MUMBAI - Sudheendra Kulkarni, who heads the Observer Research Foundation (ORF), was attacked on Monday by Shiv Sena party leaders, ahead of a book launch of former Pakistan foreign minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri.

“Shiv Sena activists threw ink at me and smeared my face. They abused me,” Kulkarni alleged and said that his Observer and Research Foundation (ORF), a foreign policy think-tank, will hold Kasuri’s book launch as planned in Mumbai later today.

“We won’t be cowed down by such events and the book launch will happen as planned,” the organiser said.

The Shiv Sena, a junior partner in a ruling coalition with the Bharatiya Janata Party in the Maharashtra state government, was last week accused of using threats to force the cancellation of an appearance in Mumbai by Pakistani singer Ghulam Ali.

There are growing concerns over freedom of speech in India after the execution-style killing in August of MM Kalburgi, a leading secular scholar who had angered hardline Hindu groups.

Several Indian winners of the prestigious Sahitya Akademi (National Academy of Letters) award have handed back the prize in recent days to protest at that incident.

The writers said they were also protesting at the government’s failure to condemn the lynching last month of a Muslim man suspected of eating beef.

Meanwhile, reacting to the ink attack on Kulkarni, senior Shiv Sena leader Sanjay Raut said “smearing ink is a very mild form of democratic protest.”

“We don’t know if ink or tar was smeared. Nobody can foretell how public anger will explode,” Raut said. The Shiv Sena had threatened to disrupt the launch of Kasuri’s book “Neither a Hawk nor a Dove: Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis had promised complete security for the event. “I welcome Kasuri to this great city. I thank him for coming even though we already had indications about some forces threatening him,” Kulkarni told a news conference, hours after his face was smeared with ink as Kasuri sat by his side.

Kulkarni blamed the Shiv Sena for the attack on him and said the group had threatened to disrupt the launch of Kasuri’s book in “typical Shiv Sena style”. He added: “Even then the scheduled launch will be held as planned.”

Kasuri told the media he recognises everyone’s right to protest but not in the manner in which Kulkarni was attacked.

“As a political worker, I recognise the right to protest. I have faced police lathi charges. I know what political opposition is. But what happened to Kulkarni is beyond that right,” he said.

Kasuri said he has “great faith” in the common man of India and Pakistan. Kasuri said “I am unhappy and sad to see what has happened. I cannot be scared of such threats”. The attack on Kulkarni happened when he was leaving his home in Sion, southcentral Mumbai, when a group of around a dozen alleged Shiv Sena activists accosted him.

They shouted slogans and asked him to cancel the event and then allegedly smeared him with black ink. Kulkarni told NDTV that Kasuri is his guest and he had taken a principled stand to go ahead with the book launch. “It is our duty to protect and honour Kasuri. I will host him even after this attack on me,” Kulkarni said. He said that he shared the Shiv Sena’s concerns about terrorism emanating from Pakistan but made it clear that ideas should not be opposed through violence.

Kulkarni had tweeted that the conflict between India and Pakistan can be resolved only through dialogue. He said the book launch was a small endeavour to keep the process of dialogue alive. Kulkarni said the Shiv Sena could have voiced its opposition in a debate instead of threatening and attacking him.

Kulkarni met Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray on Sunday night in a bid to get his backing for the book launch. However, the Sena said that it will not go back on its protest.

Former Deputy Prime Minister of India, LK Advani outrightly condemned the attack on his erstwhile aide Sudheendra Kulkarni, allegedly by activists of NDA ally Shiv Sena in Mumbai.

“I strongly condemn whosoever has done this,” said Mr. Advani, adding that “of late we have seen an increase in cases of intolerance, this is against democracy.”

Significantly, Advani had, on the 40 anniversary of the Emergency in June, said that conditions that could give rise to another Emergency today continued to prevail in India.