Gauri was the daughter of P Lankesh, popularly known as 'Meshtru' (teacher) to all of his associates. Lankesh was one of the finest writers in Kannada, and he was a firm believer in the socialist philosophy of Ram Manohar Lohia. I was part of the SFI in Karnataka due to the influence of late MK Bhat, a nuclear scientist and former general secretary of CPM, Karnataka Unit.
After the Dravidian movement in Tamil Nadu entered into the cultural field, which led to DMK coming to power in the state, the CPM decided to follow suit. Jayapala Menon, an advocate from Chittur, Palghat District, Kerala, and a CPM member, was assigned the job of extending the party's reach through cinema and I was made the Managing Director of Navashakthi Films Pvt. Ltd.
Lankesh and 'Ellindalo Bandavaru'
Jayapala Menon decided that Lankesh shall direct our maiden film production in Kannada called 'Ellindalo Bandavaru' (Outsiders), which later won Filmfare and state awards in 1980. In the process of production and distribution of this film I became a close associate of Lankesh, which subsequently led to my involvement in launching of the weekly 'Lankesh Patrike' along with a small group of supporters.
Those were hard times for Lankesh as he had resigned from his job as an English teacher from Bangalore University and was living in Basavanagudi in a rented house with his wife Indira and three young children. At the same time, theatre group 'Samudaya' was formed with the help of theatre personality Prasanna and the political patronage of MK Bhat.
The film 'Ellindalo Bandavaru' was shot at a village called Kuppegala in Mysuru district in the farmhouse of Y Mahesh, who was a close associate of present Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, Devanoor Mahadeva and late Alanahally Krishna. After completion of the film, we did not find any distributor in Gandhinagar. Fortunately, noted film personality of South India M Bhaktavatsala came to our rescue by giving us advance money and his theatres in Bengaluru and Mysuru to release the film on our own.
Before struggling to release this film, Lankesh, due to the support of M Bhaktavatsala and KN Harikumar (Board of Directors of Prajavani and Deccan Herald respectively) got a regular Saturday column in 'Prajavani', a Kannada daily, to write on political issues.
It was a time of political tumult as Janata Party and its government at the Centre was collapsing like a pack of cards due to infighting and lust for power. Lankesh used this scenario to caricature the whole set of Janata Party leaders in his column which became very popular. We were informed that the circulation of 'Prajavani' increased by several thousand on the days of his column!
But abruptly his column was stopped one day. Lankesh became bitter and disappointed. His foray into cinema was also not paying off as his film was not getting a proper distributor. Moreover, he was probably finding it difficult to run his family. Indira, his wife, started selling saris from home to earn and support the family.
The rise of 'Lankesh Patrike'
One day, Lankesh visualized and thought of launching his own weekly newspaper on the lines of Shankar's 'Weekly' of Bombay and Sheshappa's 'Kidi' of Bengaluru without taking advertisements. Thus 'Lankesh Patrike' was born.
Due to his fame as a poet, writer, film director and columnist, 'Lankesh Patrike' was a huge hit from day one. We did take advertisements from well-wishers for the first issue and decided to depend upon readers to run the weekly. M Bhaktavatala and Harikumar were large-hearted to support Lankesh by way of giving newsprint, which was a scarce commodity in market in those days.
From the initial 2000 copies, the sales went up to 1,50,000 during the weekly's hey days. 'Lankesh Patrike' was a principal player in installing a non-Congress government in 1983 by supporting the formation of a Janata Kranti Ranga governement. Ramakrishna Hedge, by manipulation, became the Chief Minister dislodging S Bangarappa in the race to the top post. All these events were a source of wonderful stories and inputs for Lankesh and his group of associate reporters.
Our film 'Ellindalo Bandavaru' got released after four weeks of 'Lankesh Patrike's' launch. The anti-establishment and anti-government stand of the weekly unnerved the Gundu Rao-led Congress government. As I have mentioned earlier, our film was released due to the support of Bhaktavatsala in the theatres owned by him, namely Minerva, Lakshmi at Bengaluru and Gayatri in Mysuru.
The film was running to packed houses for two weeks with tax exemption given by the government for this period. But Finance Minister Veerappa Moily and Finance Secretary BS Patil purposely did not extend tax exemption for the next four weeks.
In a desperate attempt, I had to use my late father Kondajji Basappa, Congress Lok Sabha MP, to influence Veerappa Moily; even Lankesh spoke to the minister in order to help his producers but to no avail. I filed a petition in the High Court of Karnataka against the government regarding the same issue (our advocate was retired Supreme Court Justice Gopala Gowda who was also my SFI president in my college days). The film did not recover the cost and we had to clear Syndicate Bank loan by other means.
This episode strengthened Lankesh's resolve to expose the corrupt Gundurao government in his weekly. His crusade led to the formation of Janatha Kranti Ranga government in 1983.The image of Late Naseer Saab, a minister in Ramakrishna Hegde's government, as 'Neer Saab' (Water Saab) was a creation of 'Lankesh Patrike'.
