Arnab Goswami arrest: Another face-off between MVA and BJP

The state’s ruling Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi (MVA) – the ruling alliance comprising Shiv Sena, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and Congress – is once again locked in a bitter face-off with the Bharatiya Janata Party-led Centre, this time, over the arrest of Republic TV’s editor Arnab Goswami.

The earlier tussles were over the Bhima-Koregaon violence case, which the Centre handed over to the National Investigation Agency (NIA) despite the state’s protest and formation of a task force; and the recent handing over of the Sushant Singh Rajput (SSR) death case to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), besides several other instances in the past 11 months of the Uddhav Thackeray-led state government. The Centre and BJP had also cornered the government over Palghar mob lynching, two members of a sect were killed by a mob on suspicion that they were child-lifters.

The BJP had cried foul even when a case was filed in the television rating points (TRP) fraud, naming Republic TV.

The face-off over Goswami’s arrest comes at a time when the state is unhappy with the Centre for objecting to the transfer of land in Kanjurmarg for the Metro car shed, after moving it out of Aarey Colony. Home minister Anil Deshmukh had last year indicated that the state would reopen investigation in the Anvay Naik suicide case, even though the local police had closed it, soon after Naik’s wife and daughter met him.

On Wednesday, BJP leaders took to the streets across the state, terming the action against Goswami “an assault on democracy”. Union home minister Amit Shah, information and broadcasting minister Prakash Javadekar condemned the arrest on social media.

Leader of Opposition and former chief minister Devendra Fadnavis tweeted in Marathi: “Emergency came to an end in 1977, but the tendency of imposing it still persists. After Shiv Sena, which stood by the Emergency and Congress, and the party which imposed it joined hands in the state, the tendency has surfaced. Such attempts of suppressing the voice against government are detrimental to democracy.”

Fadnavis has been aggressively targeting the MVA government over various issues, from the handling of Covid-19, relief to flood-hit farmers, to SSR case probe and infrastructure projects like Metro car shed. “The arrest is likely to create more bitterness in the relations between the ruling MVA and the BJP as well as the Centre. The state has taken an aggressive role over federal issues. Thackeray has been attacking the Centre over GST compensation dues and SSR case. It may hurt the interest of the state as the Centre enjoys financial and other powers related to the state governments,” said a senior minister, who did not wish to be named. “After a recent letter war between Thackeray and governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari, the next episode will be nominations to the legislative Council. This is definitely not a good sign,” said the minister.

Leaders from the ruling partners, however, stood united. “BJP workers and leaders are shielding an accused in a suicide case and are giving it an angle of Emergency and attack on the freedom of press. Why is the BJP shielding Goswami,” asked transport minister and Sena spokesperson Anil Parab. Congress spokesperson Sachin Sawant said, “There was a lot of political pressure on police from the then Fadnavis government to hush up the case.”

Minority affairs minister and NCP spokesperson Nawab Malik said the fact that all BJP leaders are crying foul proves that he was shielded by the previous Fadnavis government.

Meanwhile, officials from the home department said that the case was strong. “Naik’s wife Akshata was told to approach the court for reopening of the case, so that it could be reinvestigated. Thackeray had directed the home department in April to look into the case, but the closure report was a hurdle. The officers who handled the case previously are not involved in the probe now,” said an official from the department.

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