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Gauri Lankesh murder: Collateral damage in Karnataka's heated political climate?

Ramakrishna Upadhya | Updated on: 6 September 2017, 9:57 IST

Senior journalist and social activist Gauri Lankesh was shot dead by unknown assailants in Bengaluru on Tuesday night. She was 55.

Coming in the wake of the third death anniversary of well-known writer Prof MM Kalburgi – whose murder still remains unsolved – the killing of Lankesh has vitiated the political atmosphere in poll-bound Karnataka.

In cold blood

The veteran journalist was gunned down outside her home in Rajarajeshwari Nagar in south Bengaluru around 8:10 PM when she exited her car to open the gate of her house.
Police suspect that there were at least three masked assailants – two persons possibly followed her on a bike, while one lay in wait near her house – who fired at least seven bullets at Lankesh.

She reportedly took two bullets to her chest and one to the head.

She reportedly took two bullets to her chest and one to the head, collapsing in a pool of blood on the verandah. On hearing the gun shots, some neighbours came out, saw the murder and reported it to the police. The assailants had fled the scene under the cover of darkness.

One of the most high-profile murders in recent years, the incident has thoroughly shaken the peace-loving citizens of Bengaluru, seemingly trapped in the political crossfire between the two major political parties – BJP and Congress.

Home Minister R Ramalinga Reddy, who visited the spot, said three police teams had been formed to investigate the murder, and the police had gathered CCTV footage from two cameras installed at Lankesh’s house and some other street cameras. He expressed confidence that the culprits would be arrested soon.   

The police immediately laid naka bandi at all exit points from the city, hoping to nab the culprits before they could escape.

Playing politics

The cold-blooded murder of a fiercely independent and outspoken woman journalist – a bitter critic of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP ever since the NDA government came to power in May 2014 – has sent shockwaves through the state.

As sporadic protests erupted around the state condemning the killing, it immediately fuelled a fierce debate about whether ideological differences between the Congress and the BJP had claimed a hapless victim in the rising political temperature ahead of the Assembly elections due in April next year.

Lankesh was a fierce critic of the Modi government ever since it came to power in 2014.

The news of the murder came even as the BJP leaders and workers courted arrests in several parts of the state to protest against the government’s decision to prevent a ‘bike rally’ to trouble-torn Mangaluru which has witnessed a spate of communal killings in recent months.
 
Coming fresh on the heels of last evening's news – the Supreme Court had ordered a CBI inquiry into the death of a police officer last year, who, hours before his alleged suicide, had accused then Home Minister KJ George of harassing him – the BJP demanded the immediate resignation of George.

Fearless

Lankesh, the daughter of the late P Lankesh, a famous Kannada writer, was the editor of a weekly Kannada tabloid, Gauri Lankesh Patrike, continuing her illustrious father’s legacy. She also worked for about two decades in national publications such as Sunday and The Times of India.

In recent years, Gauri Lankesh had turned to social activism, identifying herself with groups that espoused the cause of the Naxalites, who were active in the coastal and Malnad regions.

She had visited their hideouts on a few occasions and the Siddaramaiah government was keen on utilising her services to bring them back into the mainstream. She had been provided with an office in the state secretariat, Vidhana Soudha, though she hardly visited it.

An associate of Lankesh's claimed she had confessed to receiving death threats.

Gauri Lankesh loved to identify herself with the Leftist movements and leaders, regularly using social media to attack the Modi government. But she was sportive enough to receive criticism from ‘Modi bhakts’ who accused her of being soft on the Congress leaders.

Sources close to her had recently said that she faced immense financial problems in continuing the publication of Patrike. But she never compromised on integrity and her commitment to quality journalism.

She faced a few defamation cases, including one from former state BJP president Prahlad Joshi which saw her convicted for six months in a defamation suit, but she never wavered from her ideological stand.

As her writings and activities antagonised some extremist groups, including the right wing organisations and splinter groups within the Naxals, the police will have to look at every possible angle to solve the murder case.

Though BT Lalitha Naik, a writer and close associate of Gauri Lankesh, claimed that Lankesh had spoken of receiving threatening calls over the last one month, Director General of Police RK Datta said Lankesh had recently met him in relation to other matters, but claims she never mentioned anything about receiving threats.

Why kill someone who is so open to discussion?

In the end, I must confess that Gauri Lankesh had been a dear colleague of mine at the Ananda Bazar Patrika office in Bengaluru for about eight years in the 1990s, and she was a thoroughly professional journalist with a great flair for writing.

We had our differences of opinion and argued passionately about our respective stands, but that never came in the way of a warm and friendly relationship that lasted more than three decades.

My sincere question is this: If any person/s disagreed with Gauri Lankesh’s writings and political stand, they could have argued with her for hours together, as she was always open to such arguments and debates.

So, why kill her in the goriest manner? I can’t find an answer.

First published: 6 September 2017, 9:57 IST
 
Ramakrishna Upadhya @rkupadhya9

Ramakrishna Upadhya is a senior journalist based in Bangalore, currently working with TV9. Earlier, he was with Deccan Herald, The Telegraph and The Indian Express.

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