October 11, 2015


[The hypocrisy of the ‘intellectuals' who’ve relinquished Government awards and positions to oppose the current administration notwithstanding, their outcry is, in fact, the dying gasp of an India that we hope to leave behind.]

By Kanchan Gupta
In a country where outrage is manufactured — with the help of a media perpetually un-satiated in its hunger for ratings and eyeballs — at a speed much higher than at which people can rage, it is only natural that individuals seeking their proverbial 15 minutes of fame should do something sufficiently dramatic to capture the attention of the chattering classes, even if fleetingly. And so it is that a group of novelists, poets, writers, ‘intellectuals’ as they would like to be known and worshipped by the neo-literate classes and illiterate masses, has returned awards given by, or resigned from, the Sahitya Akademi, a tax-funded relic from the era when umbrellas would be taken out in Delhi every time it rained in Moscow.

Novelist Nayantara Sahgal, daughter of Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit, niece of Jawaharlal Nehru, wasn’t the first to turn in her award; credit for that should go to Uday Prakash. But a Hindi writer does not quite the cut makes and the Commentariat did not go into a tizzy. That happened only after Nayantara Sahgal declared she was (as opposed to she too was) returning her reward, timing the announcement in a manner it would make it to prime time news bulletins.

Soon after, poet Ashok Vajpeyi said he too was returning his reward. Since then others have followed suit. Novelist Shashi Deshpande and poet Satchidanandan have resigned from Sahitya Akademi; novelist Sarah Joseph has returned her award. We can be sure the list of the righteous will grow longer in the coming days. We can also be sure of a flood of commentary and interviews on how the morally courageous have taken a stand and drawn the line between that which is acceptable and what is not.

These intellectuals are ostensibly angered by the ‘shrinking space for dissent’ and the ‘attacks on cultural diversity’, the ‘increasing intolerance towards freedom of expression’ and the ‘rise of fascism’ with the ‘advent of aHindutva Government’ headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. They are aghast that rationalists like Narendra Dabholkar and Govind Pansare have been killed in cold blood in Maharashtra, as has writer MM Kalburgi in Karnataka. Nothing that was considered sacred in the past, they argue, is sacred today.

That’s balderdash, or, to borrow an expression from a crude, uncouth critic of Narendra Modi on whom space has been lavished by a pink paper, it’s dog shit. The reasons are as bogus as the feigned anger, the marzipan opprobrium they have sough to heap on Narendra Modi, the Government he heads, the BJP, and, of course, the RSS. Names have not been taken. That would be beneath contempt for these intellectuals. It’s through elaborate allusion that they have let it be known that freedom, liberty and plurality are at a discount today as never before.

Their decision, which increasingly appears to be a well-coordinated move, follows the grisly lynching of a Muslim man by a Hindu mob at Dadri in western Uttar Pradesh, a back-of-beyond place of which nobody, more so the intellectuals, knew anything till a tragedy was blown out of proportion. Which begets the question: If one death can upset them, if the murder of two rationalists and a writer can wound their conscience, if stray comments by loudmouths who don saffron or have found a place in Team Modi for inexplicable reasons, can make them feel it’s Kristallnacht in India, where was their conscience, their spirit, their ethics all these years and decades?

Nayantara Sahgal had no compunction about accepting the Sahitya Akademi award two years after the grisly and gruesome anti-Sikh pogrom on her nephew’s watch. Rajiv Gandhi’s deplorable ‘when a big tree falls the earth is bound to shake’ justification of the slaughter of 3,500 Sikhs by Congress goons did not upset her. The Meerut and Malliana riots, the massacre of innocents at Bhagalpur did not prick her conscience. The ban on Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses did not alert her to the strangling of frees speech.

We could go on and on. We could pitilessly expose Ashok Vajpeyi as a crawling courtier who did Indira Gandhi’s bidding as a civil servant and a palace bard. We could talk of all the stuff that is said about K Satchidanandan. We could point out Sarah Joseph’s anarchist politics and warped ideology. We could mock at the whole lot for being what they are (or were till recently): Establishment apologists, the favoured few, the exalted minority who soared much higher than merit would have allowed them.

Truth be told this is the last, dying gasp of an India that we would leave behind if Narendra Modi stays the course and steers this nation to his stated twin goals of development and growth, a country that is not captive to the diktats of a few or in thraldom to a Dynasty, a people who are at ease with progress and modernity without shedding their identity. There is a lot to be criticised. And there is a lot to be praised. Unfortunately, for some, it’s darkness at noon just as India is about to find its place in the sun.

(The writer is a current affairs analyst based in NCR)