Home > 2017 > Murder of Gauri Lankesh: An Attack on Media or Ideology?

Mainstream, VOL LV No 40 New Delhi September 23, 2017

Murder of Gauri Lankesh: An Attack on Media or Ideology?

Saturday 23 September 2017, by Vidya Bhushan Rawat

The Press Club of India did not have space to even stand yesterday (September 6, 2017). The outpouring of grief and anger in the street as well as on the social media on the murder of journalist Gauri Lankesh compelled many veterans to join hands and speak up against the culture of intimidation and violence against those who differ with the current dispensation and their politics of Hindu nationalism. There were political leaders of the Left, though Rahul Gandhi and leaders of other political parties too had condemned the murder elsewhere, who participated and spoke against the violent assault on the freedom of expression. All of them wanted us to stand united and fight against it. In Kolkata, Mamata Banerjee too joined the protest.

Immediately after speaking at the forum, Ms Barkha Dutt and Rajdeep Sardesai said that the journalists should not allow politicians to ‘capture’ the space and that we should not become such helpless to get political support. Of course, immediately after Barkha Dutt, another activist journalist countered her and said that it was a war in which we know who are the people involved and we need to name them. While we know political parties have not much love with ideas and journalism, one just wonders whether both of them could have said things if there were BJP leaders or Sangh leaders on the platform. Why is this effort to look ‘non-political’ when we know who might have been the killer of Gauri Lankesh and why she was killed? It is again very pertinent to check weather Gauri Lankesh was killed for being a ‘journalist’ or an ideologue which was critical of Hindutva?

Gauri Lankesh came from a well-established family. Her father P. Lankesh was the editor of Lankesh Patrike and her sibling Indrajit was into film-making and became the owner of Lankesh Patrike after the demise of their father. Gauri and Indrajit had developed sharp ideological differences which compelled her to start her own Gauri Lankesh Patrike in Kannada. Her father was said to be influenced with Gandhian idealism but Gauri was more into rationalism. A moving tribute by her former husband, Chidananda Rajghatta, Foreign Affairs Editor, The Times of India, said how both of them became friends reading Abraham Covoor. So, it was clear that Gauri was a thorough rationalist and a constitutionalist as she believed in the rights of minorities, Dalits and Adivasis. There is more to the story too. She had been speaking at various platforms of the human rights groups including Amnesty International and had been persistent in her criticism to brahmanical Hindutva.

We should not forget the events which led to the further growth of tensions in Karnataka as far as the Hindutva project is concerned. On August 22, 2017, there was a huge rally in Belagavi in which seers and political leaders of the Lingayat community had participated and demanded in absolutely unambiguous terms that their community was not a part of brahmanical Hinduism and that they should be declared a separate Lingayat dharma. Now this demand is not old because political philosophers like M.M. Kalburgi as well as Prof Bhagwan have spoken about it in detail. Prof Kalburgi was brutally murdered at his home and Prof Bhagwan lives in the shadow of police protection for his ‘alleged’ blasphemy of the brahmanical gods. The Hindu covered the rally and reported that all the seers and political leaders warned RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat to desist from interfering in their community’s affairs. One of them, Jayabasava Mrutyunjay Swami, said: “I want to tell Mr Bhagwat that we believe in Ambedkar’s Constitution and not that of the Manuwadis. We live according to modern principles of democracy and not Vedic ideologies. We will ask the leaders who are trying to divide us to give up the Lingayat faith.” There is little doubt that Gauri Lankesh has been supportive of this view that Lingayat was a faith different from that of the Hindus.

In an article reproduced by The Wire on September 5, she said: ‘Let’s be clear about a couple of things at the outset. Though many people believed for a long time that Lingayats and Veerashaivas were one and the same, and that the words were interchangeable, they are very different. Lingayats are followers of Basavanna, the 12th-century social reformer who rebelled against Hindu society and established a new dharma. Veerashaivism, as the name suggests, is an order of the Shaiva faith, which in turn is one of the two major Vedic faiths—the other one being the Vaishnava faith. Both Shaiva and Vaishnava followers constitute the sanatana dharma. The essential difference between the Lingayata dharma and the Veerashaiva is that the latter accepts the Vedic texts and practices like caste and gender discrimination, while Basavanna not only protested against these, he offered an alternative that is an anti-thesis of sanatana dharma. This debate assumes a larger significance these days when Hinduism is being equated exclusively with sanatana dharma, in contradiction to the origin of the word ‘Hindu’, which included Jains, Buddhists and Sikhs. Shaivites, like Vaishnavites, are a part of the Hindu system of faith. And therein lies the difference.” [‘Making sense of Lingayat verses Vairashaiva debate’: The Wire (https://thewire.in/167389/karnataka-lingayat-veerashaive-debate/)]

