The dastardly assassination of Comrade Govind Pansare, the veteran 81-year old former CPI state secretary, national council member, trade union leader, eminent lawyer and prominent Marxist intellectual and writer – exactly a year and a half after the similar assassination of renowned rationalist and socialist Dr Narendra Dabholkar – has been another black mark in the recent history of Maharashtra. It may be recalled that Dabholkar was martyred in Pune on August 20, 2013; Pansare and his wife Uma were shot in Kolhapur on February 16, 2015 and he was martyred on February 20.
The fact that the assassins of Dabholkar and their political paymasters remain untraced even after a year and a half – and also the fact that the modus operandi of the killing of Pansare was eerily similar to the killing of Dabholkar – two men on a motor-cycle shooting their targets when they were on their morning walk – these have put the state government and the law and order machinery of the state to eternal shame. Not surprisingly, there is no clue yet about the assassins of Pansare and their political paymasters either.
Thousands of people led by the Left, democratic and secular political parties and mass organisations of all hues – Marxists, Gandhiites and Ambedkarites – immediately came out on the streets from February 16 onwards to denounce the cowardly attack on the Pansares and Comrade Pansare’s death four days later. Along with the CPI, the CPI(M) was in the forefront of the protest actions in all districts and most tehsils throughout the state. Both the print and electronic media gave prominent coverage to this tragic and shocking event.
The massive funeral procession of Comrade Govind Pansare took place in Kolhapur on February 21 and it was attended by thousands of people from all walks of life. The CPI state conference was due to open in Kolhapur on February 21 with a mass rally. Hence all the state delegates had gathered there. The sad and bitter irony was that instead of the mass rally, they had to march in the funeral procession of their tallest leader in the state.
CPI general secretary Sudhakar Reddy, CPI state secretary and national council member Dr Bhalchandra Kango, CPI(M) state secretary and central committee member Dr Ashok Dhawale, central committee member Narsayya Adam, state secretariat members Udayan Sharma and Ajit Abhyankar, state committee members Dr Subhash Jadhav, Chandrakant Yadav, M H Shaikh, Sidhappa Kalshetty and Umesh Deshmukh, Kolhapur district secretary Dr Uday Narkar, Satara district secretary Manik Avghade and all CPI(M) leaders from Kolhapur district marched in the funeral procession.
Among the other leaders who paid homage to the departed leader were senior PWP leader N D Patil, PWP general secretary Jayant Patil, Milind Ranade of the Lal Nishan Party, Kishor Dhamale of the Satyashodhak Communist Party, Subhash Ware of the AAP Party, Bharat Patankar of the Shramik Mukti Dal, Arjun Dangle of the RPI, Justice B G Kolse Patil, Ulka Mahajan of NAPM and many others. Some Congress and NCP leaders also laid wreaths.
All Left, democratic and secular parties and organisations have given a call for a massive joint march in Mumbai on March 11 to denounce the assassination of Comrade Govind Pansare and to demand the immediate arrest of, and stringent punishment to the killers.
The fatal attacks on Dabholkar and Pansare were not merely attacks on some individuals; they were attacks on reason, tolerance, democracy, freedom of expression, secular values and on the very dream of equality and justice. They were attacks on the rich secular and progressive tradition of India which includes Charvaka, Buddha, Mahavir, Kabir, Tukaram, Shivaji, Phule, Gandhi, Shahu, Ambedkar, Bhagat Singh, Periyar and so many others.
Why are such attacks taking place in Maharashtra today? And which are the forces towards which the needle of suspicion turns?
Dr Narendra Dabholkar was the president of the Committee for the Eradication of Superstition (Andhashraddha Nirmulan Samiti). Till his last breath, he consistently fought for the enactment of a law against superstition. The whole array of communal and obscurantist forces were notoriously against the enactment of any such law. The BJP and the Shiv Sena had time and again opposed Dabholkar’s original draft tooth and nail both inside and outside the assembly. The so-called secular state government of the Congress and the NCP, in spite of then having a clear majority in the state legislature, still did not display the guts to enact this law during Dabholkar’s lifetime. Finally, it was only under the mass public pressure following Dabholkar’s martyrdom that the state government enacted a greatly watered-down version of the law.
