A DAY after the organisers of the 92nd Akhil Bharatiya Marathi Sahitya Sammelan withdrew their invitation to celebrated English litterateur Nayantara Sehgal, Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis’s office distanced itself from the controversy even as the Opposition alleged that the invitation had been revoked at the ruling BJP’s behest. Sehgal (91), a Sahitya Akademi awardee, was at the forefront of the 2015 “award wapsi” campaign.
The conclave, being held in Vidarbha’s Yavatmal, is being organised jointly by the Akhil Bhartiya Marathi Sahitya Mahamandal (ABSM) and Yavatmal’s Dr V B Kolte Sanshodhan Kendra Ani Vachanalay. While she was scheduled to inaugurate the literary meet in the presence of the CM on January 11, CMO distanced itself from controversy. The organisers announced on Sunday that she had been requested not to come, citing “unavoidable reasons”. The organisers said the threat issued by some local activists through the media to disrupt the event had forced them to take the call.
Targeting the Fadnavis government over the issue, Maharashtra’s Nationalist Congress Party president Jayant Patil accused that the revocation of the invitation was the government’s doing. “The state government was wary of what she would have said during her speech. So they pressured the organisers to cancel the invite. This is nothing but another instance of muzzling the freedom of speech.”
Party spokesperson Nawab Malik targeted Fadnavis directly. “She (Sehgal) is a member of the Nehru-Gandhi family. Everyone knows that Prime Minister Narendra Modi loathes Pandit Nehru. We suspect that the CM feared inviting the PM’s wrath if she was allowed to speak at the conclave. We feel that he played a role in the revocation,” he said.
Refuting the allegation, the Chief Minister’s Office, in an official statement, said, “It was the prerogative of the organisers who to invite and who not to. The government has no role in it.”
Inviting public criticism over the decision to cancel the invite, the ABSM has said that the decision had been taken by the event’s local organisers, the Dr V B Kolte Sanshodhan Kendra Ani Vachanalay.
With the organisers indicating that a local MNS functionary was among those who had objected to Sahgal’s presence at the event, Maharashtra Navnirman Sena’s Raj Thackeray also issued a statement expressing regret and making it clear that his party was not opposed to Sehgal participating in the meet. Thackeray said, “When in her (Nayantara Sehgal’s) presence, our profound culture and traditions stand unveiled, it can become a medium to exhibit our culture to the rest of the world… We have no objection to Nayantara Sehgal and we wholeheartedly welcome her.”
Congress’s Leader of Opposition in the legislative Assembly Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil, meanwhile, said that as the state’s Home Minister, it was Fadnavis’s responsibility to ensure that adequate security is provided for the event, and that organisers are not forced to cancel invites.
Reacting to the CMO’s clarification, Malik said, “The Chief Minister should display large heartedness and reach out to Sehgal. He should apologise to her and ensure that she graces the event.”