Left Activist, Researcher, and currently an Exile. Docking in Hong Kong at Right to Food desk of the Asian Human Rights Commission.
Arnab Goswami was outraged, once again. No news in that as he makes a living out of getting outraged, one would say. Therein lay the news that the outrage was quite righteous and understandable this time. Not only that, Arnab, unbelievably, was in some good company as well. Ravish Kumar of NDTV was equally outraged, despite of coming from not only a rival channel but from a different world altogether. So were scores of other anchors scattered around a myriad of news channels largely known for their degree of success (or failure) in copying the styles of one of these two while masquerading the stagnated storylines of saas-bahu operas as news.
It seemed that Arnab’s nightly melodramatic self-righteous indignation was voicing something that had for once equally bothered Ravish Kumar known for his composure and almost rustic rootedness in real India. It seemed that the shining, and always on the march India of English news channels had hit the reality check mode. It was in sync with tribulations that plagued the countryside. It seemed that Arnab’s shrill anger represented an angry India and this time the nation did actually demand to know the reasons behind the murders most foul that took place in Kunda of Uttar Pradesh.
The murders, ironically, do not have much of a news value in themselves. They cannot, as even a cursory glance at the local newspapers replete with such stories would tell how common the murders and all other crimes in the area are. The sheer frequency with which crimes are committed in these Indo-Gangetic Barbarian badlands would consign such news to a blink-and-you-miss-it box buried deep within the local dailies. For anyone likely to get offended by the term Indo-Gangetic Barbarian, let me assert that I come from the same region and know, and own, what I am saying.
The murders had a news value this time, though. They had because those killed included a young and honest, a virtue increasingly hard to find in police officers across states, Deputy Superintendent of Police, Zia-ul-Haq. The officer was killed while trying to control a mob that was enraged, ostensibly, at the killing of the village chief Nanhe Lal Yadav, a muscleman considered close to local Member of Legislative Assembly Raghuraj Pratap Singh better known as Raja Bhaiya who enjoys a lot of clout in the provincial politics divided along caste lines.
No one exactly knows what happened in Ballipur village that night apart from the facts that scream out of the dead bodies strewn around after the mayhem. Apparently, Mr. Yadav, whose family has many licensed guns, was shot dead over a property dispute. The killing incensed his supporters who went on rampage and started putting everything, from the houses of alleged perpetrators to the local police station, on fire. Yes, you got it right. The supporters of the slain village chief would not let the police investigate the crime and bring the guilty to books. They would not let the law take its own course.
They would rather administer instant justice; justice that has nothing to do with the law of the land. They would not wait for investigation and prosecution. That is the old school, Indian style of delayed justice delivery and Kunda would have none of it. It is a sovereign and socialist republic, Samajvadi Party style, after all. And being a socialist republic, it does not operate by the provisions of the Indian Penal Code, at least not when the party is in power. It has an unwritten, but enforced in absolute terms, penal code of its own, call it Kunda Penal Code if you want.
Not that all the Arnab Goswamis and Ravish Kumars were unaware of the code. Quite on the contrary, they knew it way too well for the code had not evolved overnight. It was in operation, imposed on Kunda, as Armed Forces Special Powers Act is on Kashmir and the North East for a while. They knew whose writ ran large in Kunda. They would occasionally speak about the code and the source it drew its (il)legitimacy from.
They knew of the crocodiles Raja Bhaiya allegedly kept as pets and fed with those who dared challenging his domination of the area and his code. They knew it since long, as print media had been reporting on the terror of ‘this gentleman’, as Arnab Goswami referred to him in one of his recurrent primetime fits of getting outraged, since decades.
As it is, the fear psychosis that ruled the area was not reported by the local, vernacular media alone. The horror stories from his Raja Bhaiya’s fiefdom routinely appeared in the reputed English dailies one would expect Arnab to have at least a glance at, as going by his attitude it would be too much to expect him of having patience to read anything, even a small news item.
Economic Times, for example, had called Raja Bhaiya a ‘real terror’ as early as on April 26, 2007 and went on to assert that he “has been booked under all sections of IPC and CRPC, along with the Goonda Act.” He would know for Kalyan Singh, the then Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, has not only called Raja Bhaiya “Kunda ka Gunda” in 1997 but also thundered that he would ensure that the goon ‘has’ to flee the state. That the promise, made a decade before ET would eulogize Arnab’s ‘gentleman’ was amended by BJP’s Kalyan Singh who inducted the same goon as minister in his cabinet is beside the point.
