attacks on journalists

How Gauri Lankesh went from outsider to finding her true voice with her Patrike

She took over her father’s Lankesh Patrike after his death, later built her own Gauri Lankesh Patrike from scratch.

The last edition of Gauri Lankesh Patrike edited by the slain journalist Gauri Lankesh came out on September 5, the day she was sprayed with bullets and silenced forever outside her home in Bengaluru. By then, the slain journalist had spoken long enough to ensure her ideologies and her voice were grafted into the millions of people she worked with through her paper and the causes she associated herself with.

Except for the fact that this was the last edition that came out under her editorship, the subjects that were covered in the paper were no different from prior editions. She, like her journalist-filmmaker father P Lankesh, never soft-pedaled anything that was anti-humanity.

The last edition included a piece on former Karnataka Chief Minister BS Yeddyurappa of the Bharatiya Janata Party facing jail if convicted in cases reopened by the Anti-Corruption Bureau pertaining to the denotification of land that was done with his approval. In another piece, Lankesh attacked the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s Kalladka Prabhakar Bhat for allegedly fuelling communal tension in coastal Karnataka. Another prominent feature was about the BJP’s Yuva Morcha chief in Karnataka, Pratap Simha, getting rapped on his Twitter timeline for criticising the state government’s Indira Canteens that serve food to the poor in Bengaluru at very nominal rates.

The other reports were about two seminars held by the state government – one celebrating the ideals of Ambedkar, which was attended by Martin Luther King III, son of American civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr, and another about finding feasible solutions to water scarcity in Vijayapura district, a very arid patch in North Karnataka. Some low-profile entertainment and political news made up the rest of the coverage.

A mid-life crisis move

Lankesh’s aversion to “Cheddis” (as her father called the Bajrang Dal/Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh/Vishwa Hindu Parishad/BJP in his editorials) was as evident as daylight. She described them with the choicest of adjectives, creating ripples of laughter or anger, depending on which side of the political ideology one stood at. She was courageous, committed and integral to Kannada journalism and activism. Her heart was in the right place.

She learnt Kannada journalism hands on after she took over her father’s Lankesh Patrike after his death. She was till then an outsider of sorts to Kannada journalism since she had never worked in Kannada or in Bengaluru. She wanted to grow beyond the shadow of her accomplished father, who had started Lankesh Patrike in the 1980s. The weekly tabloid was hugely successful owing to its insightful reports and political analysis that never failed to hit the bull’s eye. The strength of Lankesh Patrike was such that the tabloid was capable of bringing a government to its knees, if they were caught doing anything inappropriate and anti-people.

Lankesh Patrike was P Lankesh’s mid-life crisis finding a direction. He started the tabloid with trepidation after he resigned from the cushy job of an English professor at Bangalore University. The tabloid created history and it continued to be successful till his death in January 2000.

Lankesh Patrike was Gauri Lankesh’s mid-life crisis finding a focus, too. Till the age of 38, she had lived and worked with media houses in Delhi, where she had gone after completing her masters in journalism. She had to rush back to Bengaluru after her father’s death and never returned to English journalism.

The Gauri Lankesh Patrike office in Bengaluru’s Basavanagudi area. (Credit: HT)
The Gauri Lankesh Patrike office in Bengaluru’s Basavanagudi area. (Credit: HT)

Early exodus and split

Her initial days with Lankesh Patrike were chequered. The original team her father had built was very loyal to him. Their ideas aligned, their ideologies matched and their workstyle and commitment to integrity were at a level that was very different from what Lankesh was used to seeing. P Lankesh trusted his comrades.

“When Gauri took over, some of us left within a few months because we felt she was arrogant, headstrong and incomprehensible,” Rekha Rani, a former writer with Lankesh Patrike who is now into film-making, wrote on her social media page. “She didn’t belong here. And then we realised she had inherited the paper, and only WE didn’t belong there. So a lot of the original team left.”

She added, “But today, we see what phenomenal work she did through her paper and we stand with her for her spirit.”

Among those who left the tabloid early on were writer-filmmaker NS Shankar, writer-activist Basavaraju, writer-academician Nataraj Huliyar, writer-columnist TK Thyagaraj, writer Mohan Nagammanavar, and artist Hadimani. The original team that had lasted through P Lankesh’s editorship left within eight months of Gauri Lankesh taking over. She then built a new team with some old loyalists from her father’s time such as writer Parvateesh, columnist Chandre Gowda, HLK Shivamurthy, Gangadhara Kushtagi and Ravindra Reshme. All of them eventually left her too.

When a family feud with the proprietor of the paper and her younger brother Indrajit Lankesh divided Lankesh Patrike into Lankesh Patrike and Gauri Lankesh Patrike, Lankesh chose to build her team from scratch. Her journalism had also undergone a massive shift in stance by then.

Finding her feet

When she had taken over Lankesh Patrike, she was alien to Kannada, to regional journalism and to her own father’s ideologies in writing. But by the time she started her own paper, she was adept at what her father stood for. Her longtime friend Jahnavi said, “Gauri studied her father diligently after his death. She realised she needn’t shift from his ideology and argument, not because he was her father; but because their ideologies and approaches to social issues matched heavily.”

She added, “She read the write-ups and editorials her father had written every week in the last 20 years. She took the decision to republish them every week alongside her own opinions to current politics and social issues.”

Lankesh metamorphosed into a mature journalist who responded to the social and political problems of Karnataka, only through her journey with her own Patrike. By then, she had shed her inhibitions of being an English journalist and turned into a full-blown Kannada writer and journalist, and activist.

Her new team was filled with young men and women who shared her ideals. She knew they carried her infectious energy. “Her approach to journalism had gotten more demanding than ever before,” said a former colleague who did not want to be identified. “She was into activism and wrote things and followed them up to actually change the ground scenario for better – whether it was about Asha [accredited social health activists] workers, garment factory labourers, trade union members or Naxals and Maoists. She would ensure governments sat them across a table and negotiated with them. She’d be on both sides, with her heart clearly with the oppressed.”

Lankesh’s aversion for Cheddis and anything that could polarise today’s India was growing with time. Her lifestyle had become frugal and her ideology massive. The day she died, she didn’t just die as a writer-journalist-activist. She died as a voice that had held millions that spoke through her paper week after week. Gauri Lankesh belonged truly to the land she had walked.

Preethi Nagaraj is a journalist who writes on politics, culture and theatre.

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