Srinagar, India, Nov 5 (efe-epa).- The media fraternity and politicians in India on Thursday appeared divided in their opinions over the arrest of a firebrand journalist, Arnab Goswami, for allegedly driving a businessman and his mother to commit suicides in a 2018 case.
Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has come out in support of the journalist who was arrested on Wednesday in Mumbai, India’s main financial hub and capital of the western state of Maharashtra.
But the opposition, including the Indian National Congress, which is a part of Maharashtra’s ruling combine, have called out the “hypocrisy” of BJP’s selective press freedom outrage.
Goswami was arrested from his Mumbai residence for allegedly abetting the suicide of 53-year interior designer Anvay Naik and his mother Kumud Naik on May 5, 2018.
The police said the man had written a suicide note in which he alleged that Goswami owed him a large sum of money, and he had refused to pay it.
Goswami, who runs private TV network The Republic – partially owned by a BJP lawmaker- has denied the allegations.
A Maharashtra court sent him to 14 days in judicial custody after a marathon five-hour hearing late on Wednesday night.
The journalist is not new to controversies. He faces criminal charges in two cases of inciting communal tensions and promoting hatred between religious groups.
In October, the police accused his channel of rigging the Television Rating Points system for gauging the viewership of TV programs based on which a channel charges advertisers.
The arrest of Goswami, who is widely seen as supportive of the BJP and known for yelling at and shouting down panelists on his TV show who do not speak in favor of Modi’s policies, has triggered media freedom debate in a country that ranks as low as 142nd on global press freedom index out of 180 nations.
Modi’s top cabinet colleagues, Home Minister Amit Shah, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and Information Minister Prakash Javadekar as well as several top BJP leaders, led a chorus of protests on TV channels and Twitter to condemn the arrest.
They said it was an attack on the press freedom with Shah, the second-most powerful man in India after Modi, calling it “blatant misuse of state power” that “must be and will be opposed.”
The Shiv Sena, which rules Maharashtra with the INC and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), said no journalists enjoyed immunity from criminal charges against them.
“Can someone guide me under which (Indian Penal Code) sections or press freedoms are journalists allowed exemption from payment of their dues?” Shiv Sena lawmaker and spokesperson Priyanka Chaturvedi said in a tweet.
The Shiv Sena, in an editorial in its mouthpiece ”Saamana,” slammed the central government and the BJP, claiming that journalists were being harassed and killed in states under its rule for writing against the authorities.
“An innocent man died by suicide along with his aged mother. The dead man’s wife is demanding justice and the police are following the law,” the editorial said.
The media fraternity also appeared as divided.
India’s top English dailies published from New Delhi and Mumbai wrote extensively on the issue in Thursday editions of the newspapers.
The Hindustan Times, one of the largest circulated dailies in the national capital, in its editorial said the arrest was condemnable without any “ifs and buts.”
“It sends the signal that it is fine to harass journalists.”