The BJP and the Congress engaged in a verbal duel on Wednesday over Republic TV Editor-in-Chief Arnab Goswami's arrest in Mumbai, with the saffron party saying it was an "attack on press freedom" which was reminiscent of the Emergency, and the opposition party slamming the criticism as "selective outrage". Goswami was arrested in Mumbai for allegedly abetting suicide of a 53-year-old interior designer, a Mumbai police official said.
Reacting to the development, the Editors Guild of India condemned the "sudden arrest" and called upon Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray to ensure that the 47-year-old journalist is treated fairly and state power is not used against critical reporting by the media. The arrest also triggered a political slugfest between the BJP and the Congress. BJP president J P Nadda and senior Union ministers slammed Goswami's arrest by the Mumbai police, with Home Minister Amit Shah describing it as a "blatant misuse of state power" which reminds of the Emergency.
"India didn't forgive Indira Gandhi for the Emergency. India never forgave Rajiv Gandhi for his assault on press freedom. And now, India will again punish Sonia-Rahul Gandhi for their brazen and intimidating use of state power to get equal with journalists," Nadda tweeted. Goswami, who was seen being pushed into a police van, claimed he was assaulted by police at his home.
Reacting to Goswami's arrest, Shah said Congress and its allies have shamed democracy once again. "Blatant misuse of state power against Republic TV and Arnab Goswami is an attack on individual freedom and the 4th pillar of democracy. It reminds us of the Emergency. This attack on free press must be and will be opposed," he tweeted. Several Union ministers, including Prakash Javadekar and S Jaishankar, described Goswami's arrest as "an attack on the freedom of press" and said it reminded of the Emergency years.
Hitting out at the BJP over its criticism of Goswami's arrest, the Congress said its "selective outrage" on press freedom is "shameful" and the law will take its own course in the case against the Republic TV editor-in-chief. Congress spokesperson Supriya Shrinate said she was "actually very shocked with the selective outrage" of the BJP and of the sections of the government.
"Why are they silent when Prashant Kanojia is jailed for a number of months just because he exposed a scam where children were being served salt and chapati in Mirzapur?" the spokesperson asked, referring to the journalist who was arrested by the UP Police. Addressing a media briefing, she raised several other questions."Why is the BJP selectively silent when sedition charges are slapped against journalists and when a case has been filed against (Scroll) journalist Supriya Sharma because she exposed the pathetic state of affairs in a village in Varanasi?" she asked. "And when a reporter who exposed the PPE kit scam in Uttar Pradesh is jailed and faces serious sedition charges instead of action been taken against those responsible for the scam," she added. "So this selective outrage is extremely unwarranted, is shameful and they (the BJP) should be ashamed of saying anything," Shrinate told reporters.
She also hit out at Goswami, saying she herself had been a journalist for almost two decades and alleged that he had brought complete "disgrace and shame" to journalism. The BJP should be the last one to be talking about freedom of the press, she said, and accused the saffron party of controlling the media through advertisements and through "intimidation and fear".
"I am reasonably certain that wherever Congress is in government or we are in alliance, people will not be punished if they are absolutely innocent. I also believe that law will take its own course even in this case," she said. Many top BJP ministers slammed the Maharashtra government over Goswami's arrest and also hit out at the Congress.
The Congress is part of the Shiv Sena-led Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government in Maharashtra with NCP as the other partner. "Those who really believe in this freedom must speak up …Shades of the Emergency," Jaishankar tweeted.
In a series of tweets, Law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said the arrest of senior journalist Goswami was "seriously reprehensible, unwarranted and worrisome." "We had fought for freedoms of Press as well while opposing the draconian Emergency of 1975," Prasad said. He said while Congress leaders Sonia and Rahul Gandhi have attacked the 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 claimed it to be a "textbook case of hypocrisy."Information and Broadcasting minister Javadekar said it is reminiscent of "Emergency days".
He also hit out at the Congress, saying its "fascist and Emergency mindset" is on display in Maharashtra. Javadekar said "we condemn the attack on press freedom in Maharashtra. This is not the way to treat the Press." WCD Minister Smriti Irani tweeted that if those in free press don't stand up in support of Goswami then they are tactically in support of fascism.
"Those in the free press who don't stand up today in support of Arnab, you are now tactically in support of fascism. 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?," she tweeted.
Meanwhile, the News Broadcasters Association condemned the manner in which Goswami was arrested in Mumbai and appealed to Uddhav Thackeray to ensure that he is treated fairly and state power is not misused for vendetta. The News Broadcasters Association (NBA) also said that even though it does not agree with Goswami’s “type of journalism", it denounces “retaliatory action", if any, by authorities.
In a statement, the NBA said it “condemns the manner in which Arnab Goswami, Editor-in-Chief of Republic TV, was arrested".
The NBA said it is dismayed in the manner in which he was arrested. “Even though the NBA does not agree with his type of journalism, we denounce retaliatory action, if any by the authorities against a media editor. Media is not above the law but due process must be followed," the statement said.