By Saarthak Anand
Following historian Ramachandra Guha’s comments linking the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) to the assassination of the journalist-activist, the Karnataka unit of the Bharatiya Janata Morcha (BJYM) – the party’s youth wing – has served the former with a legal notice, threatening civil and legal action unless he issues an unconditional apology within three days.
Lankesh’s murder and Guha’s interview
Lankesh, a critic of the extreme right-wing and the editor of Kannada daily Lankesh Patrike, was shot dead by bike-borne assailants outside her Bengaluru home on 5 September. Her ideological differences with the right have led many to allege that Hindutva forces were behind the murder. Following the incident, Guha – a noted critic of the BJP-RSS camp – had gone on record on a number of occasions, remarking that the Sangh Parivar may have been complicit in the act and that the BJP-led Central government has created a conducive environment for such targeted killings. In an interview to online news portal Scroll.in, referring to the murders of rationalists in which right-wing elements are suspected to be involved, Guha said, “It is very likely that her murderers came from the same Sangh Parivar from which the murderers of (Govind)Pansare, (Narendra)Dabholkar and (MM)Kalburgi came”.
BJP’s response and civil society’s backlash
Various journalists, scholars and political parties have, in the past, accused the Narendra Modi regime of attempting to stifle dissent. This was reiterated by Guha in an article to Hindustan Times – a leading daily. Highlighting that writers face an existential threat due to the rise of ‘political Hindutva’ he wrote, “Even if the BJP or the RSS is not directly involved in this and other similar murders, there is little question that the ruling dispensation has enabled a climate of hate and suspicion that makes such targeted killings writers and scholars possible… The political climate is now more poisonous and rancorous than at any time since the emergency.”
Even as investigations are going on in Lankesh’s and other murders, Guha’s accusations may not be universally appreciated. What seems more disturbing, however, is BJP’s reaction, which gives a sense of authoritarianism. Following the serving of the notice to Guha, Karnataka BJP spokesperson Ashwath Narayana commented, “we are observing everyone who makes such comments, and notices will be issued to them too”. Such statements demonstrate a concerted attempt to clamp down on the opposition and may end up vindicating the very concerns expressed by the party’s critics. As the ruling party of the world’s largest democracy, it seems unbecoming of the BJP to resort to knee-jerk reactions; rather it must be more accommodating of criticism and should counter opposition by way of the same media through which it is expressed.
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