A couple of decades ago, the story goes, somebody asked one of the owners of The Times of India if their newspaper was pro- or anti-government.
The owner, famous for his laconic replies, countered: We are neither. It is the government that is either pro- or anti-Times of India.
The tale may or not be true. But, back then it underlined the importance and hubris of India's largest media group and its standing in the Indian pecking order.
On Tuesday, like he is used to, Arnab Goswami juggled the order for ever, turning it upside down when he quit the Times Group, reportedly seeking a fortune outside it, in "independent" media, making his group look like an insignificant relic from the past.
For decades, the Times Group was considered the Mecca of Indian journalism. To many who embraced journalism, a stint with the group was the ultimate Hajj, a lifetime's dream destination. Editors like Dilip Padgaonkar famously claimed that theirs was the second-most important job in the country after the Prime Minister's.
Goswami is reportedly leaving the group, perhaps of his own volition, to start his own venture. He is walking out bigger than the brand that once co-opted him, turning larger than the prevailing life and times of India.
His decision is a perfect denouement of the times we live in.
We are currently in an age where the face is the medium, the person is the message and noise is the newshour. We are witnessing an era where individuals become synonymous with institutions, wrest years of their legacy; where personal biases masquerade as answers to what a nation wants to know.
Goswami created, contributed to and excelled in this culture.
To his credit, Goswami turned his TV channel – run by the Times Group, mind you – an ode to himself. The anger he felt became the rage of the nation, what he said in his hectoring, bullying style became the voice of the nation, what he asked turned into the nation's collective query. He became a puppeteer controlling the strings of the naive, emotional audience that found catharsis in allowing him to control and sway their emotions, give voice to their feelings and reflect their biases. He morphed into a mix of Vladimir Putin and Manoj Kumar Goswami of TV journalism.
So, it is ironical when Goswami says he is leaving to start something of his own considering that he turned Times Now into his personal pulpit, becoming, as Firstpost put it, a preacher-in-chief.
It is not clear what Goswami will do next. Some rumours suggest he may start a new venture with Rajeev Chandrashekhar and Rupert Murdoch. But, to his credit, Goswami has reached a stage in life where, as the couplet goes, he has become some buland that even khuda may ask him what his raza (wish) is. So, the sky is the limit for Goswami from here and the world the playground.
Think big. For instance, it is widely believed that if Donald Trump loses the US presidential election, he would roll out a TV channel of his own. Wouldn't Goswami be the perfect face to give voice to Trump's ideology? Now that would be a match made in TRP heaven.
In his reported farewell speech, Goswami reportedly stressed on the phrase "independent media." Considering his track record, that sounds like an oxymoron. Goswami is among the pioneers of a media culture that kow-tows to the government, admonishes those who seek questions of it, castigates as anti-national those who criticise and speak against the majority voice. He is a symbol of the subjugation of the individual by the collective noise hour. To expect him to start an "independent media" would be like expecting the proverbial cat to go on a pilgrimage after devouring 900 mice. In all probability, Goswami is looking at financial independence, starting an enterprise where he controls not just the message but also the purse strings.
Whatever he does next, the true test of his popularity would be his ability to take his audience with him, a la the Pied Piper of TV. To prove to his former employers that there are just categories of TV audience in India today: One that is anti and the other that is loyal to Arnab Goswami.
(Firstpost is from the same stable as CNN-News18 which competes with Times Now.)