There is Method in the Targeted Murders of Regional Free Thinkers

English is influential, but has limited reach; regional-language journalism can make a real impact which scares communal forces

Journalists Jogendra Singh, Gauri Lankesh and Ram Chander Chhatrapati. Credit: Facebook

Journalists Jogendra Singh, Gauri Lankesh and Ram Chander Chhatrapati. Credit: Facebook

One of the abiding refrains of the Indian Right is that the ‘Left-liberal’ brigade is finding it difficult to come to terms with a changing India which is shedding its old skin and acquiring a new one. Till now, goes the argument, India was in the control of deracinated, Western types who had gained their ideas and inspiration from foreign sources and were therefore alienated from pure Indian thought. This native genius was now asserting itself and those who profited in the ancien regime were uncomfortable with a changing India.

Several terms have been coined to label this class of deracinated Indians – the original one was pseudo secular, popularised by the original progenitor of the Hindutva project, Lal Krishna Advani. Since then, the names have become more and more inventive – sickular, presstitute (since English-speaking journalists are among the pillars of the old guard), Lutyens’ media and so on. It is another matter that many of those who hurl these charges fall under the same rubric, but they have smoothly aligned themselves with new realities and profited very nicely, thank you.

The motivations of these worthies might be cynical and opportunistic (while those of the hard-boiled ideologues from the Hindutva stable may be the result of years of indoctrination), but the end purpose is the same – to show that the past was dominated – and unfairly so – by Macaulayputras (another fine invention) while the glorious future ahead will be created by the mob – defined as the humble people of the country – who are fully behind Narendra Modi, the manifestation of this Indianness.

Considering what a minority this English-speaking elite is, by their own admission, it is surprising how much it still bothers the proponents of Bharatiyata. The sniping is incessant and accompanied by the constant drum beating of the Internet warriors, human and robotic. No comment by a journalist is allowed to pass through without abuse and vilification, and often even threats. The undercurrent of resentment is difficult to miss – it is visible in the statements of not just the trolls but also the leaders, a constant flow of molten lava of bitterness and bile, stored over generations. (Conversely, there are enough from the other side carrying a kind of misplaced guilt of being ‘elitist’, thus falling into the trap laid by the Hindutvavadis.)

But while the English speaking Left-liberal angers the right-winger, what scares him is the progressive who speaks and writes in his or her own native language. The English types can be dismissed as being disconnected with the ‘real’ India; the one who spreads these ideas in Marathi, Kannada, Punjabi or any other Indian language is seen as truly dangerous.

Narendra Dhabolkar, Gobind Pansare and M.M. Kalburgi, each one killed in the last four years allegedly by extreme right organisations, were votaries of rational thought and secular tradition. They fought against superstition and the lies spread by Hindutva groups. And they all wrote and spoke in their own languages. This enabled their ideas to reach far and wide, in the villages and the hamlets, and countered the blind faith of ordinary citizens, fostered and encouraged by communal forces.

Pansare, an old time Leftist, wrote a book on Shivaji that effectively demolished the constant refrain that he was a Hindu hero who fought the Muslims, a myth that was propagated by communal forces. Dhabolkar led a lifelong struggle against fraudulent practices by sundry babas who fooled gullible people, but also was in the forefront of campaigns for equality for Dalits. His work was in Marathi. Kalburgi, a scholar who wrote in Kannada, had angered his own Lingayat community with some of his works, but also had written against superstition in Hinduism. One is also reminded of the note Punjabi poet Pash who was killed by Khalistani extremists in 1982 for his strong Leftist views.

In all cases – and there are many more – the ability of these writers and thinkers to reach a wider audience and consequently exercise more influence in the general populace made them very troublesome to their ideological enemies. The work of a Dhabolkar or a Pansare could effectively challenge the hate-mongering of rabid and communal groups among a wider audience much more than that of an English writer.

