In a trickle that refuses to dry up, writers and performing artists are making it to the news headlines speaking on uncomfortable political and social issues, especially the recent killing of MM Kalburgi and the Dadri lynching.
The protest against the killing of rationalists like Kalburgi and Narendra Dabholkar and Gobind Pansare, all killed in cold blood and in almost the same way — has been building up. In response, those in authority have offered little by way of consolation, some even making a ‘root causes’ argument, almost justifying the attacks.
This seems to have given the writers across languages – Hindi, English, Punjabi, Kannada, Konkani, Maithili, Bengali, Marathi and Urdu — a common vocabulary of protest to articulate their unease and discomfort. Conversely, it seems to have robbed the establishment of words to respond to the crisis. To hear statements they don’t agree with, that too not from the ‘English-speaking’ litterati who are easy to dismiss but from the ‘indigenous’ languages seems to have drawn unexpected and knee-jerk responses for the establishment.
The lynching of Mohammed Akhlaq in Dadri had its own fallout: there was a loud silence from the PM — till his expression of ‘sadness’ and calling it ‘undesirable’ earlier this week – followed by the RSS insistence that there was no “thuggish violence” as writer Salman Rushdie termed it and now senior ministers are accusing writers and artistes of being `partisan’, in the “Opposition” camp and of “manufacturing” a “paper” rebellion.
That many bright and acclaimed Indian minds were being described as their camp followers should tickle a decimated political opposition no end. However, making the writers’ protests out to be an ‘artists mutiny’ hardly helps those in power — in fact it strengthens the hands of a growing but disparate variety of creative artists wanting to say something about India.
Why should unarmed writers, singers and dancers worry a government that has been voted to power through a popular mandate of proportions not seen in 30 years? History tells us they need to worry.
The ruling establishment does not have to look any further than the manner in which UPA 2 handled the entire anti-UPA 2 movement that was anchored in the traditionally non-political space. As the slow morphing of AAP from a routine Jantar Mantar protest into a political party clearly demonstrates as well as India’s political history in 1977 and 1984, secure parliamentary majorities need to fear revolts or dissent coming from outside the political arena.
Take the case of the debate over the land ordinance: the government had a Lok Sabha majority a President ready to sign three ordinances during its first and rosiest year in power: yet, the Centre was forced to backtrack as it, sensibly, in the end saw the need to not just be obdurate but widen the perimeter of its appeal.
Calling people `partisan’, politically motivated may also have ceased to be a weapon of mass utility. The act of responding to an atmosphere perceived to be conducive to mob violence, is a political act and surely, artistes realize that when they choose to speak?
The Centre keeps a close watch on online activities. If people in power would pause and read what the artistes are saying, and they are saying similar and very different things, it would improve their understanding of what disturbs a significant number of Indians, which any government should want to do. Accommodation has been the basis of success of the Indian democratic experience. To be oppositional isn’t equal to being ‘anti-national’ and all governments who have taken that line, have been known to suffer the fallout.
There is a story of painter Pablo Picasso having painted the destruction and mayhem of the town of Guernica at the time of the Spanish Civil War. When armed militias visited him after the painting received widespread acclaim, they angrily asked Picasso, ‘Did you do this?’ Picasso responded calmly, ‘No, you did.’