Let us take time to think rationally and remember that the court is not infallible in its judgment and if one has to go by history then we know how the apex court has failed its citizen so many times. The contrasting difference this time is that the frequency of faltering is multiplying the same way as greenhouse gases are (thank god Trump is fired). Decisions like Rafale petition, both the Ayodha verdicts, deferring of judgements that involve human rights and ‘personal liberty’ show us that autonomy of the apex body is decreasing.
Satire, humour and jests are part of an epoch that attempts to show the world that the emperor is indeed naked. An organisation that cannot tolerate humour or irony against it shows signs of receding plurality. This same receding plurality gives a path for division and favours that showed compassion for privileged bootlickers but not a real journalist or human rights activist.