Gauri Lankesh straddled both worlds. She began as an English journalist and when circumstances warranted it, moved to Bangalore and took over her father’s old newspaper and eventually launched her own. It was named, in her father’s tradition, after herself – Gauri Lankesh Patrike. She took ownership and responsibility of the content and it reflected her own strong views on social and political issues – she leaned on the Left, championed progressive and Dalit causes, promoted young emerging leaders such as Kanhaiya Kumar, Shehla Rashid and Jignesh Mewani, and when she saw the rise of Hindutva, she warned against it. Soon, her paper and her views reached all corners of Karnataka and she became a thorn in the side of local politicians, two of whom took her to court and won a conviction against her. “They want to put me in jail,” she said and was convinced they – the people she wrote against – would get after her. A startling tweet from the head of the BJP’s IT cell seemed to gloat over her conviction and warn other journalists of the consequences of writing against the party and its leaders.

We don’t know who killed her and we hope the government finds the culprits soon, but the ones who pulled the trigger were mere foot soldiers. It is the shadowy figures behind them who have to be identified. There is no point speculating, but the context of the larger political environment in the country cannot be ignored. Whoever ordered her murder was hurt by her writing, and angered because she wrote and spoke in the language which mattered, which had real influence. English is influential, but has limited reach; regional-language journalism can make a real impact. There are scores of brave journalists from small districts and towns who have paid the ultimate price – Ram Chander Chhatrapati, whose paper Poora Sach ran an anonymous letter against convicted rapist Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh was shot dead at point blank range; Jogendra Singh of Shahjahanpur Samachar was set on fire in 2016 for his writings. They were not from Lutyens’ Delhi.

Clearly this ‘Lutyens’ narrative is a red herring. The battle is not between the so-called English-speaking classes and the putative ‘authentic’ Indians as represented by the Hindutva politicians as well as their fellow travellers, because in the final analysis, both are privileged groups. The real struggle is between those who seek to hold onto constitutional values and to the secular and diverse character of the nation, and those who want to turn India into a monolithic Hindu rashtra where the minorities live as second-class citizens and where free thinking is forbidden. Those who stand for the latter appear to be on the ascendant, but that does not mean that there is no resistance. Killing one Dhabolkar, Pansare, Kalburgi or for that matter Gauri Lankesh will not wipe out the hundreds, and more, who will not stand for an easy takeover of India. The mobs and the murderers may think of themselves as true Indians, but they do not in any way represent the grand heritage of this country.

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  • Anjan Basu

    The same characters that ‘denounce’ ‘Lutyens’ media’, Sidharth Bhatia wisely points out, are products of the same Lutyens’ Delhi, enjoying all the privileges ( also the fringe benefits, which are often far from being insignificant) that come with this tag. That does not stop a Swapan Dasgupta or an Arnab Goswami from ranting and railing against Lutyens’ media, and posture that they themselves speak to the conscience of the real Bharat that comprises India’s teeming billions. Both these worthy gentlemen yesterday thought they were subtly ( not too subtly, though, unless Sanghi indoctrination has deadened your sensibilities completely) undermining the horrendous tragedy of Gauri Lankesh’s death. What they they really succeeded in doing, though, was baring their soul to Indians who still have their hearts in the right places.

    • Amitabha Basu

      Very well said. Those who denounce ‘Lutyen’s Media’ and ‘Lutyen”s Narrative’ are often the product of the same urban elite background, as Mani Shankar Aiyer once pointed out to Swapan Dasgupta, but now have their partisan political axes to grind and so they choose this seemingly anti-elite narrative. Winds will blow, wheels will turn within wheels, but unless one’s principles and objectives are steadfast and clear, the whirlwind may consume him/her sooner rather than later.

  • Why did the ‘Lutyens narrative’ gain salience? The answer is that the INC had a person of foreign origin as its President. Sonia has done a great job because she is in fact a pativrata defending the inheritance of the dynasty’s male heir under primogeniture. This went down well with the voters. The eldest daughter-in-law should be from a far away village. Thus, if she is widowed and has to take over stewardship of the family demense, no one will accuse her of being under the thumb of her own relatives. She will be accepted by all as being solely concerned with building up the heir’s inheritance.

