SEEKING to widen his political footprint beyond Bihar, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar will attend conferences of “intellectuals” across the nation to counter RSS’s alleged attempts to “saffronise” academia and institutions.
Sources told The Indian Express that plans are on to hold such conferences in Delhi, Patna, Jaipur and a location in Kerala — a similar event in poll-bound UP cannot be ruled out.
It’s for the first time that Nitish, who is being projected by his supporters as the face of Opposition unity against Prime Minister Narenda Modi, is planning to engage with non-right wing intelligentsia on this scale.
The proposed conferences come at a time when Nitish is actively campaigning against the BJP in UP amid a buzz about his larger role as an Opposition candidate for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
JD(U) general secretary K C Tyagi, however, ruled out any link between the UP polls and the outreach programme.
Plans for the conference got concrete shape after a three-hour brainstorming session on July 19 involving Nitish and a dozen authors and activists, some of whom had actively raised the issue of “intolerance” and had pioneered the “award wapasi” campaign.
Among those who attended were Ashok Vajpeyi and Manglesh Dabral, who had returned their Sahitya Akademi awards at the height of the intolerance debate.
Editor-author Om Thanvi, Vishnu Nagar, Priyadarshan, Apoorvanand, Purushottam Agrawal, Suresh Sharma, critic and literary historian Rakshanda Jalil and journalist-activist Seema Mustafa were also present.
At the meeting, authors and activists voiced concern over the “saffronisation” of various institutions, such as the Nehru Museum, and attempts to “change” the educational syllabus in BJP-ruled Rajasthan. Sources said Nitish assured the participants that he was “alert” and would not allow any such change in Bihar.
The participants also decided to organise programmes to highlight the works of authors like progressive humanist poet Ramdhari Singh Dinkar, radical poet Nagarjun and noted ghazal poet Shaad Azimabadi, all from Bihar.
“Authors like these represent our composite culture. We need to take their work to people and present a counter-narrative,” sources quoted one of the participants as telling Nitish.
Participants voiced concern over “Sangh-inspired individuals taking over institutions” and underlined the need to launch a “comprehensive campaign” against it. Nitish agreed to participate in all such conferences to be organised by the “progressive” authors mostly with Left leanings, the sources said.
“It will be first such campaign in which a senior politician will engage with writers and intellectuals on such a large scale. Earlier, Jayaprakash Narayan and Ram Manohar Lohia used to do it. Even VP Singh carried it forward to some extent,” Tyagi claimed.
The meeting and plans are being seen a move by Nitish to scale up his “Sangh Mukt Bharat” line.