Karnataka is top on the radar of the BJP as it is their entry-point for the South. The Lingayat community constitutes over 17 per cent of the total population in Karnataka and with its biggest leader, Yeddyurappa, the BJP and its top brass had been quite sure about their return but the events unfolding there have made things a bit more difficult. Yeddyurappa remained a mascot of Hindutva in the State but the religious leadership of the Lingayat are now open and categorical to clearly chart their own path and delink themselves from brahmanical Hinduism which certainly is not a positive signal for the community just before the elections. It seems the party has realised the huge loss of goodwill in the community in the aftermath of Gauri Lankesh’s death which seems to have antagonised the ‘liberals’, who were supportive of it, parti-cularly after the attempt to justify the murder. As usual, the paid media gang has been brought to start the vilification campaign in multiple ways but in a careful manner. The Minister for Information and Broadcasting, Ravi Shankar Prasad, condemned those who were ‘celebrating’ her death, the trolls continue to vilify her through whisper campaign on twitter as well as on whatsapp platforms while the Mughals of the media vampire would create more confusion and bring new ‘angles’ to the issue. And what else could you expect than bringing a brother with whom she had dissociated long back and who has openly, in defiance of his family’s political thoughts, now wishes to join the BJP!

According a report published in The New Indian Express on July 10, 2017, Indrajit Lankesh said that, “After 25 years of journalism and being in the film industry, I have earned a lot of love and affection from people.” Indrajit opined: “This (politics) is in another place, I want to know if I can fit in. As of now I am just known to be aligned to the BJP’s ideology, of course, Yeddyurappa and Narendra Modi’s leadership has inspired me to join politics. It is just a thought now, and it is too early to give any kind of confirmation. But films will go on, and I will be announcing my next project details very shortly.”

The media has shamelessly tried to deviate from the issue and brought the issue of her differences with her brother as well as possible ‘Naxal’ connection into the subject. Two rabid Sanghi channels, The Republic TV and Times Now, have brought her brother Indrajit on the show suggesting that there could be a Naxal angle into the case. Times Now went on to suggest that she had just put CCTV cameras at her residence a fortnight ago which means that she might have felt threatened. The problem in this case is that she had her own differences with her brother who, as we place on record, is willing to join the BJP, shown his appreciation for Narendra Modi’s leadership. Even when the entire Lingayat community today stands together in their attempt to get an identity separate from brahmanical Hinduism, her brother wants to go back to them. There are other things which are visible on the social media and need to be seriously looked into. It needs to be elaborated as to who were rejoicing at her killing? Who said that she was a ‘commie’ as if being a Communist is a crime. Who are those who said that ‘the Lefties are crying on the death of a bitch’? When nothing works then they say, we kept quiet on the deaths of so many RSS cadres in Kerala and Karnataka. There is no doubt that many States have witnessed the political violence whether it is Kerala, Bengal, Karnataka where cadres of the parties indulge in violence but why to ignore the violence against the common people by the Hindutva- sponsored goons in the State where they are in power. How can you ignore the violence against Dalits, minorities and adivasis in the name of their food habits as well as cow protection? Secondly, the pattern of violence against Narendra Dabholkar, Govind Pansare, M.M. Kalburgi and now Gauri Lankesh provide the same clue.

