It is no secret that the Shiv Sena has regularly attempted to stifle free expression by carrying out violent attacks on journalists and media establishments - and has got away with it thanks to a policy of appeasement pursued by successive governments in Maharashtra, mostly Congress or Congress-led regimes. But the regional party may have gone too far this time. The recent assault on the offices of the IBN television network, captured blow-by-blowby CCTV cameras, featured a mob of Sainiks armedwith rods and baseball bats punching and kicking maleand female journalists and trashing furniture, fittings,and electronic equipment. The Sena leadership wouldhave us believe the attack was a "spontaneous" reactionto strong remarks made on the channel against supremoBal Thackeray. This is demonstrably false. That itwas a planned attack is evidenced by the fact that themobs carried out simultaneous attacks on the TV networkin Mumbai and Pune, and by information gatheredby the police investigation that, among others,Sunil Raut, the brother of Shiv Sena leader Sanjay Raut,was involved. A special target of the Sena's wrath wasits intrepid critic, Nikhil Wagle, Editor-in-Chief of theMarathi channel IBN-Lokmat and former Editor of theMarathi daily Mahanagar who has been assaulted repeatedlyby Sena goons.At one level, the brazen assault reveals the ugly faceof competitive chauvinism, and the continued existenceof a goon political culture, in India's `maximum'city. At another level, it reflects the Sena's sense ofinsecurity during a phase of political decline - when ithas been challenged by the copycat methods of a youthfulMaharashtra Navnirman Sena, and has fared poorlyin elections. It is no accident that Bal Thackeray's, andSaamna's, broadsides against Sachin Tendulkar for implicitlymaking a stand against linguistic chauvinism byaffirming his Indianness alongside his Maharastrianidentity have been followed up by targeting a channelthat has aired opposition to the chauvinism. Such actsof vandalism have gone virtually unpunished in thepast. This time, under pressure from an aggressivemedia, Chief Minister Ashok Chavan has pledged nononsenseaction and the Mumbai police have arrestedclose to 20 of the perpetrators and registered cases ofattempted murder. The investigation, however, has notso far led to anyone more significant than Sunil Raut,who has just been arrested. The widely shared suspicionis that the State government's response will returnto the traditional policy of appeasement once the feelingsof shock and anger subside. This is decidedly a caseto be handed over to the Central Bureau of Investigation.