As the editor of the periodical Sadhana that was founded by the legendary socialist leader Sane Guruji, Dabholkar always strove to uphold the values of democracy, secularism and equality. The murder of Dabholkar was a violent attack on these values themselves.
Although the background of the attack on Govind Pansare was naturally different, the essence of it was the same.
Two recent programmes organised in Kolhapur with Pansare’s initiative created a stir. Readers will recall that the shocking terrorist attacks in Mumbai on November 26, 2008, killed over 160 people. The most prominent among those who were martyred was the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS) chief Hemant Karkare and other top police personnel. Karkare had done sterling work in the investigation of the Malegaon bomb blasts and had uncovered the involvement of Hindutva extremist elements represented by Pragnya Singh Thakur, Colonel Prasad Purohit and others. The same trail later led to the Ajmer Sharif and Hyderabad Mecca Masjid blasts and the attack on the Samjhauta Express. A few weeks before his martyrdom, Karkare had indicated that the net of investigation was closing in on several important bigwigs of the Hindutva brigade.
After the Mumbai terror attacks, a retired Inspector General of Police S M Mushrif, after careful personal study and investigation, wrote a book titled ‘Who Killed Karkare?’ He drew the conclusion that Karkare’s killing was not the handiwork of Pakistani terrorists like Ajmal Kasab, but was a diabolical conspiracy of the Hindutva extremist forces. It is clear that these forces had the most to gain from the elimination of Karkare. The book became a hit, ran into several editions and was translated into several Indian languages.
A few weeks before Pansare’s martyrdom, a talk by S M Mushrif on the topic ‘Who Killed Karkare?’ was organised in Kolhapur. The Hindutva communal elements opposed the programme tooth and nail. But Pansare put his foot down and insisted that the programme be held. There was a record turn-out for this talk by Mushrif, where he, Pansare and other speakers alleged that the killing of Karkare and Dabholkar could very well have been the handiwork of Hindutva extremist elements. After this event Pansare received anonymous post cards with a Pune post mark, threatening to make a Dabholkar of him.
Another programme took place in the ShivajiUniversity in Kolhapur. Pansare was invited to deliver a lecture on the relevance of the thoughts of a leading social reformer Shahu Maharaj. While concluding the talk, Pansare took stock of current events and lashed out against the Hindutva communal campaign of the denigration of Mahatma Gandhi and the glorification of his assassin Nathuram Godse. Pansare declared that Godse and his associates were members of the RSS and the Hindu Mahasabha. There was an argument where an ABVP whole-timer tried to challenge this last statement of Pansare. But Pansare stood firm and put forward the concrete evidence of Godse’s communal connections.
For the last two decades, a small booklet written by Pansare called ‘Who Was Shivaji?’ has sold over one lakh copies in Maharashtra. In this booklet, Pansare strongly countered the totally false communal distortion of the life and work of this warrior-king, who has always been one of the icons of Maharashtra. Pansare did this on the basis of concrete historical evidence and he showed Shivaji in his true secular colours as the king of all communities and castes and, as Mahatma Jotirao Phule correctly described him, as the king of the peasantry. This effective work by Pansare had always been a thorn in the flesh of the communal forces.
The clash of ideologies is at the heart of the democratic system and needs to be encouraged at all levels. But instead of that, the hallmark of fascist and authoritarian forces has always been to suppress antagonistic thoughts by simply eliminating those who express them.
The assassination of Mahatma Gandhi within six months of gaining independence, by Nathuram Godse and his RSS-Hindu Mahasabha accomplices who also included V D Savarkar (who had submitted an abject apology to the British rulers while he was in the Andaman Cellular Jail), was the classic instance of such fascist authoritarianism. The glorification of such condemnable elements today gives an accurate indication of the climate of our times.
