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Stirring the political cauldron

Who is behind the assassination of journalist-crusader Gauri Lankesh? Or should we ask what is behind the murder? What ideology, religion, politics or rationale? There was a talk of the Naxalite hand in the early days after the killing – despite the fact that Gauri was a vociferous supporter of their cause. But this ideological motive is being ruled out after deep probing, which means the focus now turns to politics or, more precisely, the politics of religion and caste. The murder came as a shocking reminder in an already surcharged atmosphere vitiated by identity politics, which received a boost with the Karnataka government’s support for the demand to give Lingayats a separate religion tag.  This support was an open and unabashed wooing of the main support base of the BJP. Chief Minister Siddaramaiah began the subtle campaign by ordering the installation of the portrait of Lingayat guru Basavanna in all government offices in the state. After encouraging members of his Cabinet to voice the demand, he said he would be ready to recommend separate religious status for the Lingayats. After stoking that fire, the chief minister now says that the issue of the Lingayats’ religion status will not be an election issue. One wonders whether he will ensure this through a government order.


Game of oneupmanship 

In fact, the past six months have seen Siddaramaiah keeping one step ahead of the BJP’s chief ministerial candidate B S Yeddyurappa in a critical game of one-upmanship. In a surprise decision, he raked up the language issue and portrayed himself as an anti-Hindi champion over the signage in the metro stations. His followers even threatened to raid banks in search of Hindi circulars. In this cosmopolitan city, more residents understand Hindi than Kannada! But Siddaramaiah knows standing up to the BJP government at the Centre will please the party’s vice president. 

Outsmarted over the Lingayat issue, the BJP invented other grievances and decided to hold its show in its stronghold of the coastal districts. The topic of protest: the alleged killing of its activists in the Mangaluru belt and to demand the resignation of the ‘district minister.’ It planned to organise motorcycle rallies from different parts of the state to converge in Mangaluru. The government refused permission for the demonstrations and when the party decided to defy the order, it banned the protests. It sealed off Dakshina Kannada district and the BJP leaders were removed when they tried to take out a padayatra in Mangaluru. Unfortunately for the BJP, the rally became a no-show in the wake of the high-profile murder of Gauri Lankesh. 

The state assembly elections due in six to eight months has too much at stake for both the Congress and the BJP. Both fancy their chances. Now Siddaramaiah appears to have the edge, though Yeddyurappa is a trained warhorse. The latest dastardly murder of an activist will soon disappear from the public mind, despite attempts to keep the issue alive. The killings of scholar M M Kalburgi two years ago, of communist leader Govind Pansare and rationalist Narendra Dabholkar, all high profile, are yet to be solved. These are a blot on the government and political parties. There is little hope that the latest murder – will be solved, if at all. 

The disappearance of civility in public life and debates and the emergence of the politics of hate are a threat to democracy. As other countries have learned, the paid assassins who pull the trigger are a small fry and will remain untraced. It is their masters who must be brought to justice.

 – K V Krishnaswamy 

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