is scared of Thackeray’
mainstream media cowers to the Shiv Sena, Mahanagar Editor Nikhil Wagle
speaks to Hartosh Singh Bal in Mumbai about his long, solitary
struggle for free press and how fearless journalism has become a habit he
just can’t dump
August 28, 2004 Nikhil Wagle, chief editor of the Marathi edition of the
Mumbai-based Mahanagar and two of his colleagues, Yuvraj Mohite and Pramod
Nirgudkar, were attacked in Malvan in Sindhudurg district by Shiv Sainiks.
Malvan is the stronghold of senior Shiv Sena leader and former Maharashtra
chief minister Narayan Rane. It is not the first time that the outspoken
editor has been at the receiving end of the Sena’s wrath, but the
Mahanagar group has never been accused of adopting a stance favouring any
one political formation. In fact, just a few days before Wagle was attacked,
his colleague Sajid Rashid, editor of the Hindi edition of Mahanagar, had
been attacked by fanatics of a different sort for advocating an end to the
triple talaq system. Wagle spoke to Tehelka about the media and its uneasy
relationship with the Sena. Excerpts from the interview:
do you assess the role of the media in Maharashtra?
Saaf baat to yeh hai ki (the truth is that) much of the media is directly
or indirectly compromised. They are afraid of the Sena and often turn
around and ask me why I am provoking the Sena. The Sena’s biggest
strength is the ability to inspire terror. You would have seen how they
recently attacked the office of a rebel candidate. Minus the terror, the
Sena is nothing. What separates them from other political parties is this
ability to inspire terror.
They have also tried to frighten the press. Of course, ever since they
came to power in 1995, they have also tried more conventional approaches
to pleasing the media through politicians like Narayan Rane. This approach
allows many in the media to share the perks of power. In any case, if
you leave out a few honourable exceptions, the media does not want any
conflict with the Sena. Especially where Marathi issues are concerned,
the Marathi media is also biased. The management of Marathi media organisations
also goes along with such an approach because they feel if they take a
critical line their circulation will suffer.
From 1966 till now the Marathi media has lent support to the Shiv Sena
at every step. And the few who step out of line have been attacked. The
Sena can get away with this because nothing ever happens after these attacks,
hardly anyone is arrested and if they are arrested, they are quickly out
on bail. No one writes about it.
Just a few days ago Narayan Rane’s men attacked me. Look at the
subsequent coverage. It seemed to suggest that the attack was totally
my fault. The general attitude in the media is that they try to cover
these shortcomings by claiming that their job is to report, not to criticise.
Of course, it is no surprise that they are not attacked; if you start
of by being scared where is the need to attack you?
Are there forces willing to counter or take on the Sena?
Everything has changed. The Left is almost finished in Maharashtra, their
stalwarts are all aging, and the Congress does not want to fight. The
Congress is responsible for the entire span of the Sena’s criminal
activities. So much has happened and what action has been taken? There
have been six attacks on me, on my office, and no one has been punished.
Leave alone punishment, no one has been arrested.
Even the police is totally communalised. This was made clear by the post-Babri
Masjid demolition riots. In this term in power, the Congress has made
no move to punish or take any action against those indicted by the Srikrishna
inquiry commission. The report clearly indcits the Sena but no action
has been taken. The Sena continues to grow while the Congress sits and
watches. Shinde is a friend of the Shiv Sena while people like us get
beaten up. The Sena runs a parallel system which effectively controls
the police force. The shakhas have more say in the running of the thanas
than the government itself. The Congress will always mouth political slogans
in the name of secularism but it will never fight for it.
Without anybody to counter the Sena, what do you see as the
likely future of the organisation?
As long as Balasaheb Thackeray is alive, the Sena will remain united.
But after that alag alag toot jainge (it will break up into several parts).
Groupism is rampant. The divisions between Uddhav Thackeray, Raj Thackeray
and Manohar Joshi extend down to the shakhas. Each shakha is now divided
into several groups. The control Thackeray exercised for 30 years is no
longer there. Uddhav may be executive president but he cannot control
the party because he lacks an aggressive style. Raj does have this style
and he could be the successor when Uddhav fails.
The truth is that the change in the Sena dates back to 1995 when it first
tasted power. The culture of the party changed and the process of Congressisation
began. This has also resulted in a generation gap in the party. Some of
the new people may support Uddhav because they owe their position to him,
but the old guard thinks nothing of him. If the Sena loses this election
the maara mari will start and the party could go the Telegu Desam way.
The cadre now cannot do without the spoils of power.
Will a change in leadership herald any change in the culture
of the Shiv Sena?
I don’t think there will be any change. The Sena ideology, ever
since 1966, is rooted in the idea of the son of the soil. The only consistency
in the stand is that it claims to speak for the Marathi people. Otherwise,
in 1975, Thackeray supported Indira Gandhi and the Emergency. Then in
1978 he came out openly for some sort of practical socialism advocating
a permit system like in the Soviet Bloc. But yes, since 1984 he has remained
firm on the Hindutva plank. So one can say there is an emotional consistency
based on the ideology of Marathi pride and Hindutva.
This in itself is now posing a problem for the Sena. The Marathis are
in a minority in Mumbai. Moreover not all the Marathis vote for Sena.
A vast majority of people in the city are non-Marathi even though they
do not form one consolidated block. They are divided into south Indians,
north Indians and there are further sub-divisions. For the Sena the question
is how to conduct politics in such a situation. Uddhav tried to address
the problem through his Mee Mumbaikar campaign that was however countered
by Raj resorting to Marathi politics. This has only driven the non-Marathis
even further from the Shiv Sena. They have also tried to select leaders
like Sanjay Nirupam but the Marathi cadre universally dislikes him and
the Sena in any case has very few non-Marathi workers.
The internal conflicts make it clear that there is need for change but
then how is that to be achieved? Maybe, if Uddhav succeeds in his efforts
that could happen. But Uddhav has a very individualistic method of working
and there is no coordination with the shakha culture of the Sena. All
day-to- day work in the Sena is conducted through the shakhas and that
is the party’s strength. Indeed, for his campaign, Uddhav gathered
non-Maharashtrians like Javed Akhtar and Akbar Khan in a five-star hotel
in Andheri. I always say his approach is that of someone running a Lions
or Rotary club. How can he run the Shiv Sena like this? And ever since
Thackeray has withdrawn from the everyday affairs of the party, things
have worsened. He now conducts his politics through the media, the media
is what keeps him alive.
Where does this leave those who are willing to take on the
I certainly feel isolated. The mainstream media has almost made it a policy
to sideline me. It is as if writing against the Sena makes me pro-Congress
and that is a position I am not willing to accept. So the majority is
content to say that yeh to pagal ho gaya hai (he has gone mad). This leads
to frustration. But what can I do, a habit formed over 25 years is not
going to go away so easily. So I will continue to write, isolation or
no isolation. Of course, my readers are with me. The silent majority has
always been with me. But when I am attacked I do not need sympathy, I