Amitav Ghosh, while lauding the courage of writers who are returning their awards as mark of protest, stated that he believes it more appropriate to direct the protest against the current leadership of the Sahitya Akademi, rather than against its history as an institution. This is one way of criticising the actions of these writers. One could have a fundamental disagreement with Ghosh’s stance but one can’t say that his comments are not well thought-out or that they lack the nuance that elevates a debate to a higher moral and intellectual plane.
The other way of criticising the writers who are returning their awards has been presented by senior leaders of the RSS. General Secretary Bhaiyyaji Joshi has referred to the protests as partisan and has questioned the integrity and the honesty of the writers who are returning their awards. Another RSS official, Sudhir Pathak, has accused the writers of being anti-BJP and anti-RSS and has stated that they have not yet come to terms with the BJP coming to power at the Centre.
Let’s examine this accusation of being partisan. The most obvious question is: why shouldn’t writers, or for that matter, any citizen, be partisan? To be partisan means to have a strong opinion for or against something. As part of the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression guaranteed by the Indian Constitution, we all have the right to have an opinion, and to be partisan. Just make sure that while you’re exercising your right, you’re not impinging on somebody else’s freedom to do the same.
And whose rights exactly are these protesting writers trampling upon as they return their awards? Moreover, what Nayantara Sahgal, Uday Prakash, Aman Sethi and other writers are doing is in their individual capacity, not as representatives of any form of institutionalised hegemony. It is only in the latter case that one can say their partisanship is posing a problem. Given all this, nothing should stop writers from displaying their partisanship by protesting against an atmosphere they find to be increasingly stifling.
Of course, these are fine distinctions that the RSS finds easy to gloss over. Perhaps its because sometimes moral authority – as personified by these writers – raises questions that institutionalized authority finds difficult to answer.