MM Kalburgi
MM KalburgiYouTube/Screenshot

The police suspect the involvement of Hindu extremists in the murder of Dr Malleshappa M Kalburgi, a prominent Kannada scholar and former Vice-Chancellor of Kannada University in Hampi.

Kalburgi was shot on his head by one of the two unidentified men on Sunday morning at his residence in Dharwad's Kalyan Nagar locality. He was later taken to a district hospital where he was pronounced dead. 

Even as the police suspect Hindutva extremists for Kalburgi's murder, Bajrang Dal co-convener Bhuvith Shetty allegeldy took to Twitter to say that that Indian critic and rationalist KS Bhagawan will be their next target for making fun of Hinduism.

"Then it was UR Anantamoorty and now it is MM Kalburgi. Mock Hinduism and die a dogs death. And dear K. S Bhagwan you are next," Shetty tweeted at 10:41 am on 30 August. Shetty's Twitter handle was, however, deleted shortly after.

Ananthamurthy, another Kannada writer, who died of cardiac arrest and renal failure in August last year in Bangalore (now Bengaluru), too had problems with Sangh Parivar outfits for his staunch criticism of their ideology and activities for over five decades. 

Kalburgi was a renowed scholar and recipient of the National Sahitya Akademi award. However, he was condemned by Hindu extremists for his remarks against idol worshipping and questioning superstition.

He was also targetted for saying he would leave the country if Narendra Modi became prime minister, but denied it later.

Kalburgi, who wrote over 20 publications, faced backlash for the first time in 1989, when he wrote his book 'Marga-One'. In the book, Kalburgi allegedly made derogatory references to the founder of Veerashaiva Basaveshwara, a 12th century philosopher, according to India Today report.

His remarks angered the Lingayats, the followers of Veerashaiva – the liberal Shaivism. As the controversy over his book grew stronger, the Lingayats of Karnataka "forced" him to renounce the alleged derogatory references at a math in Hubli, although his work was supposedly based on extensive research on the subject.

"I did it to save the lives of my family. But I also committed intellectual suicide on that day," Kalburgi had said in April, 1989.

Kalburgi was himself a devout Lingayat and headed the chair for Basava studies at Kannada University, but he resigned after the incident that year and swore to "never again pursue any research on Lingayat literature and Basava philosophy."

Although the controversy over 'Marga-One' subsided with time, Kalburgi once again incurred the wrath of some people for speaking against idol worship and the superstitions related to it.

In June 2014, while addressing a seminar on Anti-superstition Bill at Bangalore, Dr Kalburgi referred to the late litterateur UR Ananthamurthy and said "there was nothing wrong in urinating on idols", according to a Dajiworld report. 

Kalburgi had reportedly quoted an excerpt from Ananthamurthy's book 'Bettale Puje Yake Kadadu' – 'Why Not Nude Worship'.

His statement triggered immense criticism from Hindus who demanded his arrest. A case was also filed against Kalburgi and Ananthamurthy for allegedly hurting the religious sentiments of the community.

Massive protests were held at the time by supporters of Bajrang Dal, Sri Rama Sene, Vishwa Hindu Parishad and other Hindutva activists in Karnataka.

Following his comments at the seminar, Kalburgi was criticised by even those who once held him in high esteem.

The frequent protests against him prompted the government to provide him with personal security at his residence. However, it was withdrwan three months ago  on Kalburgi's request.

"Armed policemen who kept a vigil outside his house were withdrawn around three months ago at the request of the professor," Hindustan Times quoted Kalburgi's relative Nagaraj S Thigadi as saying.