Why Arnab vs Ravish is like India vs China

Debates on Arnab's show feels like a democracy, albeit chaotic

The other day, while hearing the Sudarshan News case, the Hon. Justice K M Joseph of the Supreme Court made the following observation about the way debates are conducted on television:

Certain channels mute panelists when they express views which go against the anchor’s views. This is unfair.

This made me wonder. Which channel is the Hon. Justice K M Joseph watching? It also made me smile. Because it is always reassuring to know of an ordinary human side to someone as eminent as His Highness Justice K M Joseph. Turns out eminent people can be a little bit like us. Who knew?

Speaking of news channels, we have to talk about Arnab. They say Arnab is loud, they say his show is chaotic and you can barely hear anything. They are right.

On the other extreme, there is Ravish Kumar. Ah! NDTV : the one true channel of Indian liberalism. The sweetly pessimistic voice of Ravish Kumar, night after night, telling us how everything went wrong since Sonia Gandhi lost power.

Which is better? I know liberals are rolling their eyes right now. How can you even compare the Magsaysay winning Ravish Kumar to Arnab? Seriously? Haven’t you heard that Arnab has destroyed Indian journalism? The other day a liberal who probably made a ton of money as a once frequent guest on Arnab’s show referred to his channel as a “gutter.”

It has to be true. Arnab has destroyed Indian journalism. With his support for nationalism and communal agendas. You can hear all about this from Indian liberals explaining this to Al Jazeera, the official mouthpiece of the Islamic theocracy of Qatar.

But let us think again about what Justice Joseph said. There is indeed something that just feels wrong, sort of undemocratic about a TV channel muting a panelist when they don’t agree with the anchor. These TV channels are privately owned, so there isn’t much of a free speech argument. And yet, as citizens of a democracy, it just “feels” wrong to watch somebody being stopped from speaking, isn’t it?

So why is there shouting on Arnab’s show but no shouting on Ravish Kumar’s show? Because there is something in Arnab’s show that Ravish Kumar never has: an opposing voice.

He may shout over it. But it’s there. In fact, he has to pay these panelists to come to his show and disagree with him. However you look at it, there is something honorable about that. Something democratic. Like our nation itself.

Take our Lok Sabha – the house of the people. Often times, it is chaotic. Members interrupt each other. There is shouting. There is sloganeering. Often times, members break all rules of decorum and burst into the well of the house. Sometimes, they say things that are downright abusive.

And just like Arnab’s show, the outcome of these Lok Sabha “debates” is never in doubt. We always know which side has the numbers. That side always wins. And yet, it is important to have the opposition and the government in the Lok Sabha, facing each other, if only to shout.

You can complain about the tone and quality of the Lok Sabha debate. But would you do away with the ritual of it? Sure, it would be better if members didn’t shout. But would you ever replace it with the Chinese way?

In China’s parliament, known as the Great Hall of the People, nobody ever shouts or screams. Nobody ever disagrees. I mean the President of China comes in, issues his orders and everyone applauds.

Remind you of Ravish Kumar’s show? One man, one view. Sometimes, “guests” come in, only to tell him that he is right.

The China model? You can hear what Ravish Kumar is saying. You are simultaneously reminded that your place is never to speak, but only to listen. There is never a conflict or disagreement and Ravish never has to mute any panelist for disagreeing with him.

Which do you prefer? The Arnab model of chaos and conflict? Or the Ravish Kumar model of “one true journalist”? Which one appeals to your democratic spirit?

I will tell you my preference. I prefer the Republic of Arnab to the “People’s Republic” of Ravish Kumar.

Everyone knows that Arnab has the highest TRPs. The smart people insist that is because most people are dumb. Have they considered this : perhaps people tune in to Arnab’s show because the format appeals to their democratic spirit? Our way may be loud and inefficient, but we Indians are a free people. The China model does not appeal to us.

When I shared these views on Twitter the other day, some liberal friends pointed out that I am being unfair. They said to me that Ravish Kumar has an open invitation for PM Modi to come to his show any time and disagree with him.

If that is true, I guess Ravish Kumar does allow people to disagree with him on air. To have that honor, you just have to be the Prime Minister of India.

For that matter, the Chinese government does make exceptions to their no disagreements rule : it allows countries like US, India and Japan to operate embassies in Beijing. Maybe that means China is also a democracy. I do apologize to China. I also apologize to Ravish Kumar.

Abhishek Banerjee: Abhishek Banerjee is a math lover who may or may not be an Associate Professor at IISc Bangalore. He is the author of Operation Johar - A Love Story, a novel on the pain of left wing terror in Jharkhand, available on Amazon here.