As dust settles over the anti-Sahitya Akademi protests, certain questions hang in the air, unanswered. Why did politicians see a hidden political knife somewhere in this unrest? Why did they feel insecure in front of toothless but not voiceless writers? What turned a protest coming from cultural and human unrest at the Akademi’s apathy into something with political trimmings and tassels? Why on earth did scribes go after writers? What part did the akhara-and-dangal politics of TV channels at primetime play in this affair? And, for a lover of Greek tragedy, what role did hubris and Nemesis play in the whole affair?
Obviously, space restricts me from detailed answers. A large segment of the political class fears writers and thinkers, just as fanatics in the Middle East feared sufis. The political knife came into play because of the murders on the ground — Mohammed Akhlaq and the Dalit children. Not just that. Writers were not blind to “love jihad” and “ghar wapsi” and other such manufactured movements. Our agitation was not manufactured. Nemesis, the goddess charged with checking presumption, strode in even as the culture minister dismissed Akhlaq’s mob-murder as “an accident”.
I observed the fall of the Morarji Desai government closely. One reason was the conflicting statements made by leaders. The public couldn’t stand it. The other reason was that Vinod Pande, a good astrologer (and later, cabinet secretary), predicted that Desai would fall by July 17, 1979. Politicians took record-breaking leaps from the sinking Janata ship. The hypocritical excuse they trotted out was that they wanted no truck with the Janata party members belonging to the RSS. The Jan Sangh segment, incidentally, had by far the best ministers in the cabinet — Atal Bihari Vajpayee and L.K. Advani, who spoke less but worked excellently. The government fell two days earlier than predicted by Pande. I was special assistant to Charan Singh at the time.
Why am I bringing this up? Because Raj Narain and George Fernandes, whose pronouncements oscillated between the radical and the ridiculous, sound like Bertrand Russell in front of BJP politicians today. There is stiff competition between “Sadhvi” Niranjan Jyoti and General V.K. Singh. One asked people to choose between “Ramzadas” and “haramzadas”, and the other somehow mixed up Dalit children burned alive with a stone thrown at a dog, without meaning it. However much ministers try to self-destruct, though, nothing happens to them.
Why did politicians feel we were all pro-Congress and anti-BJP? I can only speak for myself. My next book (if ever published) will start with this two-line poem: “Reporter: Sir , why did you make money hand over fist?/ UPA 2: Simply because we couldn’t resist.”
TV anchors and scribes pounced on us. Why didn’t you “resign” in 1984? Nayantara Sahgal was attacked. I agree with the accusers. She got the award in 1986. In April that year, our friend Russia had the Chernobyl disaster. Why, I ask, did she not return her award then? I better not emphasise this, lest the Batras and Patras fail to see the buried vein of satire. From pseudo-intellectuals to “purveyors of pathologies of perversions”, writers were called everything. Even Tavleen Singh, whom I have read for 20 years with admiration, though sometimes her rants get wearisome, called us fossils. I would caution scribes from using “fossil” loosely. Someone could apply the duck test on them: If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it is a duck.
How is it that no scribe dwelt at length on the letter from John Ralston Saul, the president of PEN International, to our prime minister and president, stating that writers from 150 countries stood “in solidarity with Indian writers” who had returned their awards. The letter also stated that the “government must reassure the community of writers and artists that its ministers are tolerant of diverse views.” I remember being invited to the PEN International meet at Fremantle, Australia in 1996. The other creative writer invited was Ahmad Faraz of Pakistan, who believed in a good time and never read his poems out!
The TV channels were fine while covering the agitation. But on primetime they switched to boxing-match mode, Dempsey vs Tunney, or Ali vs Frazier. Why? Can’t they have a decent academic discussion, as opposed to a debate? I am sick of watching, night after night, BJP vs Congress or Aap or TMC — I mean the political party and not the Thomson machine gun. TV is merely widening political fissures.
While the Akademi resolution fulfilled the demands of protesting writers, it took them two desultory months to come to the table. And the Kalburgi family has said that even a condolence telephone call never came from our Akademi of writers. Hope things turn for the better both at the Akademi and in the polity, where passionate lumpen elements need to be reined in.
Daruwalla, a poet and short story writer, was awarded the Sahitya Akademi Award in 1984.
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