Nikhil Wagle Says Threats Are Routine But Level Of Intolerance Is Worrying

22/09/2015 6:44 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
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NEW DELHI, INDIA - AUGUST 27 : Nikhil Wagle , who was named News Television Editor-In-Chief of the year during the fourth edition of the exchange4media National Broadcasting Awards (eNBA 2011) held at New Delhi on Saturday 27 August, 2011 . (Photo by Ramesh Sharma/India Today Group/Getty Images)

NEW DELHI -- Threats from right-wing groups are a matter of routine for Nikhil Wagle, but the Marathi journalist has never been more worried than now about the "intensity" of intolerance, which silences contrary opinions, and corrodes India's secular way of life.

Dormant fringe groups, Wagle said, feel emboldened because they are confident of making trouble without any repercussion under the present regime and its Hindutva family. "This voice has become more aggressive in the past two decades, but it has grown in confidence in the past 15 months," Wagle told HuffPost India.

"He (Modi) is the supreme leader. We look upon him as someone to uphold our constitution and protect the secular fabric of the country. He needs to control these groups," he said.

Three well-known rationalists have been murdered in the past three years.

In August 2013, author and activist, Narendra Dabholkar, was shot dead in Pune. In February 2015, Left leader Govind Pansare was shot dead in his hometown of Kolhapur, Maharashtra. Last month, renowned Kannada writer, M.M. Kalburgi was shot dead in Karnataka’s Dharwad city. All three scholars waged a battle against superstitious practices and right-wing groups.

On Monday, NDTV reported that Wagle, who also rails against Godmen and superstition, could be the next target of Sanatan Sanstha, a right-wing group based in Goa, suspected of killing Pansare. Citing police sources, the news channel said that investigators tapped the phone of Sameer Gaikwad, a member of Sanatan Sanstha, who is heard bragging about killing Pansare, and targeting Wagle.

Mid-Day reported today that Shyamsundar Sonnar, another Marathi journalist, has come under attack from Sanatan Sanstha for preaching Sant Tukaram’s bhakti philosophy in a rational manner.

All three elderly scholars were harassed and threatened by right-wing groups for their work. Dabholkar and Pansare were out for their morning walk when gunmen shot them. While some members of extremist groups have been detained or arrested in connection with the murders, the police is yet to find definitive evidence against them or proof of a larger conspiracy connecting the killings.

But for Wagle, the greatest threat these groups pose is their disdain for the opinions of others. "There is no democratic spirit. If you disagree with them then you are threatened. They are spreading this poison and I'm worried about this atmosphere."

In 2011, Wagle recalled how Abhay Vartak, another member of Sanatan Sanstha, walked out of a program he hosted on the anti-superstition bill. The journalist was flooded with hateful messages after the fringe group published his number in their mouthpiece Sanatan Prabhat. "The threatening calls, abusive calls and texts continued for months," he said.

On September 11, the right-wing group wrote against Sonnar's public lecture in Latur on September 7, and called him "anti-Hindu," Mid-Day reported.

On Monday, Shiv Sena, ruling-Bharatiya Janata Party's ally in Maharashtra, defended Sanatan Sanstha in its party mouthpiece Saamna , and chastised “phony progressives and secular-minded liberals," which were calling for the group's ban, The Hindu reported.

While condemning the murders, the editorial said, “The real murderers of Dr. Narendra Dabholkar and Govind Pansare appeared to have scored a victory by influencing the nature of probe in the direction of pro-Hindutva groups."

“As Gaikwad has been associated with the Sanstha’s activities, various quarters have started demanding that he be hanged and the sanstha be banned. Then, why not ban the Raza Academy, whose members vandalised the Amar Jawan Jyoti memorial and took law in their hands?," it said, The Hindustan Times reported.

What chance did the police stand to conduct a fair investigation if their political masters made their sympathies to suspects - some of who are in custody - absolutely clear, Wagle noted.

"It has been two years, but they have not arrested anyone in Dabholkar's case. I am not confident," he said. "A section of police force in Mumbai is communalised. It is not the institutions, but the political forces, which are dangerous."

But protecting India's secular credentials is a shared responsibility, according to the Marathi journalist. Former Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan blamed his own party, the Congress Party, which was in power at the centre in 2011, for not acting on the 1,000 page dossier he sent on the Sanatan Sanstha to ban the group.

Refusing security after the revelations on Monday, Wagle insisted that he isn't frightened.

"I'm not scared. My family isn't scared. We are a family of journalists," he said. "We love this country, we love how secular this country is, we love the idea of India, we have to fight for that idea. There is no point in being afraid."

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