The point is that there is no way that Arnab Goswamis and Ravish Kumars would not know of all this. They would know him for the fact that the chilling tales coming out of Kunda could have sent a shiver down the spine of even the most hardened criminal; forget these suave faces with personal makeup teams. The tales were full of skeletons including the one that was recovered from a pond at his residence. The skeleton belonged to, as it is widely believed and reported by national media, Santosh Mishra who lost his life for the crime of coming in front of Raja’s cavalcade. If the horror is not enough, add to it that he was allegedly fed to crocodiles, Raja’s pets.
There is nothing to suggest that the news had caused any outrage to Arnab Goswami, Ravish Kumar or any of their bad photocopies. Santosh Mishra, for them, was not worth of an outrage. He could not be for the simple fact that he did not belong to their ‘classes’. Not being urbane and suave how could he? The sense of belonging is very subjective, you see.
They did not get outraged even when Mayawati regime took on the terror machine of Raja Bhaiya, the only government that showed not only a political will for ending the ‘Goondaraj’ but also acted on it. Graduating from the lowly Goonda Act, Raja Bhaiya was booked under the provisions of dreaded, and draconian, Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA). It was this widely covered crackdown that had ended in uncovering a skelton and an AK-56 rifle, among many other incriminating things from Raja’s residence. The crackdown had also seized his family properties and snatched the control of education institutions run by him away. The government has also dried up the other source of his income- extortions, in ET’s words.
Arnab Goswamis and Ravish Kumars were not outraged by these stories. They were busy getting outraged at things that mattered to them. They were busy running the story they related with. And the stories they related with were all against Mayawati, the Dalit woman who has rose to prominence challenging their own kith and kin. They found her to be terribly corrupt happily forgetting that she was nowhere on the scene when Rajiv Gandhi had confessed that only 14 paisa out of a Rupee sent from Delhi reaches people. That’s a swindling of 86 per cent and Mayawati regime could not had been more corrupt than this, could it? They called her authoritarian, happily forgetting the Hindutva clan remote controlled by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.
While demonizing her, the same media was busy making a maverick leader out of a cycle bound youngster named Akhilesh Yadav. The fact that the youngster perpetuated the dynasty politics did not bother them. The fact that he was sixth of his immediate family in the leadership did not trouble them. They were swept away by the youngster’s stubborn refusal to accommodate D P Yadav, another tainted politician, in his party even against the wishes of the senior leadership. Riding on the media trial of Mayawati, the youngster came to power by a tiny percentage point lead over his rival.
Rest, as they say, is history; a history of crime and violence that engulfs the state every time Samajwadis come to power in UP. This is a history of Akhilesh Yadav inducting Raja Bhaiya in his cabinet for making UP a crime free state. This is a history of SP MLA torching the houses of Dalits in Sitapur on day one of his government. All this happened under the watchful eyes and sealed mouth of the Young Turk. None of this, though, outraged Arnab Goswamis and Ravish Kumars as they were busy getting outraged by their chosen issues.
They did not get outraged by the 26 communal riots that rocked the state in less than a year of the Samajwadi government as accepted by the Chief Minister himself. They did not get outraged by the fact that SP leaders and legislators were involved in several of them. They did not even bother about the fact that allegations linked Raja Bhaiya directly with the one that happened in Asthan village. This one in which a mob had torched every single Muslim house of the village with impunity was also the one the young DySP was investigating into and was supposed to submit his report soon.
The ones victimized in Sitapur were Dalits and therefore not worth an outraged Arnab or Ravish. The ones victimized in Asthan were poor Muslims, and therefore even more immaterial to the Arnab and Ravish’s world. Ya, Ravish too, as he betrayed his mindset while moderating a debate by almost holding ‘fatichar(wretched) secular politics responsible for the crime. Does anyone remember Ravish getting this incensed with ‘fatichar secular politics’ for not cracking down on those responsible for these 26 riots? Had he taken up the issue, at least a little pressure would have been generated and forced the government into action. Had he gotten outraged then, Raja Bhaiya would have been facing another inquiry not for the murder of a police officer but for flaring up a communal riot.
