Sudheendra Kulkarni is a hero for liberals. In the Manichean discourse of Indian politics, only persons on the Left can be secular or liberal. Being on the Right disqualifies you from being liberal or intellectual or even tolerably human. But Sudheendra Kulkarni has broken all rules. He has painted himself in all colours from CPM in his youth to BJP in his mature years and, despite being right wing, has written readable books! He openly excoriated Narendra Modi when he was chosen as BJP’s lead candidate. And yet here he is being attacked, literally and figuratively, by Shiv Sena whose brand of intolerance is its own.
Differences and disputes should be encouraged as a training ground for freedom. The recent return of awards by Sahitya Akademi winners is very welcome. It raises awareness of what the Akademi does.
India is unusual in adopting Soviet style cultural institutions with State sponsorship. Nehru promised autonomy for the Akademis and to guarantee it, like a Benevolent Dictator, he appointed himself to the Chair. After his departure the benevolence disappeared. Akademis became bureaucracies.
In liberal democracies, writers and artists should have their own self governing institutions. They may win recognition as in the UK with the designation Royal, but should avoid government funds. Once you accept government money, you become part of the official machine. When the government changes drastically as it has done in India, no doubt many feel ill at ease. It is good that they protest as that leads
to a debate.
There are two issues of intolerance in the Sahitya Akademi exodus. One is the killing of Akhlaq by a local Hindu mob in Dadri. As murders of Muslims go, this was particularly horrible. It is intolerance of a vicious kind which refuses to engage in any dialogue except about religious identity. Akhlaq was killed not for eating beef but for being a Muslim. This is because the ideology of Hindutva is not about Hindus but about excluding Muslims. There is a constant harping on Muslim rule stretching over a thousand years. This is wrong in the length of time of Delhi Sultanate and Mughal rule and wrong in geography because no Emperor, Hindu or Muslim, has ever ruled over all of India, the South and Assam having been exceptions. The rival secular Idea of India is also focused solely on the Muslim issue but with similar invention of history. It champions ‘tolerant’ Muslim Emperors and the syncretic elite culture of North India. South India and Assam are another country for both these Ideas of India. We need an idea for all India.
It is the murders of rationalists, few though they’ve been, which are most serious. Neither the Centre nor the states where they were murdered has shown any urgency to apprehend the culprits. As Muslims know well, making law and order a State subject is to mortgage your lives to the vagaries of vote banks. Police will be suitably late or not turn up at all. No large vote bank, no protection.
Fighters for liberal rights cannot rely on any Government. Remember the Emergency. As Taslima Nasreen and Salman Rushdie know, the seculars are just as bad when their vote banks are at stake. Only civil society can fight and guarantee freedoms, not political parties.