08, Dec 1993
After the “revolution in Ayodhya”, the communal press shed whatever little inhibition it earlier had
With the events in Ayodhya and the orgy of murder and mayhem that followed in many parts of the country, the grey area in Indian politics shrank dramatically. It forced people to quit fence-sitting and to take sides. The changed political climate left its impact on the media too. If some publications moved decisively into the secular camp, those which had already been preaching the saffron line now assumed even more aggressive postures.
“A revolution has taken place in Ayodhya,” screamed the banner headline of Navakaal, a Marathi dally published from Bombay on the morning of December 7. The multi-edition Gujarat Samachar, the largest circulating daily in Gujarat, had saffron flags fluttering above the paper’s masthead the same morning. Needless to add, the Shiv Sana mouthpiece, Saamna, was second to none in heralding the forward march of a medieval mind-set.
The story was no different in the Hindi belt where the upper caste dominated, multi-edition dailies with large circulation turned virulently saffron following the former prime minister, V.P. Singh’s decision to implement the Mandal Commission’s recommendations on reservations for backward castes in 1990.
From October 1992 itself, that is, a full two months prior to the Ayodhya incident, Thackeray’s Saamna had been whipping up a fear psychosis among Hindus. Its readers were repeatedly told that Muslims from Pakistan and Iran are making preparations for a genocide of Hindus with the support of the 12 crore Muslims in India.
It would sound bizarre to an outsider. But thanks to the propaganda, despite the citywide hounding of Bombay’s Muslims last January and Thackeray’s proud public boast of having taught the Muslims a lesson, many Hindus even today believe that Thackeray and his Sena merely launched a pre-emptive strike to prevent a massacre of Hindus. This has largely been possible due to the systematic disinformation and clever manipulation of mass fears and sentiments exploited by Saamna and Navakaal.
When a small number of Muslim extremists trained and equipped by Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) blasted a series of highly explosive bombs in Bombay on March 11 that killed over 300 innocent people, the credentials of even secular publications were put to the test. And moat in the media caved in. For many weeks thereafter every other argument had dimmed in importance.
The prestigious Marathi daily, Maharashtra Times, too, failed the litmus test. In April this year, the illustrated Weekly of India became the target of Hindu fundamentalist Ire after it published an article that analysed Shivaji, the Maratha hero, in the historical context. The controversy in the media which followed saw Maharashtra Times adopting a parochial position that was, in essence, an attack on the freedom of expression.
Three months later, when the Indian People’s Human Right Commission released The People’s Verdict-its report on the December and January riots-the Maharashtra Times scathingly dismissed the investigation on the charge that “no evidence was recorded from Hindu victims.”
Brazen communal incitement by Saamna and Navakaal continues even today. In his Dassera Day rally at the Shivaji Park, Thackeray publicly asked Policemen to think of themselves as Hindus first and policemen later. Any piece of writing that is likely to cause enmity between people is a criminal offence against which the state is duty bound to act. But no serious action has even been attempted against Thackeray.
In case of Navakaal, its editor, Neelkanth Khadilkar, was arrested on December 14,1993 for his editorials of December 9, 13 and 20,1992, immediately after his release on bail, he left for Sholapur for being felicitated by the Sholapur Municipal Council for “outstanding contribution to Marathi journalism”. Khadilkar was also honoured with an award earlier this year by the Mumbai Marathi Patrakar Sangh (Bombay Marathi Journalists Association) for “journalistic excellence”.