Time to Stop Playing the Politics of Outrage After Gauri Lankesh's Murder

Each killing — whether of an RSS man or of someone of an opposite ideology — is condemnable and the condemnation should be unqualified.

Members from the ‘FACT’ (The forum against communist terror) protest against attacks on RSS/BJP followers in Kerala in Mumbai. Credit: PTI

Members from the ‘FACT’ (The forum against communist terror) protest against attacks on RSS/BJP followers in Kerala in Mumbai. Credit: PTI

“I strongly condemn & deplore the messages on social media expressing happiness on the dastardly murder of #Gaurilankesh.” All of us agreed with the letters and spirit behind this statement by BJP leader and minister Ravi Shankar Prasad. It could be the only instinctive response to the barrage of tweets and messages celebrating the murder of Gauri Lankesh and abusing her…. It was also a much-needed governmental response. One expected that this firm stance would bring out some sanity and sobriety in the public discourse. Unfortunately, it did not last very long.

It did not take even two days for Prasad to be forced back to the press to launch a virulent attack on those blaming this murder on the atmosphere of hate and violence that his party, the BJP and its parent body, the RSS, with its multiple visible and invisible hands, have created in Karnataka and other parts of the country.

Prasad criticised Rahul Gandhi for concluding that the RSS ideology was responsible for this killing.

The minister said: “Why is it that all my liberal friends who speak so eloquently and strongly against the killing of a journalist maintain a conspicuous silence when so many RSS workers are killed in Kerala and Karnataka?”

The law minister accused the “so-called liberals” of speaking up for Maoists and their human rights, but remaining silent when RSS workers were killed brutally.

“Do RSS workers have a right to their ideology? Are they entitled to human rights?” he asked. “This hypocrisy and double standard needs to be exposed.”

Would we be wrong to assume that the alacrity with which the minister rushed to the press was only to assuage the feelings of those who had felt hurt by his original rebuke? Was it only a momentary humanist lapse from which he had recovered now? Or, was he forced by his patrons and his constituency to overcome his conscience and qualify his stand ?

Also read: Gauri Lankesh Assassination: How the Right Wing Is Trying to Spin the Narrative

The fact is that after his original tweet, the minister was instantly attacked by supporters of his party and more so of his leader for having dared to criticise the Twitter army abusing the murdered journalist.

A Twitter user with the handle @kailashwg, proudly proclaiming that he is followed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, said: “Minister sir, pls also condemn selective outrage by Lootyens journos against killing of people? #GauriLankeshMurder.”

Another handle, @RitaG74, followed by Modi, actually shamed him: “Bowed down to media, secular and liberal bullies? We work for you tirelessly, selflessly. This is the reward?”

Yet another user wrote: “It’s none of your business Mr Minister. 100’s of RSS workers were killed while you are enjoying power gifted by Modi. Shame on u.”

People hold placards and candles during a vigil for Gauri Lankesh in Ahmedabad.

People hold placards and candles during a vigil for Gauri Lankesh in Ahmedabad. Credit: Reuters/Amit Dave

These tweets and the minister’s swift course correction lead one to think that a gesture of humanity, even in the moment of their death, towards the critics of the RSS and its leaders is unacceptable to the regime.

The question of selective outrage, however, does need to be addressed. Should not the killings of the workers of the RSS be condemned? Let us be clear about it. Each killing is condemnable and the condemnation should be unqualified. When a person who happens to be a member of the RSS is killed, one should not qualify one’s condemnation by referring to the killings of people from a different political background.

Each life is unique, it cannot be replicated. So, its forced loss should be grieved and resented without crowding it with other deaths.

Prasad has a different logic, though. According to his argument, you are not allowed to criticise a murder unless you mention other murders which are thought to be of those who were on the other side of the fence. But then he is expected, at least, to be true to his own principle.

The minister is referring mainly to the killings of the RSS workers in Kerala. While doing so, he himself is being selective. As said earlier, he should have in the same breath talked about the killings of the CPM workers.

The minister should also be honest with the facts of the killings in the southern states, especially Kerala. The killings in the state are a result of the gang war between the RSS and the CPM going on for a very long time. Its epicentre is Kannur. The RSS people who have been killed or maimed in this battle for supremacy have paid for their political affiliation. The same can be said for the people who belong to the CPM.

Also read: In Gauri Lankesh’s Killing, the Murder Is the Message

One wonders why we should have political violence when you can always fight and win elections and thereby establish your supremacy over your rivals. Kerala and West Bengal stand out as exceptions.

The CPM, Congress, Trinamool and BJP, all have been equally guilty of promoting a culture of violence in West Bengal. In Kerala, the violence is mainly between the RSS and CPM. In a state which the RSS is said to have the largest number of shakhas, this kind of violence shows that it is not sure of the power of its ideological persuasion. Similarly, the CPM which claims that Marxism is the last word in wisdom is not sure of its strength. Both of them need to explain their desperation. Both of them need to be asked by their followers why this cycle of violence cannot be broken.

Prasad needs to explain why it is that the RSS and BJP, instead of responding sincerely to the peace initiative of the chief minister of Kerala and making a call for a stop to this mutual annihilation, chose to move around with large banners carrying grotesque images of mutilated bodies of those they claim to be their members?

The minister is not so unaware a man as to not know that the liberals he is mocking have been very consistent in their criticism of the culture of political violence. Does he not know that one of the leading voices of these liberals – Gopalkrishna Gandhi – chose to earn the wrath of the CPM rather than remain silent on the party-backed violence in the days of the Singur and Nandigram agitations? That too, when he could have remained silent, hiding behind the throne of governorship.

Prasad is right when he says that we do not know who killed or ordered the killing of Gauri Lankesh. But we surely heard a senior leader of his party saying that but for her criticism of the RSS, Lankesh would be living. We also heard a leader of his party in Kerala warning writers that to save themselves, they should stop criticising the RSS. We did see an open celebration of Lankesh’s murder by his supporters. The kind of celebration that Patel had seen after the assassination of Gandhi.

Patel, unlike Nehru, is a true nationalist in the eyes of the BJP. What did he do as home minister? He said:

The objectionable part arose when they (RSS), burning with revenge, began attacking Mussalmans. All their speeches were full of communal poison.… As a final result of that poison, the country had to suffer the sacrifice of Gandhiji .… RSS men expressed joy and distributed sweets after Gandhiji’s death. It became inevitable for the government to take action against the RSS.

It is true that Gauri Lankesh is not the Mahatma but more true is the fact that we don’t have nationalists like Sardar Patel in authority who are willing to accept the bitter truth about “nationalist” organisations like the RSS.

Apoorvanand teaches in Delhi University.

A version of this article appeared in The Tribune.