The festival of lights had barely ended when we got news that shrouded the entire country in darkness. Arnab Goswami, the voice of the nation, had resigned from Times Now and would no longer be the face of his daily prime-time show, The Newshour, or the channel. Sure, there were rumours that he might be starting his own channel or getting some uber-Indian patriot like Rupert Murdoch to invest in one for him, but the news was quite bittersweet. On one hand, he was going to come back with a bigger soapbox. On the other, it was the end of an era.
To be or not to be
However, as the man himself said in the meeting on November 1 announcing his resignation, the game has just begun. The fact that he said this 15 times in the span of a few minutes is no cause for alarm. That’s a normal number of times to say something and it did not seem weird at all whatsoever to any of his employees. They’re already used to hearing worse things coming out of his mouth!
I don’t usually disagree with Arnab, mostly because I don’t want him to call me on his show and needlessly yell at me for 90 minutes, but the game had begun a long time ago. It all began when he was working at NDTV and his talents were deliberately ignored. While other people got marquee shows that made them household names, he languished in anonymity, forced to play second fiddle to people less talented than him. The game began when he got fed up and left that company with nothing but the clothes on his back, the hate in his heart, and a small fortune in his bank account.
A few years later, he was still in a rut and the owners of his fledgling news channel were rumoured to be thinking of replacing him. But he still soldiered on, finally coming of age during one of our country’s biggest tragedies, the 26/11 attacks. His baptism by fire helped him discover that the louder he shouted, the more viewers he gained. He had an epiphany that eluded the rest of his contemporaries. It dawned on him that this country values one thing above all else: a spectacle.
We’re a country that clamours for public executions and cheers extra-judicial killings. We don’t care about all that namby-pamby human rights crap those jute bag touting pinko-commies keep talking about. He understood that we want to watch a loud Manmohan Desai potboiler with blood, gore and machismo, not an arty Satyajit Ray-esque searing meditation on poverty and the meaning of life. We want to see the underdog triumph against all odds, not watch a protagonist give up and make peace with their circumstances.
Similarly, we don’t want an effete, bearded man to read us the news like it’s a lullaby. We want to watch a loud, brash, alpha-male metaphorically bludgeon his opponents. We want to watch people coming within an inch of punching each other in the face, not a congenial exchange of wits at St Stephens’ Saturday Debate Club.
All news is a stage
So Arnab learned to give the people what they wanted. He wasn’t preaching us the news, he was making us part of it. He felt our frustrations and anger. He became our gladiator at the coliseum, loudly battering his opponents for our entertainment, while we ruthlessly egged him on.
He wanted to be our conscience. He became our id.
Day after day, our fearless anchor gathered his urban khap panchayat and set out to look for witches where none exist. He prosecuted Indian citizens and entities who dared to disagree with him or the government. Writers, intellectuals, actors, directors, other TV channels, actual news organisations, college students, dead freedom fighters, inanimate objects, fictional characters, other planets...no one was safe from the wrath of Arnab’s kangaroo court.
His show wasn't about breaking any news, it was about making it. Because he is the news! Whenever we have whatever passes for a national conversation in our country, we’re talking less about the thing making the news and more about how Arnab is reacting to it. Yes, you can boycott his show. Keep telling everyone on social media that you don’t watch his show. But he looms over what we talk about like a predator looms over its prey. He’s the loudest voice in the room, and he doesn’t let you forget that.
Arnab Goswami is the news industry’s golden child. He determines what is going to make the news, and everybody else follows suit, becoming a cheap imitation of the original. But they still don’t command half the fear and awe that he does. Do you think Rajdeep Sardesai can set hashtags trending on twitter? Can Barkha Dutt get the government of the day to ban a documentary being broadcast on another channel? Would the stock market go down if anyone at India Today left their job? Is anyone else epic enough to write an obituary for a mentor and refer to his own TV show more than to the deceased?Can anyone else yell at the dead?
In case of a nuclear attack on our country, only three things will survive. Cockroaches, a box of Ferrero Rocher chocolates that was probably brought here by some NRI relative who was bad at giving gifts, and Arnab Goswami. Because he isn’t a person. He’s an idea. He’s a collection of all of our worst selves. Arnab Goswami is a cautionary tale; a Shakespearean tragedy awaiting its third act.
So when he comes back with a bigger, louder soapbox, he’ll continue to shock us with his antics. We’ll clutch our pearls, shake our heads in disgust, and marvel at his continued depravity.
But we’ll still be watching.