The pleasure and pain of watching Arnab Goswami’s News Hour on Times Now TV are indescribable. It is a warlike spectacle that grips anglophile Indians for two hours or more every night throughout most of the week.

Although the mother of all Indian talk shows past and present is humbly named News Hour, the power and prowess of Goswami are such that he will determine — at times condescendingly and at others imperiously — how many minutes should constitute an hour on a given day. He is the ‘Nation’ personified and, the ‘Nation’ is in a permanent state of murderous rage.

The greatest battles India has fought against Pakistan and the most memorable victories she has ever scored against the neighbouring country happened not in some remote snow-clad border districts, but in the cosy environs of the Times Now studio.

“But what drives those, who don’t even have a glass to clutch on to, to voluntarily undergo this nightly erosion of self-worth, is as intriguing as it is nonplussing. The ones who take the cake are the duo from Pakistan, who submit themselves to some pretty vicious tongue-lashing every now and then, that is, every time it’s time, in the calculation of the channel’s TRP trackers, to do some Pakistan bashing,” wrote Sashi Kumar, a media analyst, in a recent essay.

When you happen to share Goswami’s pet peeve of the day, the vicarious pleasure you feel is unmatched; it is almost therapeutic.

His multitude of interlocutors (yes, multitude) are often a bunch of masochists whose sole purpose of being on the screen is to underscore their own irrelevance and inconsequentiality and Goswami’s infallibility, unless they fully agree with him, in which case they are redundant anyway. If you dare to disagree with him, your only means of articulation is eloquent silence; he will shout you down brutally and call you names if you persist.

Freedom of expression on the News Hour is the freedom to express through silence. Of course, and to be fair, there are instances when freedom of expression is let absolutely loose with all the panellists and the anchor yelling together at the same time, which, by the way, is an ‘open debate’ in Goswami’s parlance.

In fact, the most hilarious and profound moments on the News Hour are those when the cacophony of the panellists and the caterwauling of the anchor continue at their crescendo for minutes on end, relieving the viewer from the unbearable burden of comprehension; it is visual democracy at its best.

Both the permitted cacophony and the prohibited articulation privilege seeing over hearing and you realise why it is called visual media!

Sorry spectacle

Not that the News Hour is all bad. It certainly is not. After all, when the soul of the nation invades the body of a single individual, it has to have some righteous moments of national salvation.

The trouble, however, is the impunity with which Goswami turns all notions of fair journalism and democratic debates upside down, presenting a sorry spectacle of all-round humiliation, name-calling and discursive tyranny.

Of course, there were rare occasions when the aggression of Goswami took flight and an oleaginous expression beamed on his otherwise frowning face. When he interviewed Narendra Modi, Bal Thackeray and Raj Thackeray, Goswami was on his best behaviour.

‘The Nation’ futilely waited with bated breath for some dramatic denouement when Arnab Goswami found himself face to face with bullies more seasoned than himself, such as the cantankerous zealot Subramanian Swami.

The News Hour is undoubtedly a hugely popular show, and many of the topics taken up for monologue are relevant, and at times even praiseworthy, such as the current campaign against the VIP culture, in which Times Now exposes the abuse of power perpetrated by the political class across India on the pretext of security measures.

The visuals of top politicians abusing and trampling underfoot the common man all over India are an exact replica of Goswami’s treatment of his panellists, and as such the campaign against VIP culture on Times Now can be seen as an unintended act of expiation and introspection.

Every time Goswami indignantly points a finger at India’s notoriously arrogant politicians, the ‘spectators’ cannot miss his four other fingers turning in his own direction!

My utter revulsion for the undemocratic character of the News Hour notwithstanding, I watch it often in the same way that people read pulp fiction on the sly while declaring their allegiance to serious literature.

My take away from the numerous hours wasted on this utterly hollow spectacle is the valuable lesson that the most laughable of things in life often come with a grim and grave facade.

But when this utterly deplorable show of one man’s Himalayan ego edges out all possibilities of reasoned debate on issues in the world’s largest democracy, it is difficult not to see it as yet another manifestation of the erosion of democratic space in today’s India.

Shajahan Madampat is a cultural critic and commentator.