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Why we must unite against Gauri Lankesh’s killers

The killers were professionals, hired for the job by people who had invested in their services for months. Hopefully the latest Karnataka SIT will do better than earlier probes into the murders of other rationalists such as Pansare, Kalburgi and Dabholkar

analysis Updated: Oct 17, 2017 17:19 IST
Gauri Lankesh,Govind Pansare,Narendra Achyut Dabholkar
People wearing masks in a candle-light vigil to pay tribute to senior journalist and activist Gauri Lankesh in Thiruvananthapuram(PTI)

In the unsolved murder mystery of Gauri Lankesh, the breaking news on Saturday, October 14, was the release of composite sketches of the two suspected killers. Put out by Karnataka IGP and head of the SIT, B. K. Singh, these images give us for the first time an idea of who may have killed Gauri. After examining over 75 TBs of data and interrogating some 250 odd persons, the 150-member SIT said that the killers had recced Gauri’s home and layout, avoiding CCTV cameras to hide their identity. While the SIT ruled out a “professional,” that is the journalistic angle, to the killing, all other hypotheses were still open.

What is important to recollect is that even before her blood was cold, the blame game had already begun. Not only did the most visible Congress leader jump into the fray by blaming the ruling dispensation, so did well-known public intellectuals. What was gained? I doubt whether the ruling BJP lost any supporters or the Congress gained many. Immediately, a fresh barrage of attacks and counter-attacks was unleashed in the public sphere through respective armies on social media. Wouldn’t it have been better to hold their fire till more details of the investigation came out?

Gauri’s murder definitely needs to be condemned, with its culprits brought to swift and certain justice. Which right-thinking person would doubt that, irrespective of his or her political views? Similarly, regardless of what she believed in or advocated, Gauri Lankesh certainly did not deserve to die. RSS leaders, by publically condoling her death in their Akhil Bharatiya Karyakarini Mandal baithak on October 12, have acknowledged this. Gauri may have been harsh, even extreme in her criticism, but she was no anti-national. It seems that the top brass of RSS has recognised this.

Most would say the same for Govind Pansare, the Leftist writer-intellectual, murdered on February 16, 2015, when his wife and he were returning home from their morning constitutional. Pansare was 81. Later, on August 30 of the same year, two assailants shot and killed Malleshappa Madivalappa Kalburgi at his residence in Dharwad. Kalburgi, a Lingayat scholar and Sahitya Akademi award winner, was former vice-chancellor of Kannada University, Hampi. He was 75.

Two years earlier, medical doctor, author, and activist, Narendra Achyut Dabholkar, was murdered in Pune on August 10, 2013. He too was out on a morning walk. Since his life had been threatened many times for his unpopular “anti-superstition” drive, he had been offered police protection. He refused saying, “If I have to take police protection in my own country from my own people, then there is something wrong with me.” Regardless of whether we agree or disagree with these four murdered writer-activists, we must respect their right to life, property, and freedom to express their views. After all, as Dabholkar used to say, “I’m fighting within the framework of the Indian constitution and it is not against anyone, but for everyone.”

It may not be advisable to be an armchair detective, but you don’t have to be a latter-day Sherlock Homes or Hercule Poirot to surmise that the killers were professionals, hired for the job by people who had invested in their services for months. The parallels in all four killings are also obvious. In each case, two motorcycle bound assailants fired point blank at their targets, killing them instantly. The gunshots were fired from country-made firearms. All four appear to be well-planned, contract killings, carried out by specialists, not spontaneous, reactive lynchings or murders by the groups that were supposedly angered by the views of dead.

More obvious and incontrovertible than any of these deductions is the unfortunate fact that none of these cases has been solved. Hopefully the latest Karnataka SIT will do better than earlier probes. What is shocking and utterly unacceptable about these unsolved slayings is not just the inability, some would say incompetence, of the various investigative agencies, but the even more unscrupulous and reprehensive attempts to extract political capital out of them. Again, the link between these two aspects should be evident: the longer the crimes remain unsolved the more certain political groups and parties might stand to benefit from them by pointing the needle of suspicion where they wish.

I would argue, instead, that none actually benefits from such political chicanery and skullduggery. On the contrary, our divisiveness on matters of common interest erodes the culture of democracy, polarising society and narrowing the scope of healthy debate. Shouldn’t political leaders make a common cause against anti-democratic forces? Shouldn’t opinion makers and leaders of civil society follow suit in coming together to condemn the killings of writers, scholars, activists, and thinkers, regardless of their political differences? And shouldn’t we, the common people of India, unite against such heinous threats to debate and democracy?

These cases must be solved so that no dares commit more political murders of our intellectuals, who are soft targets if not sitting ducks, regardless of their political affiliations or ideological leanings.

Makarand R. Paranjape is a professor at the Jawaharlal Nehru University

The views expressed are personal

First Published: Oct 17, 2017 15:39 IST