IBN Lokmat and IBN7 offices were attacked by Shiv Sena activists in Vikhroli, Mumbai today.
At around 4 PM, a group of 15-25 Shiv Sena activists armed with sticks and baseball bats barged into the office of IBN7 Hindi news channel and the IBN Lokmat Marathi TV channel and attacked journalists and employees. The female receptionist was slapped, and the Shiv Sena men went around looking for Nikhil Wagle, editor of IBN Lokmat. They threw a chair at him and slapped him. Reports also say that several women journalists were also attacked. LCD TVs and computers were trashed, chairs were toppled and glass panels were broken.
Many of the attackers escaped before the police arrived. However, it seems that the IBN journalists and technical staff counterattacked, and 7 of the attackers were caught and handed over to the police.
Shiv Sena MP and editor of the Sena newspaper Saamna told reporters that it was a spontaneous attack, and as the people who attacked said they were Shiv Sainiks’ he was accepting it. He justified the attacks saying that the IBN7 and IBN Lokmat channels were consistently biased against the Shiv Sena. He also said that the attacks were justified, as the TV channels attacked Bal Thackery over his Saamna editorial criticising Sachin Tendulkar for saying that Mumbai was for everyone, and that he was an Indian first. “Media is not God–criticism of Balasaheb Thackeray will not be tolerated,” said Sanjay Raut. “If you target Sena, we will attack. Criticism of Sena is also criticism of Marathi Manoos.”
IBN Lokmat editor Nikhil Wagle said that he believes that Sanjay Raut organised the attacks. He said that this was not a spontaneous attack, and it was pre-planned.
One of the Shiv Sena’s grievances was that Nikhil Wagle has been insulting Bal Thackeray and Marathi sentiments by calling Bal Thackeray, the Shiv Sena chieftain, an “old man”. It did not look like Nikhil Wagle was in any mood to give in, though, even after the attacks. Speaking to the media, he repeated the phrase, saying “”Bal Thackeray has become old. Uddhav Thackeray has lost control over Sena and elements like Raut are flourishing in that party.” It should be noted that many Maharashtrians believe that Sanjay Raut has been penning editorials in Saamna which go under the name of Bal Thackeray, damaging Marathi sentiment. For example, post the Maharashtra Assembly election loss, Saamna editorial ostensibly written by Bal Thackeray said that he did not trust Maharashtrians anymore, and that they had stabbed him in the back by voting for Raj Thackeray’s MNS and thereby enabling Congress and NCP to win.
Nikhil Wagle has been aggressive in attacking the Sena brand of politics, and the Sena has never taken kindly to criticism, especially of its ageing leader. He said that the Shiv Sena has attacked Marathi sentiments by attacking a Marathi TV channel.
The Shiv Sena has often said criticism of Bal Thackeray would not be allowed. Bal Thackeray is ageing, and he is becoming something of a holy cow for the Shiv Sena. Raj Thackeray, who split from the Shiv Sena and set up his own party – the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) – too refused to comment on Bal Thackeray’s editorial which was critical of Sachin Tendulkar. In 2005, the Shiv Sena reacted violently every time there was any impolite mention or criticism of Shivaji. In 2009, it seems Bal Thackeray too cannot be criticised in Maharashtra.
CNN-IBN’s editor in chief, Rajdeep Sardesai, came on TV soon after the attacks and said that media has been increasingly facing such attacks, and blamed the Shiv Sena for the attack on IBN7 and IBN Lokmat. He said that the attacks marked a new low in Maharashtra politics.
Deputy commissioner of police RM Vhatkar said: “The arrested men have been booked for assault and rioting. We are on the lookout for the others.” He did not say whether the arrested men were indeed Shiv Sena men.
Criticism of the attacks came in immediately from Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan, who said that those arrested would be dealt with harshly. He said that the attacks on the IBN7 and IBN Lokmat TV channels showed the frustration of Shiv Sena after losing Assembly elections. NCP Chief Sharad Pawar said that strong action should be taken against those who attacked media.
CNN-IBN said that the attackers claimed they were agitated over misquoting Bal Thackeray. Thackeray’s criticism of Sachin Tendulkar did not go down well with most politicians and across India, and it is likely that the IBN channels were declaring that disgust, which obviously was not to Shiv Sena’s liking.
There were two other incidents of attacks by Shiv Sena – the IBN office in Pune was attacked, and an outdoor broadcast van of the channel was also not spared.
In 2008, senior journalist Kumar Ketkar’s house was also attacked by those claiming to be angered by his comments about a proposed Shivaji statue. He told the media political parties indulge in violence because they are certain of getting away.
Rahul Narvekar, the head of Shiv Sena’s legal cell refused to apologise for the attacks when asked, and said that his party would always defend Marathi pride.
There has been no reaction from Shiv Sena ally BJP, which has often been embarrassed by the violent behaviour and obvious justifications of such violence by Shiv Sena. As a national party which needs the Shiv Sena to have a foothold in Maharashtra, it has always found it convenient to close its eyes to Shiv Sena’s parochial and violent behaviour.
The Shiv Sena has always made it clear that they would not stay away from violence if they think their leaders or the pride of Maharashtra was offended by anyone. It is obviously not a defender of press freedom, and has never claimed to be so.
All this comes right on the heels of the recent slapping of SP MP Abu Asim Azmi by MNS legislators in the Maharashtra assembly, senior Thackeray’s editorial against Sachin Tendulkar, and yesterday’s editorial in the Saamna which proudly claimed that those who demolished the Babri Masjid were Shiv Sainiks, and exhorted all Hindus in India to unite against Muslims. Bal Thackeray has always been caught between Marathi chauvinism and Hindu chauvinism, never really able to make a choice while his nephew Raj has positioned himself as the champion of Maharashtrian rights above all – and so far, that seems to be working, making the Shiv Sena and Bal Thackeray ill-at-ease.
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