You can kill human beings but not their ideas. We hear this frequently, and did so again after the assassination of Govind Pansare. Yet this poetic sounding chant is poor consolation. What matters and what should matter is human life, people being able to live their lives to full potential. Comrade Pansare was denied this right.

As differing political voices stood united in his death, I did not find anything false in the shock and grief expressed by the Shiv Sena and the Bharatiya Janata Party. It was not a forced show of political formality.

After Pansare was shot, Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis reacted immediately and humanely. He ordered Pansare to be airlifted to Mumbai, where a green corridor was created for his smooth transfer to Breach Candy Hospital. The chief minister knew well that if Pansare survives, he would spend the rest of his days opposing his politics. And yet, he tried his best to not let Pansare die.

Shiv Sena’s mouthpiece Samana noted that Pansare’s views on Shivaji were not shared by many but his contribution to Maharashtra’s social life was multifaceted.

Pansare, in his life and death, created a unique democratic course for which violence and hate is anathema, and which can only be held together by empathy and understanding.

Life built on movements

He was known as Comrade Pansare, a long-time member of the Communist Party of India – but this is an inadequate description of him. He was a people’s man, a true son of the Enlightenment, a universalist in these postmodern times who thought and fought for street vendors, newspaper hawkers, organised and unorganised labour, lawyers and teachers, women and Dalits. His last battle was against unfair toll tax. All struggling identities found in him a friend, a comrade.

It was a precious life, and the larger society he lived in should have taken care to preserve it. It was a life painstakingly built. Movements like the Samyukta Maharashtra Andolan and the Goan freedom struggle sculpted him. It was a life in which millions had a stake even if they did not know him personally.

It was a testimony to his impact on thousands of lives that he got the right to tell them that their Shivaji should not be viewed only as a Hindu king. In a land where a book on Shivaji by James Laine caused violence, Pansare’s Shivaji Kon Hota found readers in lakhs. Not that he did not anger people. His recent talks, which featured Mahatma Gandhi’s killing and Nathuram Godse’s role in it, drew protests and threats.

Was Pansare then killed by people who hold Godse in high esteem and hate Gandhi? To whom did the killers belong? Or, when caught, would they be disowned by their families the way Godse was?

Obliteration of diversities

Let us not take names then. Let us say Govind Pansare has been lost to hatred and violence. To a culture which celebrates murders and educates people in a language of hatred. Which teaches people to see otherness with suspicion and tries to eliminate it using all means. Which teaches treachery, cowardice and not bravery. Which says kill but do not own up to your act. Which shelters killers and rapists and asks victims to forget and move on. I sometimes wonder how can a society go on living normally with the burden of so many deaths and rapes and brutality! Three thousand Sikhs in Delhi. More than two thousand in Gujarat. Three thousand and more in Nellie. A thousand in Bhagalpur? How many killers? Are they not living among us? We cohabit with killers and profess humanity.

A political culture which thrives on hate and suspicion is bound to give birth to murderers. Hate and violence has its own logic and dynamics. Al Qaeda can only produce an Islamic State. My mind goes seventeen years back, to a very different place and context: Chandrashekhar, my young friend, known popularly as the former president of the Jawaharlal Nehru University Students’ Union, was felled by the bullets of the henchmen of a local politician in Siwan, a small town of Bihar. We learnt later through his well-wishers that he could never have ordered this killing. Not in his wildest dreams. And yet, can he escape responsibility for Chandrashekhar’s assassination even if the killing did not come from him directly?

In a larger, national context it must be realised by Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis and Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray that you cannot wish to see Govind Pansare alive when the raison d’etre of your politics is creation of a uniform voice. You say that you want integration but you do it by devouring all diversities, forcing them to submerge themselves in you to create a larger unity.

Govind Pansare’s murder can serve a useful occasion for all political, social and other organisations to create a consensus: Thou Shall Not Kill! Only then would we have a right to grieve over the loss of Govind Pansare.