By Alka Dhupkar
Interview: Nikhil Wagle
I have concerns, but they aren’t about my safety. They are about the inability to conduct democratic debate in this country without receiving threats
Facing threats to his life from Sanatan Sanstha, journalist Nikhil Wagle says cops want to provide him protection but won’t specify from what.
The ultraconservative Hindu group Sanatan Sanstha, which has been linked to the murder of rationalist and communist leader Govind Pansare, should be banned, the plainspoken Marathi journalist Nikhil Wagle has said, reiterating his opposition to the majoritarian impulses of the so-called Hindu Rashtra that the organisation advocates. Wagle, who has received threats from the Sanstha in the past for his dogged resistance to its views and his frequent public reiteration of this position, has been granted police protection “in view of a general threat perception”, an offer the journalist has turned down. In an interview to Mumbai Mirror at his Lower Parel office, Wagle spoke of the Sanstha’s intimidating ways and how he intends to continue his journalism regardless.
When did the police inform you that you’re the latest person on the Sanstha’s hit list?
The police didn’t inform me. Friends in the media did – I was told that the Special Investigation Team probing the murder of Pansare intercepted telephone calls made by Sameer Gaikwad [the man arrested for the communist leader’s death] and others from the organisation which suggest that I’m on the hit list. But when officers from the special branch visited me last week, I wasn’t told why I was being offered protection.
Why did you refuse police protection?
I have received police cover in the past, when I was the editor of a newspaper [Apla Mahanagar] and a news channel [IBN Lokmat]. It made no difference. What’s the point of accepting this farce of a formality? I do have concerns, but they aren’t so much about my safety as they are about the inability to conduct democratic debate in this country without receiving threats. It vitiates the very nature of democracy – and it is the duty of the government to create an atmosphere where such debates can take place unfettered. Note: when Mirror visited Wagle, a solitary constable was seated at the ground floor of his office; the journalist works out of a room on the second floor.
Why do you think you’re on the Sanstha’s hit list?
Because I oppose their agenda of the religious state – the Hindu Rashtra. Sanatan Sanstha and similar radical groups, like the Hindu Rashtra Samiti, have the same agenda: to create a Hindu state and they are all working under the banner of the Sanstha’s sister organisation, the Hindu Janjagruti Samiti. They are steeped in the culture of erasure. They seek to dominate by eliminating their opponents, which is an undemocratic and unconstitutional approach to conflict resolution. Given their approach, institutions like the Sanstha are by their very nature unconstitutional. In the past eight years I have received many abusive calls and messages from the Sanstha. This is because they cannot face up to critical questioning. I have hosted Sanstha representatives on TV debates, featuring guests like Dr Narendra Dabholkar [a rationalist who was killed in 2013; the modus bore several similarities to the manner in which Pansare was murdered, two years later]. I was a strong supporter of the bill for which Dr Dabholkar lobbied [the Anti-Superstition and Black Magic Ordinance, which was promulgated four days after he died]. But the Sanstha representative walked out of the debate. This shows their culture. And since I oppose their views, they have chosen to print my name and that of senior journalist Kumar Ketkar [who maintains a similar position] in their mouthpiece Sanatan Prabhat, terming us “Hindu Drohi”. In 2013, following Dr Dabholkar’s killing, we ran a news story on TV naming them, after which the Sanstha issued threats against me. Recently, when Sameer Gaikwad was arrested and I put out some information about him on Twitter, they published threats against me in Sanatan Prabhat.
Do you fear that you too will be harmed like Dabholkar and Pansare were?
I am not afraid. I will continue my journalism. This isn’t the first time I have received such threats: corrupt politicians, criminals, and the Shiv Sena have attacked me. This hasn’t stopped me from doing journalism. I don’t want police protection, I want people’s protection. I believe every citizen of this country has the right to freedom of expression. Who are the Sanatan Sanstha to take away this right? The Goa government [the organisation has its headquarters in that state] should take action against the Sanstha.
Is the risk posed by such organisations growing?
I don’t know what is stopping the police from investigating the Sanstha’s financial accounts. They are linked to organisations like the Sri Rama Sene, in Karnataka, which has similar tendencies. They claim to do spiritual work, but is setting off three bombs spiritual work? They should make clear the role they had in the blasts that took place in Vashi and Panvel  and Margaon  and also Sameer Gaikwad’s involvement in Pansare’s murder [the organisation, while admitting that Gaikwad is a member, has denied that he has anything to do with the killing].
Do you want them banned?
Yes, the BJP government should ban the Sanstha and other such organisations. Are they under pressure not to do so? Why aren’t they investigating its founder, Jayant Athavale? Police should find out if there are any political parties that support the Sanstha. If we can ban SIMI, then Sanatan Sanstha should definitely be shown its place.
The Congress, which flaunts its secular inclinations, did nothing about banning the Sanstha. Was this a blunder?
It was a blunder of Himalayan proportions. I heard that former chief minister Prithiviraj Chavan has sent a 1,000-page dossier about the organisation to the central government. The Anti-Terrorism Squad had amassed proof against the Sanstha in 2011. What happened? Why do they continue to operate?
Do you see society railing against the Sanstha?
The middle class does not like what happened to Pansare, Dabholkar and [Kannada writer] MM Kalburgi [who was killed this year]. Society should boycott organisations like the Sanstha. We need proactive groups like Andhashradha Nirmulan Samiti (ANS) to oppose these outfits.
You are just as well known for the position you’ve adopted against certain Hindu practices. Do you think this adds to the Sanstha’s anger?
I was born in a Hindu family. My parents taught me tolerance. The Sanstha is the antithesis of tolerance. They preach violence and terror. Their activities are against the idea of India and secularism. If we don’t ban the Sanatan Sanstha and connected outfits like Hindu Janjagruti Samiti, Hindu Rashtra Sena and Abhinav Bharat, India will turn into Pakistan.