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A Kerala court has summoned Arnab Goswami for his disparaging remarks against the people of the state during a talk show held in the aftermath of the devastating floods last year

By NV Ravindranathan Nair in Thiruvananthapuram

Like many leaders of the party that he avowedly supports, TV anchor Arnab Goswami is known to issue threats and spew venom against anyone or anything he doesn’t agree with. Instances are numerous and are not worth repeating here but a nasty comment he made during a channel discussion has landed the Editor-in-Chief of Republic TV in a bit of a bother. Last week, the Judicial First Class Magistrate’s Court in Kannur in north Kerala summoned him in a criminal defamation case filed for allegedly humiliating Keralites and sought his presence before the court on June 20.

The summons were issued on a complaint filed by P Sasi, CPI(M) leader and president of People’s Law Foundation, alleging that Goswami had termed Keralites “shameless people”, while debating whether the central government put spokes in the wheel on the plan of the UAE government to sanction Rs 700 crore as flood relief to Kerala. “This group is shameless…, is the most shameless bunch of Indians I have seen, they have gone around spreading the lie religiously. I don’t know what they get for it. Whether they get paid for it? Do they get paid money for abusing their own country? Are they part of a group, who are they funded by? Point is that it is a conspiracy to malign India,” Goswami had allegedly said in the context of protests amongst sections of Keralites against the centre’s decision to refuse permission to the state government to accept Rs 700 crore aid from the rulers of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), where nearly a million Keralites live and work.

The Centre’s decision had triggered debates in the state, and at every corner where people gathered, discussions centred around whether the UAE had actually offered the amount to Kerala, and the truth behind the Indian government blocking the largesse in the name of misplaced pride.

While there was perceptible divide on the issue whether to accept it or not, there was also the question of whether the UAE had offered the money at all. There were rumours that the issue had been created by the ruling Marxists and their sympathisers in the media to point fingers at the centre for denying the people of the state largesse from a friendly foreign state.

On August 18 last year, the ruler of Dubai who is also the prime minister, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, tweeted that his country had formed a committee for extending help to flood-affected people in Kerala. Soon, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said that the UAE rulers had personally intimated him about their plans to sanction Rs 700 crore as flood relief. But a few days after Vijayan’s revelation, the Centre made it clear that financial aid from foreign governments will not be allowed, in line with the existing government policy.

Vijayan found in this the perfect opportunity to point fingers at the centre. He, along with Finance Minister TM Thomas Isaac, blamed the centre for its “vindictive” attitude towards the state. Isaac went to the extent of saying that the centre had blocked the foreign aid while itself granting only a pittance for the state. The centre had sanctioned Rs 3,728 crore as flood relief to the state besides offering to rebuild roads and other infrastructure facilities destroyed in the floods, as against the Rs 21,000 crore needed.

But some clarification was injected into the matter after a senior official in the UAE embassy stated that the Emi­rates had not officially announced any financial aid for Kerala flood relief. Without mentioning financial aid, UAE ambassador Ahmed Ahmed Albanna said that his government had only set up a national emergency committee to provide relief assistance to people affected by the floods. The centre’s refusal to clear the scheduled foreign tours of all the state ministers to mobilise relief assistance from non-resident Keralites had angered the government as well as large sections of the state’s population. The centre decreed that only the chief minister could go on a fund-raising tour and that too only to the UAE and the United States.

It was against this backdrop that the TV channel discussion was held on the flood situation and the Kerala government’s allegation against the central government of sabotaging foreign aid. During the discussion, Goswami, in his characteristic style, went on a diatribe against a section of Keralites who were engaged in Modi bashing.

There is something about the state and its politicians that riles Goswami, perhaps even vice-versa. He was summoned earlier by a court in Thiruvananthapuram in a criminal defamation case filed by Shashi Tharoor, the local MP, for statements he made on his TV show regarding the mysterious death of Sunanda Pushkar, Tharoor’s wife, who was found dead in a seven-star hotel in Delhi. These proceedings were later stayed by the Kerala High Court on Goswami’s petition.

Earlier, the Delhi High Court had dismissed as not maintainable a petition moved by Goswami seeking to stop the registration of an FIR against him on a complaint made by Tharoor. The former Union minister had accused Goswami and the news channel of gaining illegal access to confidential documents which were part of police probe records and hacking his email account to access personal emails and then broadcasting them on the news channel to increase its viewership.

Tharoor, in his complaint, had stated that police had collected a number of documents and other material and these were part of case records and were solely in the possession of the investigation team. He had told the court that “during several broadcasts, certain documents were shown on the news channel which were stated to be documents related to the investigation of the death of his wife. Such documents are copy of internal file notings of Delhi police, copy of statement of complainant given to the Delhi police…Arnab and his accomplices had illegally accessed those confidential documents and broadcast them. He also accessed the complainant’s email account without his authority or consent and shared the personal emails on their news channel and even filed the materials and documents as part of their reply in Civil Suit before the High Court”.

Using the RTI route, Tharoor found out that the documents the news channel kept showing were not in the public domain. Based on this, Delhi Metro­politan Magistrate Dharmendra Singh in January ordered an FIR to be registered against Goswami. If the TV anchor is increasingly seen in courts across the country in the future, never rule out a Kerala angle.

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