Maharashtra reacted with shock, indignation and outrage at the dastardly assassination of Dr Narendra Dabholkar in Pune in the early morning of August 20. He was gunned down by two young armed men when he was on his morning walk. Top police sources said that it was a meticulously planned and premeditated murder. The needle of suspicion for this cowardly act pointed to the right-wing, obscurantist and intolerant Hindutva forces. It is now five days after this heinous murder; and yet no arrests have been made.
All over the state for the next three days, thousands of people rallied in almost every town and city to denounce this diabolical act. Left, democratic and secular political parties and organizations took the lead in this campaign. Within an hour of the news of the murder, the CPI(M) state centre issued directives to all its units to mobilize like-minded forces throughout the state to organize immediate protest demonstrations.
In cities like Mumbai, Pune, Satara, Nashik, Solapur, Kolhapur, Aurangabad, Jalna, Latur, Nanded, Parbhani, Nagpur, Amravati and several other places, large joint protests were held. Several leading Party comrades were among those who paid homage to the remains of Dabholkar in Pune and attended the funeral in his home town of Satara. Most sections of the print and electronic media covered this shocking occurrence in depth.
The murder of Narendra Dabholkar recalled memories of the gruesome murder of Communist MLA Krishna Desai by Shiv Sena hoodlums in 1970, and of the heinous assassination of Mahatma Gandhi by Nathuram Godse and his Hindutva cohorts in 1948.
Dr Narendra Dabholkar, a medical doctor by training, was the Founder President of the Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti (MANS); the foremost champion of the Anti-Superstition Bill which the Congress-NCP state government left hanging for the last 14 years; the Editor of the popular socialist weekly ‘Sadhana’ that was founded 65 years ago by the legendary Sane Guruji; a strong proponent of rationalism and the scientific temper; one of the early activists of the ‘Ek Gaon Ek Panavtha’ (One Village, One Source of Water) campaign against the caste discrimination of Dalits that was begun in the 1970s by Dr Baba Adhav; and one of the prominent leaders of the socialist stream in the state.
Even earlier, there had been several attacks by vested interests and obscurantist forces on programmes organized by the MANS in Maharashtra under Dabholkar’s leadership. The organization challenged the rapidly proliferating religious godmen who claimed to perform miracles, to give a demonstration of these ‘miracles’ in the presence of MANS activists. None dared to take up the challenge. The same was the case with astrologers.
Dabholkar fought against a number of superstitions – like human sacrifice, black magic, witchcraft, ghosts, reincarnation and all kinds of obscurantist rituals. Recently he began a campaign against the so-called Jaat (Caste) Panchayats, which prohibited marriages outside their caste and meted out dire consequences to those who disobeyed. He was about to begin a campaign against the increasingly lucrative trade in ‘Astro Gems’. All these activities could never be to the liking of communal and obscurantist forces.
This assassination has also exposed the thoroughly opportunist and weak-kneed character of the Congress-NCP regime in the state. For the last 14 years since its advent to power in Maharashtra in 1999, it did not display the courage to enact the Anti-Superstition Act for which Dabholkar consistently fought in his last years. It actually diluted the original Bill that had been drafted with the help of Dabholkar and others. What it did not do for the last 14 years, it finally promised to do within a few hours of Dabholkar’s murder, in the form of an ordinance. What happens finally still remains to be seen. But whereas the original Bill prescribed stern punishment for 27 types of acts of superstition, the new measure has reportedly whittled them down to just 11.
This dilly-dallying on such an important issue was due to two main reasons. One was, of course, the soft Hindutva approach that has been a characteristic of the Congress in recent decades. It was afraid of the backlash that such a measure might lead to. The second reason is that many leading lights of the Congress- NCP, and naturally of the Sena-BJP as well, are ‘devout disciples’ of many of these religious godmen, and are connected with the vested interests that they represent. Hence, not enacting the Anti-Superstition Act was actually a result of the match-fixing between the ruling and main opposition combines.
Nor did the Congress-NCP regime take stern action against the forces that attacked or threatened the anti-superstition programmes held under Dabholkar’s leadership. The same has generally been its response so far as Hindutva terrorism is concerned. A few years ago, RSS-VHP-Bajrang Dal elements were caught red-handed in the bomb blasts in Nanded, Parbhani, Jalna and other places. Had thorough investigation been conducted and strict action been taken then by the Congress-NCP regime, the Malegaon and other bomb blasts could have been avoided. It was only due to the single-minded determination of martyred Anti-Terrorist Squad chief Hemant Karkare that the Hindutva connection behind the Malegaon blasts was exposed. But after his death, that trail has gone cold. The state government remains unconcerned. The murder of Narendra Dabholkar is the result.
The CPI(M) Polit Bureau and the CPI(M) Maharashtra state committee issued strong statements condemning the dastardly murder. CPI(M) Polit Bureau member Sitaram Yechury raised the issue of Dabholkar’s murder in the Rajya Sabha, and he was supported by many other MPs. As a result, the Rajya Sabha adopted a condolence resolution mourning the death of Narendra Dabholkar – quite an extraordinary ocurrence.
On Sunday, September 1, a large state-level condolence meeting to pay homage to Dr Narendra Dabholkar and to take a pledge to fight the communal and obscurantist forces, is being held in Mumbai on behalf of the Left and secular parties and organisations in Maharashtra, and Sitaram Yechury will be the chief guest at this meeting.