New Delhi: Minutes after news of senior journalist Gauri Lankesh’s assassination spread on social media, a vocal section of the digital Right not only applauded the gruesome crime but also resorted to whataboutery to justify her killing.
Lankesh, an independent journalist who edited her own Kannada weekly, was shot dead outside her house by unidentified men in Bangalore on Tuesday night. She had been a fierce critic of the Hindutva organisations and their divisive politics. As if on cue, right-wing activists started justifying or even celebrating her killing.
“Jaisi karni vaisi bharni (as you sow so shall you reap)”, tweeted Ashish Mishra, social media advisor for the ministry of information and technology:
Mishra is followed by union IT minister Ravi Shankar Prasad on Twitter. Another such tweet was posted by a man who describes himself as a ‘Hindu nationalist’ and is followed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Twitter.
Translated into English, his tweet reads: “A bitch has died a dog’s death and now all the pups are whining in one voice”
Prasad on Wednesday unfollowed Mishra and tweeted:
I strongly condemn & deplore the messages on social media expressing happiness on the dastardly murder of #Gaurilankesh.
— Ravi Shankar Prasad (@rsprasad) September 6, 2017
However, Modi still continues to follow him and Dadhich on Twitter.
Another account followed by Modi tweeted a photo of Lankesh with JNU student leaders Kanhaiya Kumar and Umar Khalid saying that “God had a different plan for them”.
Wondering why the prime minister follows such handles? In February, The Wire‘s editor-at-large Raghu Karnad conducted an experiment by following the same accounts as Narendra Modi and found out that the PM’s personal Twitter feed is filled with rancour and distortion.
#BlockNarendraModi | PM following someone is not a character certificate of a person: BJP
BJP’s Amit Malviya issued a statement on Thursday after Twitter users started blocking PM Narendra Modi on Twitter to express their anger.
Malviya, who heads BJP’s IT cell, had issued a thinly veiled threat to journalists in November 2016 after Gauri was convicted in the defamation case filed by his party leaders.
Prahlad Joshi, BJP MP from Dharwad, gets Gouri Lankesh convicted in a defamation case. https://t.co/6DQTYDY1rO Hope other journos take note.
— Amit Malviya (@malviyamit) November 29, 2016
Lankesh had then said, “The idea that the IT cell of the BJP is using this episode as a tool to threaten other journalists is what is shocking.”
While the majority of journalists expressed anger and condemned Lankesh’s killing, there were some looking to score brownie points with the establishment.
Jagrati Shukla, who has almost 10,000 followers, has worked for Zee Media and Network 18.
Vishweshwar Bhat, editor-in-chief of Vishwavani Daily and author of multiple books, has over 60,000 followers:
Pro-BJP columnist Swapan Dasgupta, known as a close associate of finance minister Arun Jaitley and now a member of parliament, also tried to make light of Lankesh’s ‘death’:
Hindutva gloating over Lankesh’s assassination was not confined to social media. A series of articles were also published on PostCard.News, a right wing website infamous for publishing fake news.
This article by Nishika Ram claims that Gauri employed over 50 people for her tabloid and was funded by an NGO. Questioning how she managed to pay her employees since her newspaper didn’t carry any advertisements, Ram goes on to imply that Lankesh’s close relationship with Kanhaiya and Khalid might be the reason behind her murder.
This claim is as bizarre as most of the articles published on this website. In reality, Lankesh employed less than 10 persons, most of whom worked part-time. Her newspaper is self-sustaining and runs completely on the money received from sales, her friend, Professor Chandan Gowda, told The Wire. Apart from that, Lankesh also ran a publishing house that published the works of her father and an examination guide for students.
Like other right-wing fake news sites, Postcard.News tried to advance its own theory for Lankesh’s killing, pulling up some of her last tweets on fake news:
Citing these, the same author tries to imply that something “was not right” and her life was at risk. The truth is far from this.
Lankesh was one of those who fell for the morphed image that RJD leader Lalu Prasad Yadav shared after the Opposition’s ‘Desh Bachao’ rally in Patna recently and that is what her tweets referred to. In fact, the last editorial she wrote was about the fake news problem India is facing right now. The editorial will be published in the September edition of the paper that costs Rs 15 per copy. You can read the Hindi translation of the editorial here.
An Alt.News investigation revealed that the founders of the Postcard.News website are followed by or have met and posed for photographs with Modi, Union minister Piyush Goyal, Sushma Swaraj, Rajnath Singh and General (Retd.) V. K. Singh on Twitter.
Giving the BJP a clean chit, an author of another right wing site, Rightlog.in, claimed that “Lankesh wasn’t significant enough for the party to get her killed”.
The next article shows just how desperately the right wing wants you to believe that Lankesh deserved what she got.
Aishwarya S of PostCard.News claims that Lankesh “supported the Blue Whale challenge”. She came to this conclusion because Lankesh retweeted a sarcastic tweet by Akash Banerjee about the deadly game.
Republic to the rescue of Hindutva
On Wednesday, NDA MP Rajeev Chandrashekhar’s channel Republic TV came to the right wing’s rescue by introducing a naxal angle to the story:
While reporting thd Karnataka home minister’s press conference, Rajeev Chandrasekhar’s channel tweeted that the minister has promised to probe the “maoist link to Lankesh’s murder”. Their false claim was soon called out by many reporters including The Quint’s Arun Dev, who was present during the press conference.
“A meeting was scheduled on Monday. However, she did not turn up. She was in touch with DG&IGP R. K. Dutta too, but never spoke about receiving any threats,” Mr. Reddy said.
“Though there is a similarity with the murder of M.M. Kalburgi, it is too early to draw conclusions,” he added.
Ironically, Goswami spent primetime bashing “pseudo-intellectuals for jumping the gun” by blaming the Hindutva forces for Lankesh’s assassination.
“If the fourth pillar sells its soul, where will the society go?”
Disgusted by Republic’s line of questioning, ex-employee Sumana Nandy, who told The Wire she quite the channel in June, wrote on Facebook:
“I have always been proud of the organisations I have worked with in my extremely small career in journalism. But today I am ashamed! An ‘independent’ news organisation is now batting for a rogue government. And openly so.
A journalist is murdered in cold blood days after receiving death threats from the BJP-RSS cadres. And instead of questioning these murderers, you question the opposition? Where is the integrity? Where are we heading? Some ‘journalists’ are even celebrating the massacre (that she brought it on herself.) Well, yes! This is what happens in Saudi Arabia and North Korea. We are just a few more deaths away from catching up with these countries.
If the fourth pillar sells its soul, where will the society go?
We have failed you, ma’am. All I know, you are probably in a much much better place.
P.S.: For whatever it is worth and whatever significance it has, I have decided to not put Republic TV as one of my employers on my CV and on social media. I regret my association with this rogue organisation.”
The ‘naxals might be responsible’ line from Republic, which is often mocked for being the government’s mouthpiece, brings the right-wing Lankesh narrative full circle: when attempts to justify her death by painting her as a “naxal sympathiser [who] had it coming” fell flat, the charge is now that she might actually have been killed by Maoists.
Note: An earlier version of this article had incorrectly cited altnews.in as claiming Sushma Swaraj was among the BJP leaders who followed the founder of Postcard.News. In fact, altnews.in had said the founders had posed for photographs with her.