New Delhi Sep 6 Amidst all-round condemnation of the killing of activist-journalist Gauri Lankesh, the Congress and the Left parties on Wednesday accused the BJP and RSS of "silencing the voice of dissent".
The saffron party rejected the charges, saying neither the BJP, its government nor any organisation linked to it were behind the killing.
The BJP's rivals used the occasion to launch a scathing attack on it, saying there was a pattern in the killing of Lankesh and the earlier murders of rationalist thinkers Narendra Dabholkar, Govind Pansare and M.M. Kalburgi -- of muzzling the voice of dissent.
Leading the charge, Congress President Sonia Gandhi expressed shock and distress over the murder, saying "this can't and should not be tolerated".
"Known for her fearless and independent views, Gauri Lankesh had extraordinary grit and determination to take on the system," an All India Congress Committee (AICC) statement said, quoting Gandhi.
"The series of killings of rationalists, free thinkers and journalists in the country has created an atmosphere that dissent, ideological differences and divergence of views can endanger our lives. This cannot be and should not be tolerated."
"It is an extremely sad moment for our democracy and a chilling reminder of the fact that intolerance and bigotry is raising its ugly head in our society," Gandhi said.
Her son and Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi went a step further and accused the BJP of silencing dissent. It was part of "their" ideology, he said.
"Anyone who speaks against BJP is silenced. People say that the Prime Minister is quiet and he has not said anything. The point is the entire ideology is to silence voices," Gandhi said.
"Sometimes, under pressure, the Prime Minister makes some statements. But the entire idea is to crush dissent," Rahul said, adding that "non-violence is the history of this nation... Murder cannot be justified."
The Congress said "muzzling the voice of ordinary citizens and silencing dissent" is the slogan of 'New India' under the Modi government.
The party said "India is in the throes of a violent clash" between advocates of freedom of speech and the Modi government is determined to "silence dissent and throttle democracy".
"The series of killings of rationalists, free thinkers and journalists has created an atmosphere that dissent, ideological differences and divergence of views can endanger our lives. There is a definite pattern in the murder of rationalists and free thinkers and those who question the government -- Dabholkar, Pansare and Kalburgi and now Lankesh," said Congress spokesmen Abhishek Manu Singhvi.
Condemning the killing, the CPI-M called on the democratic forces to lodge a strong protest against what it said was "growing intolerance and hatred" in the country.
In a statement, it said Lankesh's murder "fits into a by now familiar pattern of eliminating voices that dare to speak out against the current climate of hate and intolerance by the RSS and BJP".
It said the killings of Pansare, Dabholkar, Kalburgi and Gauri Lankesh "are all interconnected".
"All of them were vociferous in their opposition to superstition, obscurantism and the perpetuation of the communal agenda by the right-wing Hindutva forces," the statement said.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee expressed alarm over the killing of Lankesh and demanded justice.
"Saddened at the killing of journalist Gauri Lankesh in Bengaluru. Most unfortunate. Very alarming. We want justice," Banerjee tweeted. She later particiapted in a silent march against the killing.
NCP chief Sharad Pawar described Lankesh as the voice of liberal media and demanded that the culprits must be booked.
Strongly rejecting the opposition accusation, Union Minister Nitin Gadkari said the BJP, the government or any organisation could not be blamed for the killing.
He slammed the opposition and said that it was irresponsible on the part of the 'President' of another political party to blame the BJP for the crime.
"There should be a proper probe into the murder. The guilty should be brought to book. Government of India, BJP or any of our organisations are not linked to this murder," Gadkari said.
"The President of one political party has reacted irresponsibly on this incident. The allegation is baseless and a lie. It is unfortunate and not good for democracy," he said.
The senior BJP leader said that law and order is the responsibility of the Karnataka government.
Union Minister H.N. Ananth Kumar said it was for the Congress government in Karnataka to "seriously" probe the case and nab the culprits.
"We urge the Karnataka government to probe the murder of well known journalist Gauri Lankesh with full seriousness, take the case to its conclusion, arrest the killers and punish them," Kumar said.
The Minister accused Chief Minister Siddaramaiah of not taking previous sensitive criminal cases seriously.
"The Siddaramaiah government failed in expediting the investigation of previous sensitive criminal cases as well as reaching the conclusion during inquiry as expected."