Several political leaders, including Union minister and chief ministers, on Wednesday criticised the arrest of journalist Arnab Goswami, with many of them referring to the period of Emergency in India. The Mumbai Police took the Republic TV editor-in-chief into custody earlier in the day for allegedly abetting the suicide of an interior designer in Alibaug in 2018.
The case pertains to the death of Anvay Naik, managing director of Concorde Designs Private Limited, in 2018. A suicide note by Naik accused Goswami and two others – Feroz Shaikh and Niteish Sarda – of not paying dues worth Rs 5.40 crore. Naik and his mother Kumud Naik were found dead in their home in Kavir village of Alibaug.
The channel released a statement after the arrest, and called the police action “terrifying”. “...the Mumbai Police and the state of Maharashtra are unapologetic and unhinged in misusing their office and uniform to undertake a physical attack, and open criminal intimidation even before the cameras against a citizen of India,” the statement read.
The channel further criticised police action over a “closed case”. “Moreover, the attack on the Fourth Estate without evidence of verifiable facts, on the basis of a closed case being reopened with the sole aim to make an unwarranted arrest of Arnab Goswami is shocking and one that of all India stands against,” the channel’s statement read.
Union Home Minister Amit Shah criticised the Congress and said the party and its allies had “shamed democracy once again”. “Blatant misuse of state power against Republic TV and Arnab Goswami is an attack on individual freedom and the fourth pillar of democracy,” he tweeted. “It reminds us of the Emergency. This attack on free press must be and WILL BE OPPOSED.”
Information and Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javadekar condemned the attack on press freedom in Maharashtra. “This is not the way to treat the press,” he said. “This reminds us of the emergency days when the press was treated like this.”
Union minister Smriti Irani criticised the Mumbai Police’s action against Goswami. “Those in the free press who don’t stand up today in support of Arnab, you are now tactically in support of fascism,” she tweeted. “You may not like him, you may not approve of him, you may despise his very existence but if you stay silent you support suppression. Who speaks if you are next?”
Railway Minister Piyush Goyal tweeted: “This fascist move is a sign of undeclared emergency. Assaulting journalist Arnab Goswami is an example of misuse of power. We must all stand up against this attack on India’s democracy.”
External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar said the arrest showed “shades of Emergency”, referring to the period of Emergency declared in India for a 21-month period from June 1975 to March 1977 by then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. This occurred days after she was found guilty of electoral fraud by the Allahabad High Court and barred from the Parliament for six years.
Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad criticised Congress leaders Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi for the arrest of Goswami. “Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi have openly attacked Narendra Modi government through motivated charges of attack on institutions yet they are completely silent when their own government in Maharashtra is blatantly suppressing freedom of press,” he tweeted. “We had fought for freedoms of Press as well while opposing the draconian Emergency of 1975.” Maharashtra has a coalition government of the Shiv Sena, the Nationalist Congress Party, and the Congress.
Union minister Dharmendra Pradhan tweeted: “Maharashtra government’s witch-hunt against media freedom is appalling and an assault on the very essence of democracy. MVA’s [Maha Vikas Aghadi] attempts to throttle free speech and recreate Emergency in Maharashtra is highly condemnable and a naked display of brutish intolerance.”
Chief ministers react
Manipur Chief Minister N Biren Singh called Goswami’s arrest an “attack on press freedom”. Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan said “freedom of expression” had been crushed in Maharashtra. “Maharashtra has a worse situation than Emergency,” he tweeted. “Those who tried to crush democracy have finally brought their end.”
Assam’s Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal called it a “black day for Indian democracy”, and condemned the police action. “Vendetta politics should be stopped and freedom of press should be maintained in Maharashtra by releasing Mr Goswami immediately,” he tweeted.
Bihar’s Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Kumar Modi said Goswami’s arrest was an attempt “to throttle nationalist voice in media”. “Congress Emergency mindset is still there,” he said.
Editors Guild express shock
The Editors Guild of India expressed shock after the journalist’s arrest and said that it was “extremely distressing”. “The Editors Guild of India is shocked to learn about the arrest of Arnab Goswami, editor-in-chief of Republic TV, in the early hours of Wednesday by the police,” the statement said. “Goswami was arrested from his Mumbai residence on reportedly an abetment to suicide case. The Guild calls upon the Chief Minister of Maharashtra to ensure that Goswami is treated fairly and state power is not used against critical reporting by the media.”
Indian Broadcasting Foundation condemns arrest
The India Broadcasting Foundation, a not-for-profit industry association, condemned the way Goswami was arrested. The association urged Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray to treat the journalist’s arrest in a “fair and equitable manner”.
“Freedom of the media and in particular news media forms the founding block of democracy,” it said, in a statement. “While no one is above the law, any misuse of State power must be denigrated.” The association said it stands in support of the freedom of media and further urged state governments to ensure that a due process of law is followed in such cases.
Actor Kangana Ranaut also reacted to the journalist’s arrest. “These voices will keep growing,” the actor said in a video posted on Twitter. “Before us, so many martyrs’ throats were slit, they were hanged for their right to free speech. No matter, you will silence, many others will rise.”
Bharatiya Janata Party leader Baijayant Jay Panda said “disconcerting scenes” were seen during Goswami’s arrest. The party’s National General Secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya said the arrest was based on “flimsy grounds”, and called it another example of “authoritarian and intolerant governance by Shiv Sena”.
National President of BJP Yuva Morcha Tejasvi Surya condemned the arrest. He also called for a protest against “this fascist action” at 1.30 pm near Mantralaya in Mumbai.