The scenario set in with the outrageous murder of Gauri Lankesh is fraught with unprecedented social costs and perilous political consequences. Gauri today is much more than a journalist for a country of 1.3 billion people. We are made to believe, through an orchestrated propaganda, that the system in place under the leadership of Narendra Modi is not responsible for the gruesome murder and, if any government is accountable, it is the Karnataka State Government which is directly handling the law and order machinery. The fact that the ruling dispensation in Bengaluru is led by the Congress party reinforces the contention of the Sangh Parivar that Gauri should have been provided with adequate security by the State Government had she been under any threat. To lend credence to this argument, the Parivar leaders even forlornly used the statement of Gauri’s brother—bringing in a ‘possible role’ of Naxalites in the aftermath of her involvement in the process of setting a new track for enabling them to take a non-violent path. Plausibly, not many would buy such an argument insofar as the history of violence resorted to by them does not have an episode of a media person being killed for such a role. Then the culprits are obviously beyond (or beneath) such stories of ‘vengeance.’
Seldom do we figure out that such politics of hate and retribution has an extra-systemic dimension, operating across the state-civil society and the political-cultural boundaries. Wherever an ultra-right political dispensation is in power, or in the process of mobilizing masses towards a project of cultural assimilation and political regimentation, such acts of murder are important messages—in terms of transmitting forebodings, as the price of ‘over’ freedom.
One may wonder if such a project is feasible or sustainable in a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural society like India. Even the ideology of Hindutva cannot be politically realized through a process of cultural assimilation and political annihilation given the deepening complexities and burgeoning contradictions the system inherently sustains. Negotiating with every contradiction and complex situation is all that no easy given the historical condition of each site. The greatest challenge that the Parivar politics faces today is how to manage these macro-micro realities without harming each other’s representations—from a small fringe group at a local level to the Union Government at the national level.
One may not technically argue that India has a fascist dispensation in New Delhi (and several states too)—ruling with a Hindutva agenda of assimilation and annihilation. The reason is, India still has a liberal Constitution albeit it does not explicitly distinguish between a ‘democratic’ system and an ‘authoritarian’ one—as is the case with constitutions of other countries—and it does not make any distinction between ideologies. Much of what we infer from and critically engage with Part-III and Part-IV of the Constitution represent, by and large, the matrix of a liberal, democratic and egalitarian value system. Yet they are negotiable from time to time, and subject to the pressures of political conditions and legal/juridical interpretations (as we experienced it under the Emergency days). India also had no difficulty in moving away from the ‘welfare-state’ model to a ‘neoliberal-minimum-state’ model under the same Constitution (who cares ‘egalitarianism’ as one of the goals enshrined in the ‘Directive Principles’ while getting increasingly obsessed with the issues of uniform civil code?).
The message is palpable enough. The Sangh Parivar dispensation is less concerned about the Constitution, and its values and promises. Rather its politics needs only symbols and icons as long as they serve the ultimate cause of a mobilized system with political power in hand—and whoever comes in the way will be eliminated with formal or informal machineries of annihilation. However, this project of both intimidation and annihilation needs to be executed with utmost care and confidence. Mass killings (as it happened in Gujarat) cannot be experimented, still in other parts of the country without a loss of face. The NDA dispensation is also aware of the importance of a critical message flow (of a stigmatized image) across the global space, even as Prime Minister Modi has been struggling to recoup his image in the post-Gujarat carnage scenario. Hence the question of ‘events’ and ‘images’ is critical in the negotiating spaces of the Sangh Parivar.
What surely worries the Parivar project executioners today is the role of intellectuals and media which they know are crucial in challenging the ideological apparatus of Hindutva. In spite of a long trajectory of its working with militant/militarized social engineering, the Parivar terribly lacks a substantive intellectual tradition. Its intrusion into academic-cultural institutions has not brought forth any meaningful qualitative payoffs other than a mere proliferation of parivarists in office. Why they fear media, intellectuals and academics is self-explanatory. Surely, the Parivar has an empty vision of politics and society and, therefore, it cannot survive without rhetoric and bragging, threats and intimidation.
U.R. Ananthamurthy once said that we have to “hide our integrity, like we hide our love.” Have we reached that stage when people with some integrity and honesty are destined to take refuge in caves of silence? The world’s ‘largest democracy’ is apparently sliding itself into a land of unfreedom. A mere claim of having a massive electorate does not entitle to call itself as ‘democratic’ unless it has other sustainable virtues of democracy. If freedom is the first (and the worst) casualty of the system, it is nothing short of a moribund polity with characteristic features of authoritarianism, if not fascism. Gauri Lankesh’s brutal murder is a clear indication that the custodians of this Republic are party to the very process of serial killings of those stood for freedom and democracy. We need to remind ourselves that freedom is not the magnanimity of any political party or social forces, but the end result of a long process of struggle and sacrifice. Silencing the voices of freedom is a project of orchestrated drive for false gods and symbols.
The author is Professor, School of International Relations and Politics, Mahatma Gandhi University, Kerala. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org