The murder of a journalist is never just another murder. So I mourn the death of Gauri Lankesh with those who lit candles in her memory and made passionate speeches in public meetings. Where I part company with these mourners is when they turn her horrible murder into a political weapon to attack their old enemy, the RSS. Rahul Gandhi led the charge by blaming the RSS within hours of her murder. Those who do not believe in the RSS ideology, he said, are “beaten, attacked and even killed”. Soon, leftist journalists, politicians and students joined the clamour saying, as they have since the day Narendra Modi became Prime Minister, that India is now a country where tolerance and dissidence no longer exist.
The truth is that Modi is criticised daily in our newspapers, on social media and on television. But, the narrative that he represents the end of dissent and democracy began the day after he won the election. Let me quote the first line of an article published in this newspaper on May 17, 2014. ‘Darkness descends. The idea of India gutters. The light that lit our freedom struggle and so defined the nature of our nationhood is going out.’ This writer was the man who declared Modi unfit to lead India because he was just a ‘chaiwallah’. Would he have dared speak of Congress leaders in such derogatory fashion? What has definitely changed since Modi became Prime Minister is that the importance of leftists has slowly diminished. Their control was absolute for decades. In the Seventies, when I cut my journalistic teeth, leftist ideology reigned over newspaper offices, literature, poetry, on university campuses and in Bollywood. It continues to prevail politically so that ‘right wing’ politicians still identify themselves as socialists. And so far Modi’s economic vision is based on the idea that the State will control the levers of economic and social change. This is not very different to the Nehruvian model of development. But, the leftists are deeply insecure as I discovered from a critique of a column I wrote about a visit to JNU recently.
The critique by two JNU professors appeared in this newspaper last Tuesday. It was filled with the sort of personal comments that made me cut short a conversation I tried to have with teachers in JNU last month. So a joke I made about fearing being stoned to death was described as being in the ‘nature of a rant’. My talk was ‘largely vacuous’ and I was accused of being ‘bowled over’ by Davos. On the points I made at JNU, they said nothing. Does this show ideological insecurity? I think so and this is why I give you today a précis of my JNU talk. You decide if I was right or wrong.
In my talk I said that socialism had failed in India at every level. Politically it has failed because it has turned nearly every political party into a private limited company and filled Parliament with the heirs of political families. Economically it has failed because India has every reason to be a very rich country and has been held back by socialist economic policies. Socially it has failed because in the vast hinterland of rural India, caste and untouchability continue to exist. As someone who believes that it is the primary responsibility of the State to provide decent schools, hospitals and sanitation, I made the point that even in these areas Nehruvian socialism had failed. It was on all these points that I would have liked to hear the views of the two JNU professors. Instead I got vicious personal remarks.
Leftists in India are so insecure about their views that in their public forums we have almost never heard the collapse of the Soviet Union discussed or the capitalist nature of the Chinese economy. It would be fascinating to hear what Indian admirers of China and the former Soviet Union have to say about the way in which the sons and daughters of former communist party leaders have risen to become oligarchs. But, these are things that are not discussed in the forums of our communists and socialists. They live in the past so completely that India has to be the only country left where pictures of Comrade Stalin still decorate political party offices.
It is this insecurity about their views that cause leftists of varying hue to turn even a horrible murder into a weapon to fight their ideological enemies. The only real tribute that anyone can pay Gauri Lankesh is to force the Karnataka government to do everything in its power to identify and punish her killers at the earliest. It compounds the tragedy of her terrible death that the only people who are demanding this are her immediate family. Her supporters have defiled her memory by weaponising her murder.