If anybody has doubts then one can also read the statement by sitting BJP MLA and a former Minister from Karnataka, Mr Jeevraj, who said that, ‘Her vitriolic writings against Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) in her tabloid, Gauri Lankesh Patrike, might have cost journalist and activist Gauri Lankesh her life’. Mr Jeevraj says that Gauri Lankesh had written a report headlined, “Chaddigala Marana Homa” (the slaughter of RSS). “If only she had refrained from such writings, she would probably have survived. Gauri Lankesh was like my sister and she might have written against us which is acceptable in a democracy,” he says. (Asian Age : http://www.asianage.com/india/all-india/070917/writing-against-rss-cost-gauri-lankesh-her-life-bjp-minister.html

While the police and investigating agencies would do their work, there is a lot for the media to introspect on this. Today, each one of them want to ‘own’ Gauri for her ‘courageous’ and principled stand against the ‘Right-wing’ but most of them remained at high position when the newsrooms and editorial board rooms of the media became suffocating gas chambers for those like Gauri Lankesh. Frankly speaking, people like me were unaware of her writings and I am not sure how popular she was with the common middle class people in Karnataka. If she were a much-sought-after columnist who worked with various newspapers, it is because of her privileged background. She was more into social movements and against the politics of Hindutva’s hateful ideology. So was she killed for being a ‘journalist’ or was she ‘killed’ for pursuing an agenda which the Hindutva forces felt would be an obstacle in their way.

Does it not look surprising that with 90 per cent TV channels reporting according to the wishes of Amit Shah and Narendra Modi, a few of them attempting to balance things and in the name of ‘dissent’ most of them can’t go beyond the Congress party or a few mainstream Left? The print is showing some dissent but the dissenters there are the core group of privileged journalists or academics of their own ‘biradari’ many of whom may be socio-culturally ‘secular’ but econo-mically Rightwing. How many of them had the ‘courage’ to publish her article or keep her as a regular columnist in their dailies? The Hindutva is not afraid of the media because it has almost made it virtually redundant. It is not even crawling at the moment as Advani famously said during the Emergency for our media. It is now completely spineless and working as the Public Relations Agency of the ruling party but its role does not end here. It is not merely reporting news but ‘cooking’ it also in their editorial offices. That is more dangerous. If a news anchor can celebrate the death or another bring ‘new’ revelation on her death making her story similar to any other ‘crime’ news, then it reflects how much we have lost in these three years. In the coming years, they can go further to dilute the entire issue and make it a crime sex story so that the killers who tried to silence the opponents continue to do so looking for other preys.

One is surprised that despite overwhelming percentage of electronic media and print media writing stories as per the whims and fancies of the ruling party, its leaders still want to control all forms of voices and are very disturbed with those who can unmake their agenda. This shows the power of dissent. The megalomaniac leaders, habitual of prostrating public relations officers, always fear the dissenters even if they have limited reach and that is why smaller publications based on sound convictions of freedom, social justice and socialist are far superior and influential than those who claim to represent all yet have been merely converted to providing us information. Gauri Lankesh and others like her are not in the profession to be public relations officers or supply information being generated in the newsrooms but they are among those very few who give us food for thought. It is these ideas of democratic dissent which believe in human rights of all and speak against all forms of discrimination, that is, racial, religious, caste, gender, region and physical appearance, which the dominant narratives in most of our societies consider as obstacle in their ‘progress’ that has kept the hope of all the oppressed people.

Countering and challenging the carefully built and Sangh Parivar-influenced narrative of victimisation among the powerful and dominant castes in India to suit their political goals that keep the oppressed and marginalised on the toes and divide them further on their caste lines, is essential for a healthy secular socialist republican democracy. Yes, to be candid, Gauri Lankesh died for a secular democratic cause. She became victim of hatred. She did not die because she was a journalist but because she fought against the Hindutva hatred in India. There are journalists who are killed for exposing the mafias, taking on the political establishment but none spoke for them. Therefore it is important for us to understand that it is not the issue of Gauri Lankesh being a mediaperson but belonging to a particular ideology that threatens Hindutva and the Sangh Parivar.

The fact is that the Rightwing is not afraid of the media but of a counter ideology and they grew because of the political vacuum created by the Centrist parties functioning just to ‘govern’ without any emphasis on the ideological perspective on issues that confront us today. The legacy of Dr Narendra Dabholkar, Govind Pansare and M.M. Kalburgi and now Gauri Lankesh is clearly one of humanism, reasoning, human rights and standing head on against the forces of hatred and divisiveness.

Vidya Bhushan Rawat is a Radical Humanist and a human rights activist based in Delhi.

ISSN : 0542-1462 / RNI No. : 7064/62