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Mainstream, VOL LV No 39 New Delhi September 16, 2017

Adieu...Comrade Gauri!

Tuesday 19 September 2017

by K. Ramachandran

“If Gauri had not attacked the RSS, she would have been alive today”—that was BJP MLA from Chikmagaluru C.D. Ravi. Kannada TV channels were flashing this statement made on September 7, 2017 repeatedly. The RSS-BJP people also sometimes speak the truth and in the process expose their true colours. This BJP MLA’s statement makes it amply clear the Gauri’s killing was a political assassination.

But who was Gauri Lankesh and why was she killed? We will draw a short profile and try to answer that question. In all cases of targeted political killings, we will have to look into the motives behind the assassination.

Let us list the major crusades of Gauri in the last few months.

On the day of her assassination and on the previous day, her weekly magazine was on a crusade against the inclusion of North Kanara BJP MP, Anant Hegde, with an RSS background in Modi’s expanded Council of Ministers. She openly condemned him as a criminal and a gangster. In fact, when he had taken his mother to a hospital in Sirsi, he slapped the doctor there and it was Gauri who got the CC TV footage of it and exposed it in the media and demanded that he be arrested. But Modi rewarded him with a berth in his Council of Ministers.

Her magazine was also carrying on a crusade against Mysore BJP MP Prataph Simha exposing his manipulation. After rationalist Kalburgi was killed for being opposed to superstitious practices of religious mutts which are RSS dens in Karnataka, the Siddharamaiah Government expressed willingness to pass a legislation banning some superstitious practices by babas and some mutt leaders and formed a committee to frame a draft legislation. That committee invited opinions from the public to identify superstitious practices and some people had given extreme opinion that wearing sindoor or mangal-sutra was also superstition. The committee published all the opinions received on the government website. This Mysore MP, Prataph Simha, who incidentally was also an RSS leader, picked up some such extreme opinions and started propaganda that those were the opinions of the Congress Government. It was Gauri who exposed the nefarious design of the BJP MP and showed how the RSS tried to defend supers-titious practices like bettele seve (nude worship by women once a year in Shimoga) or urulu seve in Udupi Pejawar mutt, where people from lower castes are made to roll on the leftover plantain leaves on which Brahmins had taken food.

And she went all out in support of the Lingayat demand for recognition as a separate minority religion outside Hinduism. She incurred the wrath of the RSS and Veerashaiva orthodoxy due to this. These are some of the proximate reasons where she created powerful enemies in the saffron camp.

More than these, she was not just a crusading journalist but an activist and her existence as a bold activist was a threat to many vested interests. Thos who are familiar with the arena of activism can understand that civil society activism blossoms around some nodal points in all major cities and even at the national and State levels, and in recent times Gauri had emerged as such a nodal point in Karnataka, the key rallying point for civil society activism of all progressive shades.

If some radical journalists in Delhi decided to launch a campaign against lynching under the common rubric Not-in-My-Name, Gaur Lankesh was the first person they would contact in Bangalore as she was the one who could bring together almost all shades of activists in a very short time. After the Una whipping of Dalits, when a new generation Dalit resistance emerged under a young leader, Jignesh Mewani, she was the one who organised a solidarity in Bangalore on Una and got Jignesh Mewani to fly down to Bangalore, put him up in her own house and arranged for his ‘Udupi Chalo’ march to resist the anti-Dalit urulu seve practice of the Pejawar Mutt Swami. Jignesh repeatedly visited Karna-taka and she declared him to be her son affectio-nately and organised all his programmes with the help of local Dalit leaders like Devanur Mahadeva.

When Rohith Vemula’s suicide triggered a major all-India protest, she was at the forefront of organising the solidarity protest in Bangalore by mobilising a large number of non-Dalits in solidarity.

When JNU students were victimised with sedition cases, Gauri reached out to the students of St Jospeh College in Bangalore to organise solidarity protests and got young Shehla Rashid from the JNU to come and address them. Likewise, she arranged all the programmes of Kanhaiya in Karnataka and made him stay in her house and declared him to be her second son. She also fondly told a friend that Sheila was like a daughter and youth like Kanhaiya and Shehla were the hope for a better future. Their different political persuasions and Leftist background did not trouble her and she was such a pluralist democrat at heart.

How did she emerge as a central point of reference for civil society activism in the Bangalore megapolis? The query can be answered by the fact that she was born and brought up in a political family—where her father, P. Lankesh, was a foremost Lohiaite in Karnataka and this had a profound effect on her. Next, during her college days in Bangalore, her senior, Saket Rajan, had a far-reaching influence on her. After Saket shifted to the Institute of Mass Communication in Delhi, probably he only influenced her to follow suit and she went to Delhi to join the same institute. Saket had already come under the influence of Maoism and after returning to Karnataka from Delhi, as a brilliant organiser, he had formed a youth organisation, Karnataka Vimochana Ranga, and went underground.

