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Sandeep Sahu

sandeep-sir-284x300By Sandeep Sahu

The jokes - some good, others nasty but all of them witty – began to flood Twitter as soon as the Big Breaking News started doing the rounds this evening: Arnab Goswami, the man everyone loves to hate, had quit Times Now, the English news channel that had become synonymous with the enfant terrible of India television.

Sample some of them:

“End of an era with Arnab Goswami quitting Times Now. I shall observe one minute noise to mark the occasion,” tweeted @majorojo. @trendulkar bettered it tweeting “Arnab quits Times Now. 9 PM to 10 PM will be observed as Earth Hour.” And there was this gem from @rameshsrivats: “Arnab Goswami quits from Times Now. The channel loses a lot of its value AND ALL OF ITS VOLUME.”

Compliments too poured in equal measure.   “Never in d past has an anchor leaving a news channel become national news in itself. Shows d popularity of the man #ArnabGoswami. @TimesNow”, said filmmaker and Newshour regular @ashokepandit. @PandaJay paid his tribute to the great showman thus: #TheNationWantsToKnow That's it. Don't need 140 characters, when one character keeps millions rivetted...

I know it’s been done to death, but can’t think of a more befitting person or a more appropriate occasion to recall the aphorism “Like him or lump him, but you can’t ignore him.” It is a measure of the preeminence and near obsession that Arnab enjoyed among the television viewing public that even those who proudly proclaim that they don’t watch what has been dubbed the ‘Viewshour’ kept track of the fact that he had just returned from vacation in Maldives and was set to resume his show that has beaten all other talk shows hollow for the past eight years and more today. [It now emerges that his back-from-vacation show is also going to be swan song!]

Though I had watched him off and on since his NDTV days, it was during the 26/11 siege of Mumbai that I really fell in love with the man – and, by extension – his channel. His anchoring during those dreadful 60 hours and more was certainly a cut above all other channels, including NDTV. The fact that Times Now operates out of Mumbai must have helped. But that takes nothing away from the fortitude with which he anchored the channel those difficult hours when things were developing real fast.

For a couple of years after 26/11, Times Now remained my first choice among English news channels. The period since then till about 2012-13 was the golden period for both the channel and Arnab. It was during this phase that Times Now made some of the biggest exposes like CWG, 2G, Devas-Antrix deal. I loved his spunk, his irreverence and even his hectoring style – till it began to get on my nerves a little. But I never really stopped watching ‘Newshour’ altogether as many are proud to say they have done. The downward slide, in my view, started when he stopped going after corruption scandals and began basking solely on the glory of ‘Newshour’.

Arnab was trolled non-stop on Twitter and other social media platforms for his barking, howling, screaming style of presentation, which has been dubbed the ‘dumbing down of TV’.  The venerable ‘Outlook’ even did a cover story titled ‘The Man Who Killed TV News’ – and that too the week after its founding Editor Vinod Mehta (who, by the way, was an Arnab favourite) died. But nothing – absolutely nothing – made a dent in his popularity or that of the show he anchored. Rival English channels tried everything they could, including spoofs on his shrieking style, but none of them could command even a third of the popularity ‘Newshour’ enjoyed – week after week, month after month and year after year. Like a good doctor, Arnab knew the pulse of the people better than his peers. He knew exactly what would click with his captive audience and what would not. If that meant catering to the lowest common denominator and appealing to some of basest instincts in human beings, he was not apologetic about it.

With Arnab no more at the helm, the one thing that can be said without any fear of being proved wrong is Times Now would never quite be what it was. The period during his recent absence proved why he was central to Brand Times Now. If there is another television personality who can fit into his shoes, at least this author is yet to see him.

Media reports on Arnab’s departure quote him as telling his team that ‘The Game has just began’ and making it clear that he is neither quitting the media nor TV. Clearly, there is something in the pipeline. The next few days would tell us what would be his next venture.

But the question that is exercising the minds of the people right now is what prompted Arnab to part with the channel that had made him what he is today. Was it just an irresistible offer that he could not say ‘No’ to? Was it a falling out with Samir Jain, the Benette Coleman boss? Or was it a Arnab-Rajeev Chandrasekhar-Rupert Murdoch venture with ambitions to have a global footprint, as some are speculating?

As Arnab himself would have loved to say, “The Nation Wants to Know’ why he quit?

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