Gauri Lankesh's murder underlines a threat to India
Political parties have done very little to reinstate the secular character of universities and schools.
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The political assassinations of prominent rationalists and secularists such as Narendra Dabholkar, MM Kalburgi and Govind Pansare were not made part of an unrelenting campaign, though this issue was raised repeatedly in some areas, spasmodically in others.
And then two days ago, secular and outspoken journalist Gauri Lankesh was shot dead. The Karnataka Police found that the bullets that killed Gauri, were fired by the same type of weapon that was used to kill Dadholkar, Kalburgi and Pansare. This was a 7.65mm countrymade revolver. (The Indian Express, September 7). The concentrated and targeted killing of four secularists can only be a carefully planned and executed attack.
What does this indicate and what does recent history tell us?
There has been much talk about fascism in India for decades. From June 1975 to March 1977, lndira and Sanjay Gandhi were called fascists over the minute but ham-handed censorship of the press.
Jaya Prakash Narayan (JP) led a movement against corruption, demonising Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, who had refused to resign from her office over violation of election rules, and was thereby liable to be barred for six years from contesting for a Lok Sabha seat. Using an ambiguous decision from the Supreme Court, she stuck to power.
The Supreme Court headed by Chief Justice of India Y Chandrachud, ruled that the right of habeous corpus could not prevail during the National Emergency. The poor were forcibly herded out by the Congress regime that wanted to "prettify" the capital. Poor Muslim residents were driven out from the city. To control the population growth, tens of thousands of mainly poor people in urban and rural areas were forcibly sterilised. The much-loved singer, Kishore Kumar, who refused to sing in support of sterilisation, was banned from public media.
Gauri Lankesh was shot at her doorstep.
When JP ironically told his supporters who were accused by the CPI, which was then supporting Emergency, that if the sangh parivar was fascists, he too was fascist. The CPI took him at his word and accused JP of being fascist. Many such strange things happened. The sum total of the criticism of the Emergency was that it was widely considered by non-partisan people as brazenly authoritarian, if not fascist.
Unfortunately, the Janata government that followed the post-Emergency General Elections in 1977, was an absolute disaster, bringing back the Congress.
Unfortunately, the Janata Party imploded and among other developments the Jana Sangh was renamed Bhartiya Janata Party. After the Janata Party collapsed due to internal fissures, Indira Gandhi-led Congress returned to power. The term fascism was used much less. But the spate of communal riots that followed including the Bhagalpur and Meerut/Hashimpura riots of 1987, in which the Congress was implicated, apart from numerous riots in which the BJP was involved, led to multiple accusations of fascism.
Communalism against minorities, including the post-Babri demolition, riots in which both the sangh and PV Narasimha Rao government were involved, became the benchmark for fascism.
As several secular activists and scholars have repeatedly pointed out, Right Wing authoritarianism is not an equivalent of fascism. It may have as a section of the Left argues, "fascistic" tendencies but that is yet to be conclusively decided by Indian/foreign scholars and activists. There are, however, increasingly worrying signs. Prominent and outstanding secular universities such as JNU, University of Hyderabad and Allahabad University are under sustained attack.
The rules enshrined in the parliamentary acts of these universities are flouted by vice chancellors nominated by the NDA government.
Sangh members and sympathisers are being brought in by hook or crook in order to de-secularise universities.
The secular parties, including the largest secular party Congress, have done very little to reinstate the secular character of the universities and schools. An increasing number of school textbooks have become a regurgitation of sangh history, politics and culture.
The sangh claims a major role in the national movement, which was exposed in the post-Independence period by numerous scholars. But many secular states are yet to update their social science textbooks.
It is difficult to deny that the threats and attacks on secularism and rationalists are growing. Democracy is under threat.