On the evening of 5 September, Gauri Lankesh, a senior journalist who edited and published a self-titled weekly, the Gauri Lankesh Patrike, was murdered outside her residence in Bengaluru. Lankesh was known for her criticism of the Hindutva politics in Karnataka through her activism and editorials, as well as her reporting on the dubious practices of powerful businesses and organisations in the state. Shortly after the news of Lankesh’s murder broke, many in the media began to note the similarity between her assassination and those of three noted rationalists—Narendra Dhabolkar in 2013; and Govind Pansare and MM Kalburgi, in 2015. Dhabolkar was shot dead during a morning walk in Pune. Pansare, a member of the Communist Party of India, was shot near his residence in Kolhapur, and the writer Kalburgi was gunned down inside his home in Dharwad.
On 7 September, Kedar Nagarajan, a web reporter at The Caravan, met Narendra Nayak, the president of the Federation of Indian Rationalist Association—an apex body of rationalist organisations that promote scientific approaches and rational thought. Nayak worked closely with Kalburgi, Dhabolkar and Lankesh. During their conversations, which continued over the phone, Nayak spoke of his work with Lankesh, which included the pursuit for a resolution in the case of Vinayak Baliga, a right-to-information activist who was hacked to death near his house in Kodialbail in March 2016. He also discussed his views on the reasons behind the assassinations of rationalists and dissenters in the state of Karnataka, and across the country.
Kedar Nagarajan: When did you first meet Gauri Lankesh? Could you describe the work you did with her?
Narendra Nayak: We met in 1992. I knew her father [the poet-turned journalist P Lankesh, who also ran a self-titled tabloid called the Lankesh Patrike.] very well. He was a man who gave me the courage to be an activist. My college was trying to throw me out, he asked me how [much] they paid me, and at that time it was some thousand rupees or something. He asked me, “Don’t you think you can make that money without the college?” That is what motivated me. Both father and daughter would support a cause that they felt needed their backing and they would do it relentlessly. She was a very fearless media activist, and while we had disagreements, I have to say that she did what she did out of belief. She was an honest activist—she had a lot of courage and conviction.
Both of us exposed a person named Hanumantha Rai Appa, who claimed to have supernatural powers. This transpired in National College. Gauri supported us [FIRA] in most of the causes we took up, and in the last two years we became even closer as associates. The last two cases I can recall, in which we worked very much together, was this Vinayak Baliga [murder] case. From March  onwards, we have been working on all aspects of that case. Otherwise I used to call her when I believed a certain issue needed publicity of some kind. She would immediately send a reporter when I asked her for help. The other issue that we had taken up together is this Veerendra Heggade [the dharmadhikari, or hereditary administrator] of Dharmasthala [a widely known 800-year-old temple in southern Karnataka]—his name has come up in connection to so much crime, but nobody dares to write about him. The crimes went from land grabbing to rape and murder, and she was the one who would see to it that all the necessary information was published. For that case, I received full support from her.