Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

Dubai: Arnab Goswami needs no introduction. The controversial Indian TV anchor has earned a reputation for his rants, lectures and shouting on prime time television – his screen presence evokes contempt and awe from the audience, depending on their ideological leanings.

He was in Dubai on Sunday to attend Republic Gulf Business Leader Awards. In his first interview in front of a camera, Goswami spoke exclusively to Gulf News about his controversial approach to journalism, his disdainful attacks on Left liberals, his bias towards the BJP, Rahul Gandhi and much more. 

Goswami, who is the Managing Director and Editor-in-Chief of Republic TV, said he wants to expand his channel and is planning “customised content” for the UAE market. 

The interview took place at his hotel room in the presence of a tall, big bodyguard hired by his team. In sharp contrast to his aggressive studio performance, Goswami answered all questions calmly and did not shout at all. 

Following are the excerpts: 

GN: Who are you: a journalist, judge, jury or executioner or all rolled into one? 

I represent a new kind of journalism coming to India, and whenever there’s a new form of journalism that comes, there’s always going to be a clash between the way things were, and the way things are. The only problem is, for some people who don’t like my form of journalism, that largely among my peers, they still belong to the old form of journalism; they don’t want to see that change.

I saw the change happen, around 2007, 2008, 2009, when I was with Times Now. And I spearheaded the change, and I refused to follow the rules set by someone who did journalism 20 years back. It does not mean I disrespect them, but it’s just that I like to do things my own way.

GN: But you would still call it journalism, the way you do things?

Well if you say that the kind of journalism that we’ve done has broken all the kinds of stories that matter in India over the last 10 years. So if you take those stories out of the Indian social fabric, there would be no big or exclusive stories. So then what is it, if not journalism? In fact, I think what others do is not journalism.

GN: You have a clear bias towards BJP?

I feel that is an unverified complaint. In fact, we’re the most robust in our criticism of the BJP on issues, where it needs to be criticised. Recently, during the Unnao and Kathua rape cases we tore the ruling dispensations in both the state governments apart. I have broken the only big story after this government was elected, which was Lalit Gate in 2015, and consistently we’ve been front-footing all stories which require accountability. But you know Bobby, what I can’t do, is that I can’t do reverse-engineering.

I don’t do journalism when I say, ‘oh, I’ve got to be anti-BJP: Now let me do some reverse-engineering and find 10 stories that fit that pattern’. Similarly, I don’t look at stories where ‘oh, I’ve got to be anti-Congress, or anti-Mahagathbandhan, or third-front, so let me do my journalism that way’. It doesn’t work for me because I’m not in Delhi, so I’m not a player. Those who are the players may look at things that way, but I just do whatever matters every day. 

GN: You spin issues, pre-judge stories, there’s a team working for you, they come up with hashtags to pre-judge stories, build a narrative, prepare it for prime time and then Arnab Goswami takes over at 9pm?

Correct. 

GN: So the charge is you spin issues, you build a narrative that supports the BJP…

Oh, I stick my neck out… there are only two things: There is right and wrong, and between that right and wrong we’ve got to decide. Now, I stick my neck out on issues on the basis of facts, research, opinion, or sometimes – I must be honest – just gut instinct. So when I feel something is wrong, I stick out my neck and say it’s wrong. What I’m not doing over the last 10 years, is that I’m not doing not fence-sitting, unlike all the other people who sit on the fence and say, ‘that’s neutrality’ – that’s complete rubbish. 

GN: ‘Tukray, tukray gang’. This is phrase you’ve coined to club all the left-liberals together, including students who have left leanings. Why do you use this phrase?

I feel that the term ‘left liberal’ is oxymoronic, because if you’re a leftist, you can’t be a liberal. And if you’re a liberal, you can’t be a leftist. So whoever thinks they’re left liberal are completely incorrect. Who defines what is liberal? I’m a great believer in LGBT rights – does it make me a ‘liberal’? It doesn’t.  Now, let me come to the issue of ‘tukray, tukray gang’. It’s a damn catchy phrase and I know that. And I think it’s very apt in our society because when I see some current issues, it almost appears to me like members of four categories work together..  there is a set of politicians, then there are actors, then there are lawyers, and then there is media. Either they have extra sensory perception, or they work together. And so we must, therefore, look at the way they respond to issues. In the case of Rohit Vermula – and we’ve all seen what unrest in university campuses is like – the first category of people who politicians use when they want to create civic strife, are students. And hence, Hyderabad becomes like a laboratory to create strife and unrest. 

We’ve also seen what happened at JNU, we’ve seen the attempt what happened at AMU. We’ve seen the attempt to support the secessionism of Kashmir from India. We’ve seen the Judge Loya case. And in all these cases, the very fundamental basis of either journalism, honest activism, or clear legal activism, would be a respect to the facts.

If you disregard all the facts, then you cannot simply say that you’re right because you (then belong to) some kind of a political caucus. I think it’s therefore necessary to club these four groups together. 

What I’ve simply done is that I’ve said this: You’re not a lawyer, you’re a member of a gang. You’re not an activist, you’re a member of a gang. You’re not a journalist, you’re a member of a gang, because you’ve disrespected your profession in order to suit the narrative of some political master because it cannot be accidental.

GN: The same group of people can turn around and say "calling us ‘Tukray, Tukray gang’ is also unfair," right? 

