Left ideologue and former vice-chancellor of Hampi University, Prof MM Kalburgi, was shot dead on Sunday morning by an unidentified gunman at the doorstep of his home in Karnataka’s Dharwad city.
Like Maharashtra-based rationalist Narendra Dabholkar, who was killed in August 2013, 77-year-old Kalburgi too had his run-ins with right-wing Hindutva groups for his strong independent views on social and religious matters.
“There was a threat to my father from groups that couldn’t digest his views on caste and communalism. The role of these groups should be probed,” daughter Roopadarshi said.
Nagaraj S Thigadi, a relative and next-door neighbour who took Kalgudi to hospital after the attack, said a stocky man shot the professor between his eyes and quietly walked off.
“Armed policemen posted outside his house were withdrawn around three months ago at the request of the professor,” he said.
Read: Rationalist Narendra Dabholkar's murder unsolved 2 years on
News of the daring assassination triggered spontaneous protests across north Karnataka as well as Bengaluru, the state capital. The demonstrators alleged right-wing groups were behind the killing.
The agitators pointed to a statement by a prominent Bajrang Dal leader from Mangalore, Bhuvith Shetty, who tweeted: “Then it was UR Ananthamurthy and now MM Kalburgi. Mock Hinduism and die dogs (sic.) death. And dear KS Bhagwan you are next.”
Shetty laughed off the allegations. “I vented my anger spontaneously but that doesn’t mean I or people from my organisation have killed Kalburgi. As for Bhagwan, he should know that he too could be targeted for his anti-Hindu statements. That doesn’t mean my organisation or I want to kill him.”
Bhagwan, a retired professor at Mysore University, had received threats from Hindutva groups for his statements critical of their politics.
Relative Thigadi said a man knocked on Kalburgi’s door around 9am and asked for him when his wife opened it. “The moment Kalburgi came to the door, the man shot him between his eyes from close range. He calmly walked away, got onto a motorbike parked outside and escaped.”
Thigadi rushed out of his home after hearing the gunshot. “His daughter was screaming hysterically. I rushed him to a private hospital in my car but the hospital was not equipped to handle the case. We then took him to a government hospital. It was too late.”
Kalburgi’s daughter Roopadarshi dismissed reports that her father was involved in a property dispute with his extended family.
Neither home minister KJ George nor Dharwad police made an official statement about the killing.
Chief minister Siddaramaiah, a known admirer of Kalburgi, rushed to Dharwad, 430km north of Bengaluru, to pay his last respects.
“It is true that there was threat to Prof Kalburgi’s life from some groups. No effort will be spared to find the killers,” he promised.
The threat goes back to June 2014 when a case was registered on the basis of a complaint by a Hindutva activist against Kalburgi and the late writer UR Ananthamurthy for hurting religious sentiments.
It was filed after Kalburgi made a public statement on June 9, 2014, where he criticised idol worship by quoting a section from Ananthamurthy’s 1996 book Bettale Puje Yake Kadadu (Why offering prayers in the nude is wrong).
The Bajrang Dal, Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Sri Rama Sene held statewide protests after his comments. “During a protest outside his house, activists of the Bajrang Dal threw stones and soda bottles,” Thigadi said.
Kalburgi was a noted epigraphist and a Sahitya Akademi award-winning writer of old Kannada literature. He was born in Yaragal village in Vijayapura district of north Karnataka in 1938.