This is exactly why the issue is not about Raja Bhaiya alone. There are a thousand Raja Bhaiyas in UP, albeit of course in different shapes and sizes. The issue is the denial of the state to take on the criminalization of politics, an art mastered by the Samajwadi Party , though all others including BSP have their own ‘goons’. The issue is the denial of the state to take on the forces like Yogi Adityanath who have been trying to endanger and law and order in the state by their persistent attempts of engineering communal riots.
Much more than all this, the issue is about the denial of the media, supposed to be fourth pillar of democracy, to look beyond Delhi and other metropolitan cities. Having abandoned the countryside long ago they have built an India of their own; an India that begins in Gurgaon and ends in Ghaziabad. Their India has no space for both the aspirations and pains of Khairlanjis, Bhandaras and Kundas. This is the India where Raja Bhaiyas operate. This is the India where another Deputy Superintendent (DySP) Ram Shiromani Pandey gets killed in a ‘road accident’ a day before his plea against harassment from the same Raja Bhaiya gets admitted by the High Court. The DySP, like Zia ul-Haq was the one who had carried out the operations against Raja Bhaiya during Mayawati regime. Raja Bhaiya was a cabinet minister now, and the DySP a dead man.
Think of that and then think of cops accompanying the DySP who had abandoned him to get killed for saving their own lives. Without condoning this act of criminal cowardice at best and conspiratorial accomplice at worst, ask yourself if they had any options and you would get the answers. Knowing the UP police, many of them might had been in the same police station with DySP Pandey as their boss and seen the justice done to him. Remind yourself that he was a serving police officer who complained of getting harangued by Raja Bhaiya and died in a road accident and then think of the morale his subordinates would have for putting up a fight. The national media had not found the story worth pursuing then, that too despite a CBI probe in the case.
And this is exactly why media’s newly discovered rage against politicians like Raja Bhaiya sounds, and looks on prime time shows, as fake as Arnab’s ‘that gentleman’ moniker for him. To be honest, it sounds worse than the listening to Raja Bhaiya being referred to as ‘mananiya mantri ji’.
Let’s face the fact Arnab Goswamis and Ravish Kumars. And the fact is that despite having to step down as a minister under tremendous pressure, Raja Bhaiya is still an MLA and is referred to as Honourable MLA by everyone from the speaker of UP assembly to the police officers. This he does despite being booked under ‘all sections of IPC and CrPC’ in ET’s words. Yet the terror alleged to him could never outrage national media into launching a campaign on the lines of Justice for Jessica, or Arushi or so on. Yes, they need justice too, every citizen of India does. But when you choose your citizens from ‘rest of them’ you lose the ethical courage of getting outraged for the rest of them.
I remember Arnab Goswami’s face, laboriously contorted to give a seething with anger effect, while moderating a discussion on the issue. Nation wants to know (he must have said, he uses the phrase so many times that many of us have stopped registering it) why ‘this gentleman’ is yet not arrested? I could see the almost sickening glint in his eyes that no one can save Raja Bhaiya from being arrested now. He must had planned to congratulate him for the impending arrest the next day as he routinely does on successes imagined and invented, thinking who could defy the order of this self-designated conscience keeper of the nation. Arnab must have felt devastated the next day, for nothing like that happened. He must have realized what worth an opinion maker and the voice of the nation rolled into one he is. I saw him outraged the next day as well. It is just that he had shifted his outrage from Raja Bhaiya to something else, Italian Mariners perhaps.
Ravish Kumar fared worse. He had asked something similar to ADG Arun Kumar, eulogizing his ‘great’ track record. The ADG replied with not even taking Raja Bhaiya’s name. Honourable Minister was the word he used every single time he referred to him. The reply did not startle Ravish Kumar. He was as unfazed as a log. As if alleged criminals being referred to with such respect is not only acceptable but perhaps desirable. He too had got his message right. He was enraged the next day but over something very different.
It’s high time for them, perhaps, to brush up their vocabulary to get it in tune with their shifting outrages. How about referring to all politicians accused of criminal charges as they are referred to in the parliament and assemblies. That is what they are, after all.