They must ask themselves why is the phrase tukray, tukray gang caught on so much in India. 

GN: You coined it?

Well, I’ve used it. There’s a debate I had this week on this tukray, tukray. They question they must ask themselves is why the phrase tukray, tukray gang caught on in India. Well, you can accuse of making it popular, I’m fine with it, but they must ask themselves why has it caught on. Why do people believe there are groups in India who would be working for things which are inimical to India’s interest.

GN: A section of India media is now called ‘Lapdog media’ and people say media houses, including your own channel, behave like the government’s propaganda machinery. 

That’s the perception of people and they are free to have it. We are the number one channel in the country watched by a large number of people every night. They judge us, not some people within the profession who may be unhappy at what we do. I am not here to satisfy my peers…

GN: So, people who love your channel are the same set of people who love Narendra Modi? 

We are not drawing Venn diagrams here. How does it matter? I just want people to watch me, I have no demography in my mind, I feel that the journalism we do is pure. How does it matter which political leader we like or don’t like. If we were to start doing journalism like that then what would be the difference between me and other members of the Lutyen’s media. 

GN: You keep saying this, how is your journalism better than others?

This is the first TV interview I am doing by the way, I wasn’t prepared for it (laughs). I am not saying that we are different, what I am saying is that we do represent a philosophical and metaphorical shift in the Indian media away from Delhi. I have no angst against for those who live in Delhi… but I do believe that the power centre needs to move away. I think that there is a world in India of 1.3 billion people that goes beyond Delhi. I also believe that you need to maintain a slight distance… and you can’t have this ‘I scratch your back, you scratch mine’ approach any more. My reference to Lutyen’s Delhi is not with disrespect, it’s a statement of fact. They all speak for each other, they say the same things, they meet the same people, they interview the same…

GN: Isn’t this the same kind of language we have heard from the Prime Minister – ‘there is this Lutyen’s gang which is working against me, I am an outsider’? 

I am telling you what I say… our company’s name is Outlier Media.. so I like outliers who do things differently. I have chosen to do things differently…

GN: You like Narendra Modi?

I don’t like any politician, Bobby, in case you are trying to ask me a leading question. I am not going to give you a headline. I have no view of individuals I report on and that is a badge of honour. 

GN: You love to attack Rahul Gandhi, he is your favourite punching bag. Your attacks leave an impression that you and the BJP have this common goal of a ‘Congress-Mukt Bharat’. 

When I interviewed Rahul Gandhi in 2014, you must remember that I was only responsible for my questions, I cannot be held responsible for his answers. So if a certain group of people is extremely unhappy with Rahul Gandhi for the way he answered, or is extremely happy, they must deal with him. As far as punching bag is concerned, I feel that I was very soft in that interview. 

GN: Another Congress leader hounded by your channel is Shashi Tharoor. Once you sent your team with placards to protest his refusal to speak to your channel.

I think it is absolutely pathetic that any political party in India should forcibly and physically evict journalists from a political party office. Would you be happy if you were the only channel not allowed into a press conference because somebody felt that you might ask questions… Would you not stand outside with a placard? I am very proud of my reporters for doing that. 

GN: Today, the English speaking middle class is receptive towards right-wing ideology and tolerant towards the fringe elements. You have nicely packaged the right-wing ideology for the middle class. 

That is such a factually inaccurate question. Go and do the research… who went after the Sri Ram Sena when they attacked a bunch of young boys and girls who had gone to a pub in Mangalore? This Sri Ram Sena which is actually what you would call a right-wing organisation though I think they should be called an extremist organisation because the phrase ‘right-wing’ is also misused. This particular group had all the charges against it cancelled by a political party you call liberal – the Congress party.

This particular group, whose founder and president is now under the radar in the context of Gauri Lankesh killing was campaigning against the BJP and effectively therefore  for the Congress party in Karnataka elections. So, who built that narrative, who fought the right wing forces? People who use religion for politics, be they Muslim or Hindu are not being loyal to their respective religions.

They are using religion in a political context which is inappropriate. Therefore, I do not think we are building any narrative. We are building the right narrative, we are with the people who are now asking questions what is right and wrong… Why did this pseudo liberal media never report on any case of corruption after Bofors?

Why between Bofors and the CWG there was no big ticket corruption spoken about? Was it because the media was the lapdog of the previous establishment and can the same media which never raised questions then… how come the people who were so quiet then suddenly start becoming so active now? 

GN: You interviewed Prime Minister Modi in 2016. It was said the interview was pre-scripted and questions were sent in advance? 

On what basis? I want to know on what basis? You are interviewing me and suppose somebody says… you know what, Bobby didn’t just walk through the door, it was all pre-scripted. 

GN: …and you were unusually soft towards him.

I asked questions on economy, strategic affairs, Pakistan… the problem some people have is that I called him Mr Prime Minister. What should I have called him? 

GN: You pay retired Pakistani army officers to appear on your channel and then you abuse them to boost your ratings.

We don’t pay anyone to be abused. That’s a fallacy. We believe that we have asked some serious questions about Pakistan’s role in terrorism… and I am on the side of the Indian army and Indian security forces. In a choice between India and Pakistan I will not be neutral. 

GN: Why does Arnab Goswami shout so much on TV and do you shout at home also?

The reason we shout is that… to be heard sometimes you need to shout. To carry your voice with conviction you need to raise the volume.