A prominent Indian journalist known for her outspoken criticism of rightwing Hindu nationalist politics has been shot dead outside her home in Bangalore, highlighting deepening social polarisation.
Gauri Lankesh, 55, had worked in New Delhi for leading English language newspapers and was more recently editing her own Kannada-language weekly, which was critical of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata party and rightwing Hindu nationalist ideology.
Ms Lankesh was shot at close range in the chest and head on Tuesday night by motorbike-riding gunmen.
The killing came as Karnataka state — of which Bangalore is the capital — is gearing up for assembly elections next year. Mr Modi’s BJP is hoping to retake control of the state from the incumbent Congress government.
Siddaramaiah, Karnataka’s chief minister, denounced the murder on Twitter as “an assassination on democracy”, and yesterday his administration established a high-level team to investigate.
Stunned journalists gathered in cities across India yesterday to protest against the killing, which was also condemned in formal statements by media bodies as an attack on press freedom.
Meanwhile, rival political parties traded recriminations over who was responsible.
Rahul Gandhi, leader of the Congress party, said the slaying was a warning for critics of the BJP and its rightwing Hindu supporters. “The idea is that there should only be one voice in this country,” he said. “The entire idea is to crush dissent.”
BJP leaders rejected claims that rightwing Hindu groups were behind the killing, saying that the murder highlighted a breakdown of law and order in Karnataka under a Congress government.
The daughter of a prominent Kannada journalist and writer, Lankesh was an outspoken critic of the rising tide of threats, intimidation and violence against those opposed to Hindu nationalism, or those who challenged orthodox Hindu interpretations of faith and history.
Speaking in New Delhi in March, Lankesh recalled how, after the 2015 killing of a retired academic, a local leader of rightwing Hindu group Bajrang Dal had tweeted: “Mock Hinduism and die a dog’s death.”
Lankesh had previously told a journalist that she believed some rightwing groups in Karnataka had a hit list, and that she was likely to be on it.
Last year, she was convicted of defaming a Karnataka-based lawmaker from Mr Modi’s BJP in a 2008 article about alleged corruption. She was appealing against the conviction.
Siddharth Bhatia, co-founder and editor of the digital media business The Wire, tweeted: “The message and not to independent journalists but to all dissenters is clear. We are watching you and one day we will get you.”