Every week, circulation of the weekly rose by thousands. People used to wait for Tuesday morning to buy the paper at stalls. Many of our agents at the districts made good profits. Young writers and poets were given space and promoted in the weekly. Gauri, his eldest daughter, was a reporter in an English newspaper and hardly took any interest in the weekly. Kavitha and Indrajit were still studying in school.
After death of her father, the mantle to run the weekly fell on Gauri, but after a few weeks there was a dispute with her brother, Indrajit. Somehow, Gauri had smelt this problem and had already registered a new title called 'Gauri Lankesh Patrike'. This is an usual pattern seen in newspapers in our country, and this problem occurred in their family too due to 'wealth creation'. But Gauri did eventually settle issues with her brother peacefully, including the properties of Lankesh, and both began independently running their own news weekly.
Gauri, the idealist
Gauri was an idealist and became more radical than her own father, but Indrajit was a pragmatic businessman who wanted commercial success in market economy. Gauri followed the footsteps of her father and survived not on her weekly's economics or by mass readership but by publishing Lankesh's books and allied publications which brought her some profits.
Her struggle to protect persons persecuted by the state and ideology of Hindutva forces made her very popular among those groups who were fighting for their ideals and causes. She negotiated with the state government and brought many Naxalites to the mainstream. She maintained a good relationship with the present chief minister and many officials in order to fight for public causes. The rally "I am Gauri" organized by many NGOs and political activists surprisingly had a huge turnout and people from all walks of life came to address the gathering. In fact, there were protest meetings held all over the country and even in foreign countries against the killing of Gauri.
To know the credibility and integrity of Gauri one should know these facts. When SM Krishna was the Chief Minister, many journalists got G-Category Chief Minister's discretionary quota BDA sites. Among them were Indrajit Lankesh and Gangadhar Kushtagi, his weekly's reporter. If I recollect, Gauri wrote against her own brother regarding this unethical act.
One day, I got a phone call from her that her brother was lobbying for an MLC nomination in our Siddaramaiah-led government. I did not take it seriously as I was in the race and the main contender from the party. To my surprise, I found Indrajit lobbying in New Delhi with our High Command for many months. He was also lobbying with our Chief Minister using the legacy of P Lankesh.
Late Ummarabba (Ex-MLA) and me used to spend lot of evenings in Lankesh's office. This is when Lankesh visualized Sonia Gandhi being a foreigner was a better leader to lead the party and the nation as she had no pre conceived notions, caste prejudices etc. Lankesh wrote all this in his weekly. I collected these articles and made them into a booklet after Lankesh's death and distributed them while Sonia Gandhi visited Karnataka as AICC President for the first time.
Due to Gauri's intervention, I got the articles translated into English but somehow they could not reach Janpath, and I did not publish it in a book form. But to my surprise, I found that Indrajit had got these same articles translated and made into a beautiful book; not only that, he was using these copies to lobby at New Delhi for his MLC nomination. I saw this book on Congress MP Oscar Fernandez's table while I was pursuing my nomination with the Congress High Command.
I saw the same book in Gauri's office but she refused to give me a copy as she thought it might jeopardize her relationship with her brother. I used late Girish Nikkam, a well-known journalist in New Delhi, to talk to Digvijay Singh about this competition since both belonged to the Lingayat community. When the Congress High Command and our Chief Minister nominated me as an MLC, Gauri was jubilant since she felt that I deserved the position as Congressman and her father's associate.
A few days before she was killed I met Gauri with Vimala, a CPM activist, at Vidhana Soudha and found that she was trying to meet the Chief Minister. Since the cabinet meeting was going on, we went for lunch at Hotel Sea Rock and met the Chief Minister in the evening.
During the two hours we spent with the chief minister, she wanted some progress in the investigation of Kalburgi's murder, which was unsolved for the past two years, and other public issues. She also wanted the CM to act in the movie to be produced and directed by her sister Kavitha and based on tribal children. Siddaramaiah told her to use some other person for this role and Gauri readily agreed.
Lastly, with a lot of embarrassment, she requested him to direct the government departments to issue advertisement for Deepavali special issue due to financial difficulties in running her weekly. The CM told her to wait till his Principal Secretary Atheeq came back from his foreign visit on September 4. In the next few days, we met ministers KJ George, Santhosh Lad, HK Patil and MB Patil for advertisements. Unfortunately, she is no more with us.
Lastly, she told me these words. "Mohan, you should know after father's death there is no male member in our family except Indrajit. Indrajit, his wife and two children along with Kavitha, her daughter and our mother Indira meet often and we are all happy to be together with everyone pursuing different interests independently."
Gauri was very happy that her mother was spending time with grandchildren. She had lot of affection and love towards Indrajit even though she had differences with him. She was getting annoyed when people used to ask about her brother's political or independent views.
This is our Gauri, the selfless individual who died for the ideology she believed in. Let the slogan "I am Gauri" unite and bring change in the lives of people of our country.
(Mohan Kumar Kondajji is member of Legislative Council, Karnataka. Views are personal)