Dainik Saamana has been a ‘must read’ for many in Maharashtra for a long time. It has been so for all friends and foes of Editor, Bal Thackeray since 1989 when it was founded because the Sena supremo was miffed that he did not get the kind of coverage he thought he and his party deserved. More so because, as he had always lamented that though he was fighting for the cause of the Marathi manoos even the Marathi newspapers were critical of him and the Sena.
All of which were realised when Dainik Saamana was launched and became a remarkable hit with the Sevaks and a successful example of a political mouthpiece. There are few parallels to be found for this genre of newspapers. But it grew, so much so, that to some, it was the only window to the world, apart from the TV.
To many of the sainiks who lacked a direct day to day access to him, the Saamana offered a connect. Even for many leaders of the party holding important posts within and without the Shiv Sena, the paper became a window to understand emerging and new ideas from their leader-editor. If they missed the morning date with it, they could miss something.
The significance of this is better understood by recalling what Manohar Joshi – the man who politically gained the most from the party – said soon after Thackeray’s demise. In the Sena, he had said on a TV news channel, there were no discussions, and what Thackeray said was almost invariably the party’s decision or policy.
It was amplified the day the view appeared. News agencies would pick up the editorial and report it as Bal Thackeray’s view – which it actually was – and then the news television channels would do the same. The next day, other printed news outlets would run stories on what the Sena and its supremo thought.
Others too have such newspapers: The Peasants and Workers Party (PWP) runs its Krushival from Alibag. Well-known examples of Pprsons who ran or run their own newspapers with an intent to boost their personal politics are Vilasrao Deshmukh’s Latur-baased Ekmat, Kamal Kishore Kadam’s Lokpatra, the Darda family their Lokmat. The Pawars too, should find the Sakal helpful with its large readership.
These are said to have some perceived bias in their coverage as well but with the Danik Saamana, the news reportage was unbiased on matters public, like a civic issue, a government policy or a pronouncement and only a comment may subsequently follow. But a story relating to a party event would have the strict no-no of good journalism: adjectives.
Since Thackeray hardly spoke to reporters, the paper became the main, even the only window to him.
He did not care much for the other segments of the media, television or print, which according to him, were only bent on faulting him. That explains why he seldom addressed press conferences; that was left to the lesser leadership from time to time. That also explains why if he released a book, the media immediately surrounded him and tried to convert the event into a press conference.
With acclaimed readership of 6 lakh copies a day, with three editions, one each from Mumbai, Aurangabad, and Pune, Dainik Saaman aprovided the near-real time reach to his army of followers, each shakha being its subscriber. It is unlikely that a true-blue sainik did not read it. With that newspaper in hand, Bal Thackeray did not need other newspapers.
It would be incorrect, however, to assume that the newspaper‘s critical component – the opinion segment - was entirely led by the Executive Editor, Sanjay Raut, MP. In almost all cases, the line was provided by Thackeray and the edits were written by the latter. Raut meticulously stayed close to it, following Thackeray’s stream of consciousness.
That also equipped him to be the best spokesman for Bal Thackeray and the Sena beyond the Dainik Saamana itself. It is little wonder that others in the media seek him out for a quick comment soon after a political event. In the party, it is believed that he wielded enormous influence. When something surprised the other leaders, they wondered if he had distorted it. When what was printed remained on record, then it was Thackeray speak.
This is really how the newspaper ran: almost on a daily basis, a line of thought, an idea, a position was conveyed to Raut who, can be technically said, did the ghost-writing for him in the boss’ typical trenchant style, a few Thackerayisms, even inflammatory words which other newspapers would avoid. There were times he also dictated the editorials, word by word as he always did his single-line or two-line comment under a news item.
All this was done from his home; one does not remember him visiting the offices much after the 1989 launch, other than perhaps on an anniversary. As he aged, Thackeray had the newspaper read out to him and marked for action: a call to an MP, MLA, corporator, shakhapramukh so that some news report was followed up for a corrective. He did this with other newspapers as well but always insisted that after important cricket matches, the score-board be printed in full.