You are probably reading this week about India's national election, the results of which were announced on Friday and which will appoint the firebrand and hugely controversial Narendra Modi as the country's next leader. But, unless you are Indian, you likely have not had the pleasure of experiencing election coverage the way that many Indians do: via Indian television. And that is a shame because, as former Daily Show correspondent John Oliver put it recently, "No one covers an election like Indian news networks, who are apparently sponsored by adderall."
And no one embodies the passion and vigor of Indian TV news more than Arnab Goswami, the editor-in-chief of network Times Now and anchor of its flagship show, Newshour. Arnab, as he is almost universally referred to, is something like India's Wolf Blitzer: a highly distinctive news personality who seems both perfectly fitted to the format and who is something like the personification of his country's media and all its quirks. (When asked what he thought about John Oliver poking fun at his interview style, Arnab responded only, "I don't know who John Oliver is.")
Like many other Westerners following the Indian election, I spent a few hours with Arnab's show last week, and found the experience dizzying. He shouted, he jogged up and down the set, he jumped erratically from one topic to the next, he shouted some more, and somehow found time to mercilessly grill half of India's political class.
At one point he challenged a political official whose party was seeing losses — I'm sorry to say I was too entranced to note who — to atone for the defeat by resigning on air. He asked another, who could only stare into the camera in terror, "Do you believe the Indian people have rejected the politics of cover-up? Has that realization come to you? Answer me."
What follows is a brief survey of Arnab at his finest. Some of this is from the election, but there are some older clips we couldn't help but share. (See also BuzzFeed writer Rega Jha's fun, gif-heavy Arnab roundup.) To be clear, this is not to mock Indian news networks in general or Arnab in particular, just to appreciate the characteristics that make them so famously delightful, if occasionally overwhelmingly, to watch.
Here's a clip from election-night coverage, on May 16. See how many of the flashing sidebars you can read before convulsing into a seizure:
I apologize for the poor quality, but this is another great example of his political coverage: crosstalk that makes American TV network crosstalk sound like a Rotary Club meeting. Arm-waving, lecturing. You can't doubt their passion for politics:
Still, for all his antics during live coverage, Arnab is no slouch when it comes to one-on-one interviews. In January, he interviewed Rahul Gandhi, the vice president of the incumbent Congress Party, and just mopped the floor with him. Slate's Dave Weigel called it "the worst interview of the year," by which he meant the interviewee's performance, not that of the interviewer, whom he called "a relentless interviewer handling a slippery yet incompetent subject." The 80-minute interview is indeed brutal, and did real damage to Gandhi's political standing. There are many, many memorable moments, but skip ahead to 24:00 for a few minutes of Arnab in high form:
Arnab told the New York Times shortly after this interview, which had become news in itself in India and abroad, "I represent a younger generation of Indian journalists who believe in going straight to the point. I think those days of obfuscation are over both for politicians and journalists, and I think the kind of journalism we do today is about coming to the key issues."
That was probably Arnab's most important interview, but the one below might be his most famous. It was with — or, really, against — Abhijit Mukherjee, a member of Parliament who in December 2012 had derided female Indian students protesting against a spate of gang rapes. Mukherjee had called the women "dented and painted," saying they were not really students and implying they were prostitutes. After an enormous backlash, Mukherjee apologized and then, foolishly, agreed to go on Arnab's show. The five-minute interview is really something:
But no Arnab write-up would be complete without his epic fight against Meenakshi Lekhi, the spokesperson for the BJP, Narendra Modi's party and now India's dominant political party.
It's not easy to figure out what exactly is happening in this clip below, but it seems like Lekhi is responding to some sort of charge from Arnab about the RSS, a right-wing Hindu nationalist group that is controversial in India for its history of violence and has been associated with some BJP leaders. Lekhi hits back with some sort of accusation that Arnab is taking bribes, and the two dig in for a dramatic umbrage-off, one of the great TV news squabbles of the century.
It's great all the way through (I love how it starts with literally ten people talking over one another, and the woman in the bottom row openly face-palming at 0:28) but it really picks up steam at 3:30 with — well, I won't ruin it for you.
Arnab does have it in his ability to conduct a polite interview, as he did with Hillary Clinton in 2009, although he did push her a bit on Pakistan. Still, his reputation is primarily one of energetic restlessness, of shouting and arm-waving, which has earned him a lot of viewers and plenty of eye-rolls. Two days before the election ended, a satirical Indian outlet jokingly reported that Arnab was so eager to learn the results that he was caught breaking into ballot storage rooms.
Don't expect Arnab to slow down now that the election is over. He took some heat for his interview with Modi, which critics said went easier on him than Arnab had been on Rahul Gandhi or others, so it will be interesting to see how he covers Modi's BJP government once it takes power.