It speaks ill of a culture if trolls can prevent a leading musician from performing in its capital city, in an event backed by a body under a central ministry, only because he is a critic of the ruling party and its politics. But there is reason for hope, yet. When the Airports Authority of India (AAI) cancelled a festival it was sponsoring in Delhi because leading Carnatic singer T M Krishna, who was to perform there, was attacked by right-wing trolls, he offered to sing at any venue in the capital. And the Arvind Kejriwal-led AAP government in Delhi has promised to make it possible. This is as it should be — when one institution falters in the face of the mob, another should be there to pick up the baton.
Krishna has ired philistines by introducing traditional Christian hymns from the south into his repertoire. And he has got their backs up since he is an activist, championing various protest movements from the environmental to the political. He is a critic of the present dispensation, and the trolls have drawn attention to his political stance to brand him anti-Indian, and to deny him a venue paid for by a governmental organisation, with taxpayers’ money. But if that logic were valid, the entire Opposition would have to be struck dumb en masse, and democratic government would cease to function and decay into parliamentary dictatorship. It is fortunate, therefore, that the Delhi government has stepped in to ensure that Krishna’s audience can exercise the right to hear him, and he is assured of the right to be heard.
In the original contest over free speech, a test of secularism in which the bar was lowered so forcefully that any philistine can now step over it, M F Husain was successfully hounded out of India because governments did not stand up for him. Maharashtra’s minister for culture Pramod Navalkar drew the attention of the police to an article about a work painted by Husain in 1970, without application of mind, the Mumbai Police treated it as a complaint, and the rest was ugly history. In the present case, it is heartening to see that a state government has taken an enlightened view following the embarrassing failure of a central organisation, which has backed off on what appear to be threats by a tiny and deluded minority. The capitulation of the AAI, which has offered reasons that are no more compelling than the fabled “technical reasons”, is particularly remarkable because it presumably enjoys the support of the Ministry of Aviation. Mercifully, however, where the central government has failed, the state government has stepped in to save the show.