WHEN the journalist Gauri Lankesh was killed on September 5, 2017, her ex-husband, Chidanand Rajghatta, a long-time Washington correspondent of The Times of India, wrote a heartfelt tribute titled “Gauri Lankesh: Amazing Grace” on social media. The book under review reads like an extended version of that requiem and seeks to locate the versatile engagements of Gauri Lankesh’s activism and journalism with the rise of an illiberal India. Rajghatta’s friendship with Gauri Lankesh extended for more than three decades, during which they were also married for five years. This has provided Rajghatta a vantage position to write a book that sometimes reads like a memoir.
Rajghatta dwells on Gauri Lankesh’s formative years to give an insight into how she became the pugnacious fighter that she was. Through these expositions, he also acknowledges the differences in their world views. Rajghatta is a centrist as far as his political views are concerned, valuing a more nuanced form of journalism. Gauri Lankesh had moved left of centre politically. Also, as a foreign correspondent, he developed a broader “globalist” perspective on issues in contrast to Gauri Lankesh’s focus on the “local” in her work.
Both Rajghatta and Gauri Lankesh were journalists in Bengaluru and Delhi in the 1980s and 1990s. The writer describes the reporting paths they took and what it meant to be a journalist at that time. Rajghatta writes that when they started working in Delhi sometime in 1985, the relationship of the newly married couple held immense promise just like the country, but the marriage was not to last, and India, also, perhaps lost its chance to take a different trajectory through the turmoil of the late 1980s and the early 1990s. Hindu fundamentalism had taken deep roots by then and Gauri Lankesh would spend the rest of her life resisting it. Rajghatta writes: “It took nearly 35 years for the BJP to grow from near zero… to Nero. It happened during the length of Gauri’s adult years, and she wrote vehemently against it.”
The various themes discussed in the book indicates that the political growth of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led to the country becoming illiberal. On the BJP’s ascension to power for the first time in Karnataka in 2008, Rajghatta writes: “[B.S.] Yeddyurappa’s regressive ultra-religious administration brought out the darkest impulses of the rabid Right-wing elements, particularly in their treatment of women and minorities.”
Rajghatta discusses various issues that were close to Gauri Lankesh’s heart: separate religion status for Lingayats, an equitable society, caste-based reservation, and women’s issues. The marginalisation of the Muslim community and the Tipu Sultan controversy also find space in the book. Gauri Lankesh worked with the Karnataka Komu Souharda Vediketo combat communalism in the State.
While Rajghatta broadly looks at the nation’s slide towards illberalism, many of the incidents that he cites are from Karnataka.
Rajghatta is a fine writer and the words flow smoothly, making the book an easy read. The book could have done with a tauter framework as Rajghatta ambles through some of the themes in an almost stream-of-consciousness fashion. There are a few factual errors.
Almost all of Gauri Lankesh’s writings discussed by Rajghatta to elucidate her world view are drawn from The Way I See It: A Gauri Lankesh Reader (2017). Considering that he knew her so well, it is slightly disappointing to see him restrict his observations to this volume.