Two such instances took place in Maharashtra in the early 1970s. One was the assassination of CPI MLA Krishna Desai, and the other was the slaying of Dalit Panther activist Bhagwat Jadhav. Both these heinous acts took place in Mumbai, and they were the handiwork of Shiv Sena hoodlums. The first murder was aimed at breaking the Communist hold over the working class movement of Mumbai; the second was aimed at cutting down the influence of the militant Dalit movement that was then taking shape. It is an open secret that the Shiv Sena at that time had the full backing of big business and the Congress state government.
In its first stint in power in the late 1990s, the Shiv Sena-BJP state government hatched a diabolical conspiracy that was aimed at rooting out the strong CPI(M) influence in the tribal areas of Thane district. On the evening of Republic Day, January 26, 1997, under instructions from the state home ministry that was then in the hands of the BJP, the police without any provocation fired on a peaceful gathering of tribals in the Kavada village of Talasari tehsil. Two young CPI(M) activists – Lakshya Beej and Babu Kharpade – were martyred on the spot.
The police then slapped false cases on over 100 top CPI(M) leaders in Thane district, arrested them and put them behind bars. Tremendous repression was let loose in the Talasari and Dahanu tehsils by special camps of the State Reserve Police (SRP). All this was meant to dislodge the CPI(M) from its tribal strongholds in the zilla parishad and panchayat samiti elections that were due on March 3, 1997. Many of the CPI(M) candidates for this election had to fill their nomination forms from jail.
But the Party fought back this repression with great grit and determination and, in fact, won more seats in Thane district in these ZP/PS elections than ever before, with a record number of votes. In Talasari tehsil, both the BJP and the Congress lost their deposits in all the seats that they contested. The anti-communist game plan of the BJP was blown to smithereens.
After the 2012 ZP/PS polls, which also the CPI(M) won, BJP hoodlums attacked a dedicated CPI(M) tribal woman activist called Mathi Ozare and smashed her head with stones at night when she was going home. She died on the spot. During the election campaign, these BJP hoodlums had threatened to kill her if she continued to work for the CPI(M). Undeterred by such threats, Mathi Ozare continued to work sincerely and the Party won that seat. That is why she was killed. She became the first woman martyr of the CPI(M) among the 60 martyrs in Thane district who have laid down their lives since the famous Adivasi Revolt in 1945.
Five months ago, Hindutva hoodlums attacked the CPI(M) office in Pune in broad daylight, and no action was taken by the police. Just after the Modi regime came to power, the same brand of hoodlums killed a young techie called Mohsin Shaikh, again in Pune. Communal incidents and tension has perceptibly grown during the last few months in the state, as also all over the country with the advent of the BJP regime at the centre and in some states.
As a reaction to this, Islamist fundamentalist forces like the MIM are spreading their influence in Maharashtra among the minority community. Inflammatory speeches are being made by MIM leaders like Owaisi, and it could win two seats in the state assembly for the first time in the elections held last October. It stood second in half a dozen more seats.
The ideological roots of the RSS can be easily traced to the fascist regimes of Germany and Italy in the 1930s. RSS chief M S Golwalkar in his book We or Our Nationhood Defined had openly glorified the German Nazis under Hitler; and another RSS founder B S Munje had gone to Italy, met Mussolini and had similarly praised the Italian fascists under him.
In India, it is the Muslims and Christians who take the place of the Jews in Germany. The attacks against Communists, Socialists and all democrats are a common feature of both. The assassinations of Dr Narendra Dabholkar and Comrade Govind Pansare are clear indicators.
All Left, democratic and secular forces in Maharashtra have come together against this onslaught and have decided to organise a massive march to Mantralaya in Mumbai on March 11, 2015, to denounce the assassination of Comrade Govind Pansare and to demand that the assassins of both Dabholkar and Pansare, along with their patrons, are immediately identified and arrested and the most stringent possible action is taken against them.