Rahul Gandhi

The gruesome murder of Journalist Gauri Lankesh has sent shockwaves through India’s body politic. Assailants who pumped bullets into the body of the veteran scribe on Tuesday evening in Bengaluru have escaped. The Congress government in Karnataka has launched a probe by the Special Investigation Team, which will be headed by an IG-level officer.

Assuming, however, that Lankesh was indeed killed by right-wing forces, the underlying motive behind the murder seems to be intolerance that aims to crush dissent. Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi has held Prime Minister Narendra Modi responsible for creating “an atmosphere of intolerance” in India which, he claims, is causing a “serious problem”.

The assassination has triggered an explosion of outrage. Bike-riding killers fled the scene before they could be identified but a magnitude of voices in media and civil society believes that the murderers were members of right-wing forces.

Lankesh was an activist and a vocal critic of right-wing politics. She was recently sentenced to six months in jail for defaming two BJP leaders and was out on bail.

While the civil society and media rightfully erupts in anger against Lankesh’s killing, the same degree of outrage and anger is missing when the perpetrators of the crime are not right-wing forces. India is a particularly bad place for scribes.

Narendra Modi

The Gandhi scion is right about the fact that intolerance against dissent is a very big problem. But it is disingenuous to suggest that only one political party is responsible for it. Intolerance is a party-agnostic condition in Indian body politic and every political outfit is uncomfortable with dissent.

Part of the problem lies in the fact that in India, protest against suppression of dissent is held on the basis of ideology, not principle.

One wonders, though, why such prompt condemnation was missing in the case of journalist Rajdev Ranjan, who was shot dead in May 2016 in Siwan, or Shahjahanpur-based fearless journalist Jagendra Singh, who was burnt alive in June 2015 for daring to take on the establishment.

In Ranjan’s case, the CBI has named RJD strongman and ex-MP Mohammad Shahabuddin as an accused while former UP minister in Samajwadi Party government Ram Murti Verma was charged with the murder of Singh, according to The Times of India.

The CBI raids are conducted against promoters of a TV channel for alleged financial fraud but remain silent when scribes such as 35-year-old Dainik Bhaskar reporter Dharmendra Singh are shot dead in Bihar for taking on the stone-chips mafia, as reported in The New Indian Express.

These double standards take away from the edge of the protest against suppression of dissent and destroy the moral fibre of the fight. The movement for free speech and expression, in absence of fairness, degenerate into a political exercise.