I was at a TV studio for a debate when the news of the murder of senior journalist Gauri Lankesh broke, as we took our seats, we were informed by the anchor that the topic of discussion had changed due to this breaking story. The details started trickling in, the lady lived alone and had been accosted outside her home and shot dead at close range. There were very few details available at this time, but for the crime itself and the fact that some were referring to her as a person of a far left ideological persuasion. As we launched into the debate, I was surprised to hear a panelist state with absolute clarity that the “right wing” was responsible for the murder. It had been less than two hours since the story broke and fragmented bits of information were coming in. The police or any official spokesperson was still to speak on the crime. How was this conclusion reached?
During the telecast the media reported that there was CCTV coverage of the area and this gave some hope that the culprits could be nabbed soon. But outside the studio the position that “the right wing did it” was gaining steam. This wasn’t a case of trolls or random people alleging this but even verified handles and senior journalists were lending credence to this theory. The next day the vice president of the Congress, Rahul Gandhi, who most would consider an influencer in some measure, especially over chief minister Siddaramaiah, the man whose government would oversee the murder investigation, blamed the BJP and RSS. The blame game began again, it had been less than 24 hours since the vile act and the police was in the preliminary stages of the investigation but the murderers were decided.
A few weeks ago I had written on the increase in the murders of RSS and BJP activists across the country since 2014, and had cautioned against hate speech and terms like “fascist” that provided moral sanction to these acts, especially when validated by influencers. Here it was happening again, even before there was any concrete evidence or arrest — hate by premature accusations was being drummed up against one side. As I write this I do not know who is responsible for this heinous crime, but I do know it is premature to blame anyone — the right wing or the left wing or the Naxals. I also know that this accusation has set the template for further murders, because whatever be the outcome of the investigation, there are those who are violent and already convinced by the tweets from verified handles, comments by senior leaders of political parties and commentary blaming “the right”.
A few months ago a supporter of Bernie Sanders went out and shot at a group of republican members of the house at a baseball game in Virginia. The instant response from the congressmen who had been targeted in the attack and the media was to dial back on the hate speech, the chief whip was still battling for his life in a hospital. It was a mature response during a polarised time especially when the identity of the assailant was known and he belonged to an opposing ideological position, an irresponsible utterance could trigger violence.
The same polarisation exists in our midst today, however the need to declare guilt without proof is chilling and motivated especially when the identity of the murderer is unknown. There is always the charge of “whataboutery” when one raises the plight of victims from “the right” (a far larger number) of ideological intolerance, but since they rarely get the attention it is incumbent that when the issue is finally being discussed (at this scale) to point out that in the last few years there have been multiple killings of BJP and RSS swayamsevaks in Karnataka as in other parts of the country. A few weeks ago, Sharath, a young man from Bantwal, was killed outside his laundromat by a group of men who lay in wait of him.
In October 2016 Rudresh, a swayamsevak in his RSS uniform was hacked to death as he rode through Shivaji Nagar in Bangalore. The fact that he was easily identifiable with the RSS because of his outfit cannot be discounted and points directly to a hate crime. Subsequent investigations revealed that the killers had been trained to carry out the execution. Both of these killings (two amongst many others) were as much hit jobs as any other. However, there was little outrage or contemplation. Not only murders but also victimhood is assigned a priority on the basis of ideological hue and elitist selective outrage. Many including regional language media have also rightly pointed out the lack of outrage when other journalists including 32 in Assam have been killed since 1987. Why was Jogendra Singh, a Hindi language reporter from UP, who was burnt alive (2015) and mustered enough strength to name a politician in his dying declaration not a cause for protest and justice?
These are the questions that should be asked and not if PM Modi will unfollow a handle on twitter that was abusive or whether Rahul Gandhi will unfollow his advisor and senior Congress party leader Digvijay Singh for his abusive tweet. If we are to resolve issues, we must start by asking the right questions and not trying to impose the “right” answers to fit a narrative.
(Advaita Kala is a screenwriter and a columnist)