    Rahul- the best educated Nehru-Gandhi- had, very unfortunately, imbibed Amartya Sen’s Rights based approach to Development while at Cambridge. Thus he believed that it no longer mattered who became P.M. since the office had lost its power. He also believed that M.Ps didn’t matter any more. All power had been devolved to the panchayats. The poor woman starving in her jhuggi could get food under R.T.F, education under R.T.E, and then use R.T.I to launch P.I.L’s to force the State to fulfil her Entitlements and Capabilities.

    Rahul did mention he was a Brahman in the context of a UP election some years ago. But he didn’t follow it up. Still, he has chosen celibacy and sooner or later will rediscover his Hindu identity. Meanwhile, the country is in safe hands. For traditional votaries of the dynasty, there is one consoling thought- viz. that once Rahul is ready for the top job, he will project such Brahminical ‘tejas’ that the RSS will collectively soil their khaki knickers. Many will cross over. In any case, without Modi, the BJP will disintegrate.

    What is the common thread between Jogendra Singh, Gauri Lankesh, Ram Chander Chhatrapati, Narendra Dhabolkar, Gobind Pansare & M.M. Kalburgi? The answer is that they were killed because of the dynamics of purely regional caste based confessional politics which has already been criminalized by the use of goons and guns for hire for the purpose of land grabbing, money laundering, sexual misconduct etc. Vote bank politics is the other side of the coin.
    Lankesh & Kalburgi may both be victims of the same outfit- though in the former case the ‘hit’ looks more professional. Otherwise there is no one organisation which would target all those listed. Why? They belong to different regions which care nothing for each other. They annoyed local criminals, elected or otherwise. Jogendra Singh was killed by a Samajwadi politician in U.P. All parties have curried favour with the Dera Sacha Sauda vote bank. Chhatrapati wasn’t killed by some Right Wing Hindutva outfit. We all know who did it and why.

    There is an outfit which plausibly can be linked to the Pansare and Dhabolkar assassinations. It is the ‘Sanatan Sanstha’ or ‘HJS’. However, it is a mickey mouse operation founded by a ‘hypnotherapist’ whose ‘hair is turning golden’ because he is becoming Divine.

    Lutyen’s Delhi too has had its Godmen. Lutyen’s wife was a Theosophist and took the boy Messiah Jeddu Krishnamurty under her wing when he first came to England. Even under Nehru, there were dubious Sanyasins and Tantriks. But it was Indira Gandhi’s Brahmacharee who could embezzle money openly. Later, under Narasimha Rao, Chandraswami was very much at home in Lutyen’s Delhi. Less well connected fraudulent godmen- one was a former security guard in Delhi- have been exposed on TV. No doubt, some contract killings have occurred to protect the reputation of such charlatans. Unquestionably, some journalists have been paid off. There is no real difference between Lutyen’s Delhi and anywhere else. There was a time when Indians wrote well in vernacular languages while dashing off verbose, vacuous tripe in English. Times have changed. Nobody writes well in any language any more. Why bother? We can all pretend to be standing up to sinister forces which are creating a climate of intolerance. The main thing is that we should write in an illogical manner and display a paranoid cast of mind. The alternative is that we write truthfully and upset some local rapist or swindler by exposing their misdeeds. The ‘supari’ for us will be quite low and easily affordable for them. Better just stick to vilifying Modi. He is a smart guy. He knows our impotent venting of spleen at him will cause sensible people to recoil from us and think ‘there in no alternative’ to him.

    The author says ‘Killing one Dhabolkar, Pansare, Kalburgi or for that matter Gauri Lankesh will not wipe out the hundreds, and more, who will not stand for an easy takeover of India.’ He may not have noticed, but Modi has already taken over India. We made it easy for him by talking worthless, self aggrandising, paranoid rubbish. For one mainstream party to completely displace another mainstream party it is enough that ‘good people’ do nothing but pretend that the former is not mainstream at all but rather a hideous Nazi conspiracy designed to advance the interests of the vast majority of the population.

    • Anjan Basu

      There we go again! God in Heaven, have mercy upon us!

      • Hai hai! Saying God is in Heaven like some chee chee Anglo. It is well known fact that Godji has humbly taken the form of a former London based hypnotherapist whose hair has turned golden and who is currently giving darshan of His viratrup in Ponda, Goa.

        All your English knowledge and even this you are not knowing?