Republic TV, the channel launched by Arnab Goswami — the former editor of Times Now — has come in for a barrage of criticism on social media after Malayalis took offence to what has been portrayed as repeated attempts by the channel to tarnish the reputation of the state.
The channel, which used to be rated around 4 stars on Facebook, has received about 49,000 1-star ratings in the last three days on its page after it aired what many Malayalis felt to be propaganda against the state.
The ‘protest ratings’ left by Malayalis now make up the majority of 85,000 ratings for the page on Facebook, and has driven down the average score for the page to 2.6 stars.
Kerala is normally considered the most advanced state in India as it tops the country in various human resource and ease of living indices such as education, low crime rate, healthcare, low pollution and high income levels.
However, the state has proven traditionally inhospitable to Bharatiya Janata Party, and attempts by the party to grow its appeal in the state have not yielded much results. The party gets about 7% of the state’s votes, and had, during the Vaypayee years, hit low double digits.
Nearly half of the state’s population also follow Middle Eastern religions such as Christianity and Islam. Kerala Muslims, who comprise over 28% of the population, are among the most prosperous and educated in India, largely due to ‘Gulf boom’ in the state starting in the 1980s.
However, the same connection with the Middle East has also led to the spread of extremist Salafi and Wahabi ideologies from the Gulf, particularly Saudi Arabia and Qatar, into the state. This has been flagged a potential security threat, and was also highlighted in an interview by the state’s former police and intelligence chief recently.
Arnab, who has moved from ‘anti-corruption crusader’ to ‘ultra-nationalist hero’ in terms of positioning after the downfall of the UPA government, again highlighted ‘the situation’ in Kerala in a discussion four days ago, allegedly portraying the state in a poor light.
The discussion on Republic TV followed accusations by senior BJP leaders such as Arun Jaitley about law and order in the state in the context of continuing violence between BJP and CPIM workers. Republic TV is backed by Rajeev Chandrasekhar, vice-chairman of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance in Kerala.
The negative media coverage prompted Malayalis — literally people of the Mala-azham or Hills and Valleys — to leave scathing reviews of his channel on Facebook in an attempt drive down its page ratings.
The state government of Kerala too came out with full-page advertisements in national dailies to counter the accusations. It has also taken out a social media campaign comparing the rates of murders in Kerala to those of BJP-ruled states (see bottom).
This is not the first time that Goswami has ruffled Malayali feathers. A year ago, while still at Times Now, he conducted a debate on ‘beef being served’ in Kerala government’s official guest house in New Delhi.
His interview with CPIM lawmaker MB Rajesh also came in for heavy criticism among Malayalis, as did his approach towards covering the court case around the death of Sunanda Pushkar, wife of Shashi Tharoor, a prominent Congress Party politician from the state.
Goswami is known for his peculiar style of anchoring, where the questions from the anchor often get more time than the replies from the guests.
A Malayalam news anchor Gopi even created a spoof discussion on ‘Why the rain falls down (and not up)’ in which he doesn’t let anyone other than himself speak, and cuts off his guests the second they open their mouths.