Gauri probably had mixed feelings about the political evolution of her friend and due to her Lohiaite heritage she was against violent armed struggles but had great respect for his commitment and sacrifice. When Saket was killed in an “encounter”, she launched a crusade against it. By that time her father had already passed away and when her brother opposed her crusade, she didn’t mind breaking up emotional family ties and moving away from her brother who was the publisher of LankeshPatrike brought out by her father and she launched her own Gauri Lankesh Patrike. Because of carrying on the same democratic crusade of her father, the entire old readership shifted to her magazine and she became the true legatee of her father, P. Lankesh. After that there was no turning back.

Many of Saket’s comrades, who shared his opinion that the Andhra line of the Maoists was unsuitable in Karnataka where prolonged mass movements were needed, decided to leave the Maoist party. But many had cases against them and the State Police was on an encounter spree in Karnataka. She interceded with the govern-ment and convinced Siddaramaiah to form a peace committee and she became a member of the committee and arranged for the return of about a dozen Maoists to mainstream activism.

It coincided with the aggressive communal designs of the saffron forces who wanted to make Karnataka a saffron laboratory after Gujarat, especially in Baba Budhangiri in Chikmaglur, where they tried to grab a Muslim shrine where Hindus also perform poojas. Gauri helped many comrades to come overground in Komu Souhartha Vedike (Communal Harmony Forum) and came into national prominence when this Forum took out a 10,000 strong march against the BJP’s designs in Baba Bhudangiri. Komu Souhartha Vedike was at the forefront of anti-communalism during attacks on Christians, Mangalore riots, etc. That became a very effective rainbow platform for street resistance against the Sangh Parivar where diverse forces joined.

She also engaged leaders like Siddaramaiah at the individual level and during the BJP regime when Siddaramaiah took out a Bangalore to Bellari march against illegal mining by the Reddy Brothers, she also joined the march and her paper vigorously crusaded against the mining mafia. Some people later interpreted her access to Siddaramaiah as her soft corner towards the Congress and attributed it to her Lohiaite political legacy. While making it clear that the RSS-BJP was her main target, she silenced her critics by going hammer and tongs against H.D. Shivkumar, now a Minister in Siddaramaih’s Cabinet, as he was involved in illegal granite mining and she exposed the granite mafia also aligned with the Congress. Her paper further exposed the real estate mafia of K.J. George, a Congress Minister. She criticised Siddaramaiah when he celebrated Tipu Jayanti to woo Muslims along soft communal lines and she argued that the secular state had no business organising jayantis for votebank politics.

She came into greater prominence when she was at the forefront of the rsistance to the Sri Rama Sene of Promod Muthalik when his goons attacked girls in a Mangalore bar. She boldly challenged him right there in Mangalore.

Many chitpavan Brahmins in Maharashtra and many conservative Brahmins in Karnataka are getting militarised as saffron extremists. One may recall that Bhatkal alone produced half-a-dozen saffron terrorists and there was a team of saffron extremists near Dharwad also. Kalburgi was targeted because, as a scholar, he was exposing orthodox Hinduism and Gauri was targeted because she was objectively emerging as the foremost anti-fascist civil society pillar in Karnataka.

Unfortunately, she remained a bit aloof from the organised Left, partly because the organised Left in Karnataka was a victim of some kind of “labourism”, confinement to small trade unions in Bangalore, and looked at Komu Souhartha Vedike with suspicion and jealousy and did not join their initiatives. Some Left activists, however, thought that her aloofness was because of her Lohiaite legacy and interaction with Maoist Saket in her formative days. Whatever it was, she had proved that she had no bias against the Left when it came to assisting Kanhaiya and Shehla Rashid, knowing well about their Leftist background. The national leaders of the organised Left should have overcome their own bias and interacted with her to dissolve this aloofness as it was not possible for local trade unionist leaders to exert any influence on such a remarkable personality with vastly wider democratic concerns.

When she wrote against the irregularities of a BJP MP and another BJP leader in 2008, in two cases of defamation, they managed to get her convicted for six months in jail. She got a conditional bail but had to stay in Dharwad for a couple of months and she used this stay to overcome the spatial chasm between Dharward-centred North Karnataka progressives and the Bangalore-Mysore-centred Old Mysore State progressives. She became a bridge linking them and took a leading role in the campaign for justice to Kalburgi. Even on August 30, three days before she was killed, she organised a hall meeting to demand nabbing the killers of Kalburgi. Because of her exposure to the radical activist circles in Delhi, she had a pan-Indian profile and if there was an all-India civil liberties meet, despite her pressing engagements, she would take the morning flight to Delhi, attend the programme, and return by the evening flight to Bangalore, spending money from her own pocket.

She had a deep humanist side. When poor Tamil migrant labourers were displaced in Bangalore slums due to the Cauvery riots, she arranged food and clothes for them. She did the same to the victims of every communal riot. She was at the forefront of performing several inter-caste and inter-religious marriages.

A radical Christian priest emotionally recalled to this writer how just one week before her killing, in an hour-long conversation with him and another Dalit-Christian activist, she was underlining the need for Dalits, minorities and the Left to come together to resist fascism.

She was also in some financial difficulty. Another mutual friend recalled that she told him she was encashing her last LIC policy to give Rs. 1 lakh to her ‘son’ Kanhaiya to move around and organise the youth against the fascists in different States!

And that gives an idea about this radical “Mother”!

The author is a journalist and social activist.

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