In the decade of the 1990s as I stood bitterly opposed to the communal stand of the saffron forces and the violence generated by it around the country, one RSS ideologue asked me, "I think you are a Christian or a Communist?"
When told I was as much of a Hindu as he was and perhaps more devoted to its tenets than most RSS men I had known, he said in genuine puzzlement, "Then what is a good Hindu girl like you doing supporting Muslims and opposing the RSS?"
Apart from the tremendously patronising tone of his comments that galled me no end, I also discovered that such bigots hated Christians and Communists more than they did the Muslims if that was possible, because the Communists had strong international networks and much power to their elbow, effectively beating down communal elements in the states they governed. They hated Christians because they had effectively proselytised large chunks of Indians and had an enviable church network supported by large funds and a larger network of missionaries.
The Muslim minorities, according to them, were more easily combatable - poor and uneducated as they were, they were easier to provoke, kill and destroy. I guess that holds true now as well considering the Hindu-Muslim clashes that happened in Muzaffarnagar, in Uttar Pradesh, before the BJP came to power at the Centre and the killing of a Muslim techie in Pune soon after they did.
Apart from the ghar wapsi, love jihad and other failed campaigns, Christians and Communists continue to be attacked across the country, but particularly so in Maharashtra. And though the police have not been able to establish the identity of the killers, the targeting of Govind Pansare, more than a year after Narendra Dabholkar's killing, for which the police had picked up some sanatanis, continues to emphasise this lack of tolerance. Both Pansare and Dabholkar were Left-leaning and of a rational ideology. I am sad that these killings should happen in a Left-of-Centre, socialist-minded Maharashtra, which has always denied Sanatana elements, including the RSS, and has been a pioneer of liberal movements, including those related to equality of castes, for centuries.
I am told by activists in the know that these killings, however, may not just be related to religious intolerance alone but are also mixed up with the political economy of the state - Pansare was leading the anti-toll agitation and Dabholkar, too, could have been upsetting similar interests. They allege that these interests cut across party lines and that is why an otherwise efficient Maharashtra Police has not been able to crack the Dabholkar case till now.
While the Congress-NCP government in the case of Dabholkar could do little beyond twiddling its thumbs and the newly-elected BJP government seems to be going the same way, I am glad to see people taking the matter into their own hands - not through violence but with demonstrable symbolism.
Since these macho killers have been targeting old, frail men in their seventies and eighties, out on their morning walks, people across Maharashtra have turned the morning walk into a unique kind of protest. Hundreds turn up for these walks to show up both the government and police inefficiency and also to cock a snook at the killers saying, 'shoot us if you can'.
I wonder if that is enough to shame the authorities though it is risky to discount the people's anger. Uddhav Thackeray, the president of the Shiv Sena, which is a coalition partner with the BJP, has been quick on the uptake and that is why he has been snapping at the heels of his own government, for being able to do little to bring Pansare's killers to book. But is that enough?
Just before the assembly elections, the BJP, targeting the Congress-NCP, came out with a classic line: Kuthe nevun thevla Maharashtra majha?
Today, I wish to ask the same of the authorities, "What have you done to a liberal, progressive state like Maharashtra?"