Gauri Lankesh Patrike: Pro-minority tabloid took stand against communalism
Gauri Lankesh built on her father’s legendary paper Lankesh Patrike that had the power to make or break governments and took on the powerful in Karnataka.
Till the night of her murder, Gauri Lankesh, the feisty journalist and editor of weekly Kannada tabloid Gauri Lankesh Patrike, remained involved in public interest journalism.
Her work in Karnataka began when she took over as editor of Lankesh Patrike in January 2000, after her father P Lankesh’s sudden death. The black and white weekly tabloid, named after its founding editor in 1980, was synonymous in Karnataka with truth and integrity.
The team of reporters were reputed to be uncompromising in their values over any enticements. Apart from salaries, P Lankesh also paid what he called an ‘alcohol allowance’ (extra money) to his reporters, and provisioned for them to drink at work so that they wouldn’t get swayed by promises of alcohol from a politician.
At its peak from 1982 to 1995, Lankesh Patrike touched 4.5 lakh in circulation and was seen as having the capacity to make or break social movements and governments.
In 1984, the tabloid stuck its neck out predicting a big victory for incumbent chief minister Ramakrishna Hegde’s Janata Party – but soon after, Lankesh Patrike became a scathing critic of the same leader it supported.
Lankesh Patrike broke the story of phone-tapping allegations against Hegde and, as a result, the government suffered a huge loss of face. Lankesh Patrike also broke the story of the same government’s alleged irregularities in awarding arrack-bottling contracts.
The matter was taken to the Karnataka high court, which ordered an inquiry and found Hegde guilty, and this resulted in his resignation as well as strictures passed against the government.
P Lankesh hailed from a small village called Konagavalli in Shimoga district and when he started the weekly with his savings, nobody had quite imagined how long it would last.
P Lankesh was in his 40s when he quit his job and started his publication, modelling it after Harijan, the weekly tabloid paper founded by Mahatma Gandhi. However, with his insightful writing and sharp political analysis, Lankesh Patrike soon became a household name. People looked forward to his weekly editorials and the writers he groomed — such as Ravindra Reshme and SN Shankar — still stand tall in Kannada literary circles.
When her father died, the family sat down together and decided that closing Lankesh Patrike with his last write-up was the best tribute. But when they went to the publisher, he explained how Lankesh had strived to keep the paper alive. Shutting it down would be an insult, and encouraged the oldest of the siblings to give it a go.
Gauri, however, was an alien in Karnataka. Not only was she a journalist from the English media who barely wrote in Kannada, she had also been away from the state’s politics for a long time – having worked in Delhi and Mumbai as an English language journalist. Yet, she persisted. Her brother, filmmaker Indrajit Lankesh, also objected to what he saw as excessive support of Naxalism in the paper.
In 2005, Gauri left the tabloid to her brother to start her own new one called Gauri Lankesh Patrike, and soon had a finger on the pulse of the people. With her work and activism, she was successful in resurrecting her own image, from being the legendary ‘Lankesh’s daughter’ to‘Gauri Lankesh’, a successful journalist and editor in her own right.
Though the paper didn’t match the popularity of her father’s publication, Gauri became synonymous with pro-Dalit, pro-minority, anti-casteist and anti-superstition movements. She successfully helped in rehabilitating Naxals and Maoists by negotiating with the government to drop charges against them if they gave up weapons, and she worked as a facilitator between the two.
(Published in arrangement with GRIST Media)