In the days of Nathuram Godse, things were straightforward and honest. When he shot Mahatma Gandhi there was no attempt to hide his identity. The courage of his conviction emboldened him to say bluntly, “I did fire the shots... I do not desire any mercy to be shown to me.” His final statement before the court was an eloquent defence of the Hindutva view of history.
Courage of conviction similar to Godse’s was seen again in 1984 when Beant Singh and Satwant Singh shot Indira Gandhi dead. They were her bodyguards, professionally committed to protect her. But their ideological commitment proved stronger. Again, there was no attempt to escape from responsibility. In fact, according to some reports, they shouted Sikh slogans as they fired their weapons. When Rajiv Gandhi was blown up by a bomb in 1991, it was known that the LTTE was behind it; soon after the horror they informally admitted it, too.
Times have changed and ideologically motivated killings are done these days in cowardly fashion. Godse and others were proud of their ideologies and therefore had no problem coming clean on their killings. Today’s ideologues are different. They are ready to use the violence demanded of them, but they lack the conviction to own it up. They kill in clandestine operations, then run away into the safety of darkness. In that darkness, obviously, hide protectors powerful enough to protect them. The protectors also are cowards who hide themselves.
Thus, the killers of Narendra Dabholkar in Pune have remained untraced since the murder in 2013. Three years after the event, CBI arrested ENT doctor Virendrasinh Tawade who is still in jail. But CBI suspects that the killers are Vinay Pawar and Sarang Akolkar. There is no trial yet and no answer to the question: Who killed Dabholkar?
Govind Pansare was shot in 2015 in Kolhapur and died four days later. Sameer Gaikwad was arrested seven months later. In June this year, he got bail. A Special Investigation Team took into custody Virendrasinh Tawade already in jail in the Dabholkar case. Vinay Pawar and Sarang Akolkar are also wanted in the Pansare murder case. Nearly three years after the event the question remains: Who killed Pansare?
Six months after Pansare was silenced, ideology-driven murderers turned their attention to Karnataka. They killed M M Kalburgi in Dharwad. That was on August 30, 2015. To this day neither Karnataka police nor CBI have been able to make a single arrest. The state’s authorities, evidently more incompetent than their counterparts in Maharashtra, cannot answer the question: Who killed Kalburgi?
Interestingly, though, there are some strange parallelisms among these unsolved murders.
All three victims were free thinkers and rationalists, opposed to conventional beliefs including religious. Dabholkar campaigned against superstitions. Pansare, a communist, carried on a war against caste. Kalburgi fought idol worship. On the other side, Tawade and Sameer Gaikwad were members of the Hindu right wing Sanatan Sanstha. Vinay Pawar was a friend of Gaikwad. Add to these interconnections the fact that all three killings were carried out by motorcycle riders. Two motorcyclists shot Dabholkar on a public road, two motorcyclists shot Pansare and his wife in their house, two motorcyclists entered Kalburgi’s house posing as students and shot him.
Two (or three) motorcyclists entered Gauri Lankesh’s compound and shot her. She, too, was a rationalist. She, too, opposed superstitions and conventional religious beliefs. As a journalist, she also had clear political views; she fought the very concept of Hindutva. This and the similarities with the earlier killings of rationalists have spread the impression that Gauri too was felled by Hindutva forces. Trollers strengthened the impression by suggesting that she deserved death for her anti-Hindu views.
Partisans turned the whole thing into a vicious political war on social media, indicating the depths to which bigotry has dragged the country. What is certain as of now is that India has become a dangerous place for independent thinkers. Even the barbarous practice of lynchings is condoned. Gauri was not as powerful an opinion maker as Kalburgi or Dabholkar. Even then she would not be allowed to live. Intolerance has reached levels that threaten India’s basic values. The outpouring of protests across the nation, sensational in itself, is reflective of a fear complex that has seized the people. Are we losing the dream? If Gauri’s killers are not punished, there will be more Gauris because assassins will feel safe in our system. Gauri herself will remain an exemplar—a journalist who was killed for her journalism.