By Mythili Mishra
The murder of a revolutionary is the murder of speech. It is the murder of thought, insofar as it cripples an individual’s agency to rationalise and critique, owing to fear of persecution at the hands of the Big Brother.
Killing of free speech
Senior journalist and vociferous critic of the Hindutva brigade, Gauri Lankesh was found murdered in her home in Bengaluru. She was shot by unidentified assailants and had died instantly. Since then, a national debate has been sparked about the, quite literal, killing of free speech.
Lankesh was fierce in her disapproval of communal politics and the government of the day. Her writings read like a revolutionary manifesto, “The Sangh Parivar has turned cow into “holy cow” with all its propagandist machinery and has let the cow-vigilantes carry out rampant killings of innocents”. Whether this propagandist machinery was behind her murder has sharply divided people on different ends of the political spectrum.
Congress’ missed opportunity
Rahul Gandhi, Congress vice-president, termed the murder as a “right wing conspiracy”. Highlighting the extremist discomfort with free speech, he wrote, “They want to impose only one ideology which is against the nature of India”.
What is surprising, however, is the stand of the state government, ruled by Congress. While Chief Minister Siddaramaiah called the murder “shocking”, Home Minister Ramalinga Reddy was careful in his nonpartisan views when he said “Who is behind the incident, is it the Naxals or any other ideological fringe parties were behind the incident will be known only after investigation. It is very premature to hold anybody responsible for the incident”. However, he led by example, mentioning the murders of M. M. Kalburgi and Narendra Dabholkar, which were also suspected to be carried out by extremist Hindu groups.
The RSS state unit condemned the “heinous” crime and BJP Leader K. S. Eshwarap, in fact, criticised the government for failing to protect its citizens. Congress, on the other hand, was absent from politicising the issue. This led to the discourse being turned against it. While the situation was ripe for it to nip the bud of middle-class support for BJP by highlighting the saffron roots of crimes such as these, it became caught in criticisms of its own incompetence. Missing an opportune moment for holding the BJP accountable for its more radical elements, Congress fell into its own trap and came to be labelled an illiberal government itself.
Union Minister of Law and Justice Ravi Shankar Prasad has been vocal about his views on the crime. He tacitly agrees with the narrative which sees the Naxalites as her murderers, not the Hindutva groups. In response to Rahul Gandhi’s comments, he said, “I would like to ask Karnataka CM Siddaramaiah whether Gauri Lankesh was helping Naxals surrender with government’s consent, and if so, why was she not given enough security?”
Thus, while the Congress suspects right-wing involvement, BJP claims left-wing involvement. The latter alleges that the law and order situation in Karnataka is dismal and that the Congress must be held responsible for it, in one of the few remaining states where it still rules. Congress, on the other hand, has criticised BJP for giving free reign to its extremist elements. “Sometimes the prime minister speaks under pressure but the entire idea is to crush dissent and this is resulting in a very serious problem in India”, Rahul Gandhi tweeted.
Such political polarisation is belittling the real issue that the brutal murder has brought up yet again, the precarious balance on which Indian democracy sits. While BJP tries to demonise the Naxals and blame them for the murder, it also fails to retrospect about the fear psychosis that has been created nationwide. In Lankesh’s own words, “I used to feel communal killings in Karnataka were abnormal incidents. Now I feel that abnormality is the new normal. Like in UP, Congress will lose in Karnataka and we will be strangled by a communal casteist government”.
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