EPeak Daily

Dissent and murder in India

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Is dissent dying in the world’s largest democracy? In my Wall Street Journal column this week, I look at the murder of Gauri Lankesh, a crusading editor who was shot outside her home in Bangalore last week. Is this India’s Anna Politkovskaya moment, when a journalist’s shocking murder marks an authoritarian turn for her country?

People hold placards and candles during a vigil for Gauri Lankesh, a senior Indian journalist shot dead outside her home on Tuesday by unidentified assailants. September 6, 2017. REUTERS/Amit Dave

While we still don’t know who killed Lankesh, the fact that she was an outspoken critic of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party has sent shock waves through the country. Journalists, intellectuals and activists have led protests in multiple cities.

According to the prominent historian Ramachandra Guha, “there is little question that the ruling dispensation has enabled a climate of hate and suspicion that makes such targeted killings of writers and scholars possible.” The novelist Shashi Deshpande asks: Are Indians “now living in a country where people are killed because of their ideology, their beliefs?”

It is easy to dismiss these concerns as somewhat overwrought. For starters, while we know that Lankesh loathed the BJP we do not know if this got her killed. As I have argued before, India is not Russia or Turkey, let alone China. If you set about it, you could probably fill a stadium (at least a small one), with published critics of Modi and the BJP.

But this does not mean that fears about the direction in which India is headed should simply be dismissed as the out-of-touch ravings of a privileged elite who never liked the prime minister or his party to begin with. By refusing to address the anxieties of his critics, Modi is complicit in fanning them. Ultimately, this is the main political lesson of the tragic murder of Gauri Lankesh. If it goes unheeded, worries about India will continue to grow.

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