Railing Against India’s Right-Wing Nationalism Was a Calling. It Was Also a Death Sentence.

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Railing Against India’s Right-Wing Nationalism Was a Calling. It Was Also a Death Sentence.

The more established Hindutva organizations, including the R.S.S. (the Hindu-nationalist paramilitary group) and B.J.P., have tried to distance themselves from such groups and have raised legal complaints against those who have tried to connect them to violence perpetrated by the Hindutva fringe. In February, a magistrate ruled that Rahul Gandhi, the president of the Congress Party, would stand trial for defamation for implying a link between the R.S.S. and Lankesh’s murder.

Late one night I met with N.P. Amruthesh, the lawyer for four of the accused men, who is himself a proud follower of the Sanatan Sanstha. An affable man, seemingly indifferent to appearances, he wore a worn orange dhoti and white shirt with a blue ink stain billowing out beneath the pocket. While we spoke, a news segment about Lankesh’s case appeared on his TV: The R.S.S., it was reported, had issued a statement saying that the latest man arrested, Mohan Nayak, who is not represented by Amruthesh, was not a member of the organization. Amruthesh laughed. “In my opinion, personal opinion, that is not correct,” he said. “When any person is working for Hindutva, it is your duty to give protection to that person. … They’re claiming that he’s not our member, but I came to know that he always goes to R.S.S. activities and everything. These organizations, they don’t want to take the responsibility.” Such disavowals, he said, were bad for morale.

Narendra Modi, meanwhile, has kept his silence. He has never publicly mentioned Lankesh’s name or referred to her case. “Why should Prime Minister Modi react?” Muthalik, the Sri Ram Sene leader, said in a public speech. “Do you expect Modi to respond every time a dog dies in Karnataka?”

Perhaps the most extraordinary discovery the police have made in their investigation of Lankesh’s murder is a detailed diary recovered from the home of a leading suspect. In it were two lists, ostensibly of people the conspirators wanted dead, reportedly including Veerabhadra Chennamalla, a liberal-minded Hindu priest, and K.S. Bhagavan, an outspokenly atheist Shakespeare scholar. First on one of the lists was Girish Karnad, who is perhaps the greatest living Kannada playwright. All have been particularly forthright in their criticism of Hindutva.

Second on one list was Lankesh. In the months since she was shot, some of her friends and colleagues have grown more cautious about what they write and say and post to social media, even as this year’s unusually fraught and uncertain Election Day approaches. Others have found themselves speaking out almost compulsively where they wouldn’t have before. Prakash Raj, a popular film actor and friend of Lankesh’s who had previously been quiet on politics, is now running for office on what could be called the Gauri platform. “When we buried Gauri, we were actually sowing her,” he said at a literary festival in January. “They thought she could be silenced, but she lives through us. And if I end up in the Parliament, it will be Gauri’s voice that will be heard there.” When the B.J.P. came to national power in the past, it seemed to have won despite its ideology, campaigning on less divisive issues. But this year’s election feels like a referendum on Hindutva: Is India primarily a country for Hindus, or, as Lankesh insisted, for everyone who’s Indian?

The last two people to have a real conversation with Lankesh were two old friends, Madhu Bhushan and Kalpana Chakravarthy, who dropped by the newspaper office on the afternoon of the day she was murdered to search the archive of Lankesh Patrike, her father’s newspaper, for poems that Chakravarthy’s husband used to submit. They ended up sitting and talking for two and a half hours, as if time had stopped and none of them had anything to do, even though Lankesh’s paper was supposed to go to press the next day.

I met Bhushan, a feminist activist, four months later at Hotel Chalukya, whose restaurant is famous for its big, red triangular dosas. As she ate, she marveled at the vitality, the appetite for life and fight and fun that Lankesh had displayed just hours before she died. I asked what they talked about. “What didn’t we talk about?” Bhushan said. “It was an incredible conversation. We were catching up on 20 years.” They talked about their shared college days, about the era of P. Lankesh, but most of all, “nice, juicy gossip.” Friends had been urging Lankesh to get police protection, but Bhushan recalled Lankesh’s telling her: “I’ve had one marriage. I don’t need a policeman who will replace my husband.”

They talked and laughed until around 6 p.m. As I often saw when Lankesh’s friends spoke of her, Bhushan’s eyes glowed as she recounted the time she spent with her, as though the pleasure of her company still lingered. “She was a very, very genuine human being,” she said. “I guess that’s the most radical thing one can be.”/•/

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