Bihar has happened. The reasons why this tsunami of discontent hit Modi-land are probably as complicated as the state itself. However, according to one political observer, the “award wapsi” movement struck a chord and contributed, not insignificantly, to the BJP’s defeat. If this interpretation is even partially true, then this is probably the writer’s moment in Indian politics.
In most of India, the writer’s place is quite insignificant. The exceptions to this are Kerala, West Bengal and the world of Indian English writing. And now writers have scored a win in one of the most closely fought and crucial state elections of our times.
Explaining the result, an RSS spokesperson attributed the defeat to “the perception of intolerance”. But what was the genesis of this perception? When, where and how did it surface and then spread?
Barely six months after PM Narendra Modi assumed power, when he was still enjoying a long honeymoon with the electorate and the media, the sordid l’affaire Perumal Murugan commenced. On December 2, 2014, Murugan returned home to Namakkal, after spending a month at the Sangam writers’ residency programme. During the residency, he was putting finishing touches to two novels, both sequels to the soon-to-become-controversial Madhorubhagan — a clear indication, if any were needed, that he was at the peak of his creative powers. Murugan could have scarcely anticipated the storm awaiting him upon his return.
A little over a month later, he was to issue a poignant statement declaring the death of the writer, Perumal Murugan, his will broken by a series of events — violent protests, a total bandh in Tiruchengode and an insensitive district administration that forced him to sign an apology for writing a novel that has now earned him the prestigious Indian Languages Festival Samanvay Bhasha Samman.
The RSS, ably backed by the BJP, was allegedly at the forefront of the Murugan controversy. No doubt, the protests were basically a majoritarian caste offensive by Kongu Vellala Gounder outfits. But they were likely being directed by Hindutva organisations. Though the RSS and the BJP later denied their involvement, even threatened to sue if accused of participation, the fact remains that the first public protest, a procession demanding the banning of the book and arrest of Murugan, was led by the Tiruchengode RSS president, Mahalingam. To this day, they continue to speak against the novel. Last month, H. Raja, a strong contender for the post of president of the state unit of the BJP, issued a statement condemning the Samanvay award for Murugan.
The “perception of intolerance” was first aroused after the Modi government came to power in the small town of Tiruchengode, Tamil Nadu. It was here that the first book-burning was enacted. A writer was vilified. He was so broken that he declared: “Author Perumal Murugan is dead. He is no God. Hence, he will not resurrect. Hereafter, only P. Murugan, the humble teacher, will live”. It was a statement that shook the conscience of the nation. It was one of the seeds of the award wapsi movement.
As is apparent now, the returned awards have successfully homed in on their intended target. But will we now be allowed an opportunity to alter our “perception of intolerance”? Perhaps not, as the violent struggle by the BJP in Karnataka to impose an ahistorical, unidimensional narrative of Tipu Sultan has shown. Nor is there a lull in the award wapsi movement after the Bihar results, as one would have expected. Devanur Mahadeva, the iconic Dalit writer from Karnataka, has returned both his Sahitya Akademi award and Padma Shri. But this no one will respond to with derision.
The writer is publisher, Kalachuvadu Publications, which publishes Perumal Murugan’s works
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