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Death for dissent and disbelief

Shoumojit Banerjee

SILENCING DISSENT: “The murder of Govind Pansare is being seen by as ‘a shameful blight’ on Maharashtra’s progressive tradition.” Picture shows the Dabbalawas of Maharashtra paying their tribute to Pansare.

PTI

SILENCING DISSENT: “The murder of Govind Pansare is being seen by as ‘a shameful blight’ on Maharashtra’s progressive tradition.” Picture shows the Dabbalawas of Maharashtra paying their tribute to Pansare.

Maharashtra’s prominent educational, social and cultural institutions have been insidiously infiltrated by forces of the Right that brook no pluralistic dissent

The shooting in Kolhapur, Maharashtra, of respected Communist leader and activist Govind Pansare and his wife, and Mr. Pansare’s consequent death five days later, witnessed a surge of righteous indignation by political leaders on both sides of the spectrum. An angry regional language press too proclaimed the dastardly deed as “a shameful blight” on Maharashtra’s progressive tradition. This echoed Mr. Pansare’s own views — he famously said during one of his cautionary speeches once that “the notion of a progressive Maharashtra was illusory” today.

Parallels have been drawn on the modus operandi in Mr. Pansare’s shooting and the murder of rationalist Narendra Dabholkar in Pune in August 2013, by left-leaning activists, progressive educationists and secular thinkers alike. The frightening coincidences in the killings of two of Maharashtra’s most respected progressives, in a space of just 18 months, has brought the ideological fissures between the State’s right wing and left wing into sharp relief — a conflict that harks back to the 1940s.

The State’s secular progressives observe that both killings were possible only in a climate of extreme ideas fuelled by the infiltration and dominance of right-wing groups in Maharashtra’s educational and cultural institutions.

Cradle of Hindu nationalismAfter all, western Maharashtra, especially Pune and Sangli, have been the bedrock of Brahmin conservatism and the cradle of Hindu nationalism, as manifested in the ideas of V.D. Savarkar, which in turn impressed Nathuram Godse to murder Mahatma Gandhi. The Nagpur division in the eastern part of the State has been the wellspring of the ideas of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh chief M.S. Golwalkar.

Since the formation of Maharashtra in 1960 till the 2014 Assembly elections, the State, barring the brief interlude of a right-wing Shiv Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party government in 1995-1999, has always had a Congress Chief Minister, the first being Yashwantrao Chavan.

But instead of the permeation of a secular and progressive temper, the State’s prominent educational, social and cultural institutions in reality have been insidiously infiltrated by forces of the Right that brook no pluralistic dissent.

“All eminent higher educational institutes in Pune — be it the Deccan Education Society or the Maharashtra Education Society — have, to an extent, veered towards the ideology of the RSS,” says Ajit Abhyankar, senior leader, Communist Party of India (Marxist).

Acknowledging the impotency of the Left in the State, he rues that socialist ideals and values that once held sway in the Maharashtra of the 1960s, with its vibrant trade union movement, holds no attraction today for the aspirational classes in an industrialised and technologically advanced Maharashtra, especially in its western part.

“Whereas earlier Congress leaders upheld constitutional rights as an article of faith, the Congress party’s descent into crass vote bank politics since the 1980s has created a void in the State and the country in which the right-wing RSS brigade and its affiliates have stepped in full force,” says Mr. Abhyankar.

This has been compounded by the failure of the Congress and the Left in Maharashtra to come up with a concrete agenda on vital issues like education, remarks socialist thinker Arvind Gupta.

“It is not as if the State has not been a melting pot of ideas. Quite the contrary, indeed, when one looks at the sheer number of great reformers — from Phule to Hamid Dalwai — that Maharashtra has produced.” Mr. Gupta says. The Sangh-affiliated science organisation Vijnana Bharati, which was set up in 1991, was a case in point, he said.

But love or hate the RSS, its ideological detractors admit that it has provided the most disciplined cadre to instil their doctrine in economic, social and cultural thought centres across the State.

“In comparison, the Centre-Left political parties have failed to come up with similar programmes. In such a climate, the State’s impressionable youth have fallen prey to the doctrine of the extreme Right, which is increasingly subscribing to the cult of violence in combating its detractors and getting away with impunity as in the case of Dr. Dabholkar and Govind Pansare,” Mr. Gupta said.

In the last decade, Pune has witnessed a spree of right-wing violence on persons or institutions with contrarian progressive thoughts, book ended by the vandalism of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute (BORI) in 2004 and Mr. Pansare’s killing.

In a perverse twist, the extreme right wing Sambhaji Brigade, which claimed responsibility for the BORI incident, projected itself as championing Maharashtra’s “progressive causes.”

Mr. Pansare ruffled the feathers of right-wing groups when he published his best-selling pamphlet in Marathi, “Shivaji kon hota,” (Who was Shivaji?), emphasising the Muslim contribution in Shivaji’s Maharashtra. The booklet sold more than a lakh copies.

“He was a tireless spokesman against the eulogising of Godse and was forever cautioning against the Godse cult taking root among impressionable minds. His speeches naturally evoked the ire of right-wing groups who tried their best to prevent them,” said CPI leader Bhalchandra Kango.

Government’s roleActivist Hamid Dabholkar, son of Narendra Dabholkar, observes that the government in Maharashtra has ceased to function as a proactive political entity in recent decades and has been reduced to playing the role of a policeman between two ideologically warring sides.

He rues the apathy of the educated middle classes in Maharashtra, trenchantly remarking that a majority of the so-called thinking classes first heard of the names of Dr. Dabholkar and Mr. Pansare only after they were shot.

“Their detachment from critical issues is palpable and is compounded as a result of a subtle and dangerous indoctrination that advocates the repression of progressive thinkers,” he says. Not many people care about the failure of investigating agencies to trace the killers of Dr. Dabholkar, even a year and a half after he was killed, he notes.

As the police continue grilling hundreds of suspects, the question asked by most secular progressives today, says Mr. Dabholkar, is whether Maharashtra even deserves a Narendra Dabholkar or a Govind Pansare.

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