Targeting Rationalists

Pen vs Sword

Narayana Rao

Two years before Lankesh's death, the eminent intellectual M M Kalburgi was also shot dead outside his home. That same year, Govind Pansare, another vocal critic of extremist Hindu groups, was murdered. In August 2013, the Dalit campaigner and atheist Narendra Dabholkar was killed.

The Bengaluru Police see a similarity in the modus operandi of the murders of rationalist M M Kalburgi in 2015 in Dharwad and the journalist activist Gauri Lankesh on the evening of 5 September 2017. Both were out-spoken critics of right-wing fundamentalists and they were both shot at home at close range by unidentified men on motorcycles.

Connections have also been made to the other two murders; that of Govind Pansare shot in Kolhapur in 2015 and Narendra Dabholkar in Pune in 2013. Ballistic reports apparently confirm that one of the guns used to kill Pansare, a 7.65 mm pistol, was found to be the same one used on Kalburgi. This has subsequently been recovered by the police. Interestingly, the other gun used on Pansare was found to be ''similar" to the one used to assassinate Dabholkar, Kalburgi and Gauri, thereby insidiously connecting all the four murders.

The same set of suspects belonging to the Sanatan Sanstha, a right-wing radical Hindu group that claims to be a registered non-governmental trust, were arrested, charged and interrogated in connection with the Dabhokar and Pansare cases, but were released due to lack of evidence to tie them to the crime. The same group also happens to be connected to the 2009 Goa bomb blasts. In the case of Kalburgi, the police have been tight-lipped and vague regarding the possible culprits. All they have revealed is that "they were not known to the witnesses" and were very "powerful". The family of Kalburgi who just observed his second death anniversary and have said that they have lost all hope of seeing justice done. Chetan Ranjan, official spokesperson of the Sanatan Sanstha called Gauri an extortionist with Naxal links and said his organization had nothing to do with her but condemned the killing. He added, however, that such public outrage was not seen when Hindu activists were murdered and there was no sympathy for the victims of Gauri's extortion.

It is also interesting to note that these contract murders of progressive thinkers occur in non-BJP ruled states like Karnataka and Maharashtra. Is this part of the BJP's agenda to establish a Hindu Rashtra? This brew of fear and seduction plied by team BJP and its ally, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) is potent. In non-BJP ruled states, the strategy is tailored to spread distrust in the ability of the party in power to administer the state. This nurtures a growing sense of insecurity and a loss of faith in the government.

If the motive behind her murder was to silence her, news of Lankesh's death seems only to have amplified her voice around the world. Her death sparked outrage across the country, with as many as 15,000 people, including writers, journalists and academics, joining a protest condemning her murder. Many held placards reading "I am Gauri", while others spoke about the need to protect free speech.

Gauri Lankesh has been awarded a prestigious global award, given in the memory of a slain Russian reporter and political activist. "This award is a morale booster for people who want to write, and fight...It honours what Gauri stood for—that you cannot silence me".

Lankesh is the first person from India to receive the honour. The award does not belong to her but to "everyone who stood by Gauri".

One person, who certainly spoke  without fear, on the day of Gandhi Jayanti, was National Award winning actor Prakash Raj. Raj questioned Prime Minister Narendra Modi's silence on journalist Gauri Lankesh's death, four weeks after she was murdered in cold blood. What is significant about Prakash Raj's outburst is both its content, and that he dared to speak out against the most powerful person in the country.

"We do not know who killed them (the journalists and rationalists). But we do know who is celebrating the murders. When you see that the Prime Minister of the country is following (on Twitter) those who are celebrating the murders, when he is not taking a stand against it, when he has maintained silence on the issue—that silence hurts", said Prakash Raj. He added, "As a citizen of this country, I am disturbed, hurt and afraid by the silence of the Prime Minister. I am talking to my Prime Minister and I say, 'Your silence is chilling'. I have a right to say this".

These are important and strong words. Prakash Raj is saying the Prime Minister has let him down with his conduct. The actor stresses on his right to state publicly, his disappointment that Modi—a person extremely aware of what is happening around him—chose to keep mum over Gauri's murder.

Lankesh represented a rational voice in society. She was highly critical of Hindutva forces and sought to expose them. She strongly opposed the communal politics of Sangh Parivar. In 1992, Lankesh voiced against the polarization that took place following Babri Masjid demolition. In 2003, she opposed the Sangh Parivar campaign to hinduise the Sufi shrine Guru Dattatreya Baba Budan Dargah located at Baba Budangiri. She headed Koumu Souharda Vedike, a forum for promotion of communal harmony. She openly campaigned against caste system and exposed the double standards of Hindutva groups.

While the act of ending lives of rationalists may at first look as an attempt at instilling fear by those who took up the act, on the other hand it is only a result of the fear that has filled the spine of the rightwing forces. A BJP member had even went on to state that Gauri Lankesh faced death for being critical of BJP. Internet trollers who support BJP even went on to use abusive language against her through their tweets.

Inclusive of the lynching incidents, the acts of killing rationalists, the targeting of intellectuals are a means adopted by the BJP regime to impose the power of the sword. It is thus natural that more than on focus on pens, it is the tanks which is sought to be brought into Universities. More than extension of support to progressive groups, it is the lynch mobs who acquire an important space in the current regime. More than Social activists, it is the Bajrang activists who are given a free reign.

Vol. 50, No.23, Dec 10 - 16, 2017