Thursday, March 26, 2015

Smruti Koppikar - Maharashtra CM has no will to probe my father's murder: social reformer Govind Pansare's daughter

There is a concerted effort to stamp out the state's rationalist, progressive intellectual tradition, alleges Smita Pansare.


Friday marked one month since Govind Pansare, 82, died of the injuries sustained in an attack on him while returning from his morning walk in Kolhapur. The 150 police teams formed to track down the murders have not been able to crack this case yet. His wife, Uma, who was injured in the attack, is recovering. The family has not even been shown sketches of suspected attackers.

His daughter, Smita, accompanied by Left leaders, met chief minister Devendra Fadnavis in his office on Thursday to press for a speedy investigation into the death of the social reformer, who was a committed member of the Communist Party of India. Disappointed with the direction-less investigation, she said, “Fadnavis has taken pride in the progressive and liberal tradition [of Maharashtra], the Shahu-Phule tradition, but when an old warrior doing work to sustain that tradition is killed, he does nothing”.

This is the first interview she has given since her father's murder.

Why did you take this matter to the Chief Minister’s office?
One month has gone by. That’s quite a long time in a murder investigation, especially because the police seem to have no clues, the probe is going on in a pretty much direction-less manner and nothing of consequence is shared with the family at all. There’s no point in Mr. Fadnavis saying that he has put more than 150 police teams on the job. What have they done? What are they doing? If, with such an enhanced level of investigation, we are no closer to knowing anything more than we did a month back, where is this investigating heading?

So, you weren’t satisfied with his response.
Not at all. Neither I nor my family nor any of the leaders who went with me came away satisfied with Fadnavis’ replies or convinced about his intentions to get to the bottom of this murder. He gave the same clichéd answers and mouthed the same statements that he has been saying since the attack occurred on February 16: we have formed police teams, they are working, it was a heinous attack and so on.

What would you and your family want Fadnavis to do?
He’s the chief minister. He’s also the home minister. For him to merely say that the attack was “a failure of the system” is to shirk his responsibility. We want him to say, “I take full responsibility for this attack. It happened under my watch and I will get to the bottom of this at the earliest." I want to see his political will behind this investigation. It has been missing, completely and visibly missing, since the first day of the investigation. Unless there’s political will right from the CM’s office, this probe will yield nothing. The CM is not willing to say this or lend his weight to the issue. That, for us, adds to the heartbreak. This was not the Maharashtra we knew or lived in.

Pansare’s murder has been widely compared to the fatal attack on the rationalist Dr Narendra Dabholkar in August 2013. Would you say the investigation seems to be similarly floundering?
Of course, it is. We still don’t know who or which organisation killed Dr Dabholkar and for what reason. This is true of Comrade Pansare’s murder too. Mr Fadnavis was the leader of opposition when Dr Dabholkar was murdered. He had launched a tirade on the then government and slammed the then chief minister. Pull out his statement and see how he had thundered. Now he is sitting in that chair. What has he done? Why isn’t he even saying this much: "I take responsibility"?

You suggested that there was a political motive in attacking Comrade Pansare. Would you elaborate?
Indeed, this is a political murder. The police may be going through their usual theories of personal rivalries and inter-family disputes and things like that, which are laughable. It’s ok upto a point because may be the police procedure demands it. But the core issue here is that Comrade Pansare was killed for his political thoughts, the work he was doing to spread the progressive ideology and the threat to posed to the establishment or organisations opposed to this ideology. It’s pretty simple. He was killed because he was Comrade Govind Pansare representing a certain progressive and liberal ideology. The probe must move in that direction. It isn’t. And the CM is not pushing it in that direction either. Mr Fadnavis has earlier taken pride in the progressive and liberal traditions, the Shahu-Phule tradition, but when an old warrior doing work to sustain that tradition is killed, he does nothing.

 Have you communicated your suspicions formally to the investigating teams?
Yes, we have. We have told them our suspicions. We have shared our theories. We have cooperated in every way but we have not heard anything concrete or of substance from them. My mother told them that there were two young men speaking in Marathi astride a motorbike that morning as she and Comrade Pansare left for their morning walk. The two youth came up to them and asked, "Where do the Mores live?" to which my mother said there isn’t a family by the name More in this lane or area as far as she knew it, and proceeded for the walk. The attack happened when they were returning. Were these the same two men who carried out the attack? If they spoke in Marathi and asked for information, doesn’t that give these 150 police teams any clue at all? Whoever carried out the attack would not be hanging around here for a month. Until they are nabbed, there’s no chance that we will ever get to know who the masterminds were and what their motives were.

 You seem to suggest a political conspiracy.
The motive behind Comrade Pansare’s murder is political, completely political. There are people and organisations that want the Left, the progressive-liberal ideology in Maharashtra, to end. There seems to be some larger plan to finish off people who represent these streams of thought. It is common to say that even if a person is killed, his thoughts do not die. But the truth is that the movement takes a hit, if the people targeted are veterans of a movement, there is a setback. It takes years for leaders to evolve. So, if there’s a pattern to these killings and threats, then it is that there’s a conspiracy to finish off the rationalist, progressive and liberal tradition in Maharashtra.

How do you plan to keep the pressure on the government?
We have to find ways to do that because getting to the very core of this is most important. Comrade Pansare was my father but he was more than that; he represented a certain stream of thought. I plan to do everything possible, knock every door that’s there, to see that we get the answers.