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Nitish govt draws ‘cultural policing’ charge from BJP for ‘barring’ poet from event

Noted poet Anamika Jain Amber was ‘not allowed to travel’ to Bihar’s Sonepur on Nov 25 to attend poetry event there, following which other poets boycotted it.

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. (PTI)

The Nitish Kumar-led Bihar government’s alleged move to bar noted poet Anamika Jain Amber from participating in the annual Sonepur (Saran) national fair has drawn strong reactions from the BJP, which has accused the state government of “muzzling freedom of expression” and indulging in “cultural policing”.

Amber had reached Patna on November 25 but was “not allowed to travel” to Sonepur. Other poets, who had reached the venue, boycotted the Kavi Sammelan (poetry recital event) scheduled for later that day.

The Saran administration and the government have claimed that Amber had nothing to do with the event, with Bihar culture and tourism minister Jitendra Rai saying that she was not invited to it. The BJP has, however, launched a scathing attack on the state administration, pointing to the posters and invitations for the event.

Amber shot to fame during the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections campaign early this year when she wrote a poem in response to popular Bhojpuri singer Neha Singh Rathore’s “UP mein ka ba” song that satirised the BJP government in the state. Amber’s poem, titled “UP mein Baba”, highlighted UP CM Yogi Adityanath, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP’s policies in the state.

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A state government functionary, who did not want to be named, said: “The government had been apprehensive of the contents of her poems, given the background of Amber as a nationalist and pro-BJP poet. The programme was decided six months ago when there was a National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government in Bihar. But it is surely embarrassing for officials to stop such a function, especially at the last moment.”

Speaking to reporters in Patna, Amber said: “The Bihar government approached me six months ago. But after I reached Patna on the morning of November 25, I was asked to stay back. I was told that I should travel to Sonepur that evening. Later, I realised that I was not allowed to travel to Sonepur, while other poets reached the venue.”

Saying that “such a thing happened to her for the first time”, Amber asked if “the Bihar government was afraid of what she was going to reveal through the poems”. She claimed that the Saran administration apologised to her and said they were under “too much pressure” to ensure that she is stopped from coming to the event.

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Hitting out at the Bihar government, BJP national spokesperson Syed Shahnawaz Hussain said: “Anamika Jain Amber is a national poet. Just because she had written and sung ‘UP mein Baba’ does not make her a lesser poet. What the Bihar government did is against the tenets of freedom of expression.”

Speaking to The Indian Express, Nikhil Anand, the BJP OBC Morcha’s national general secretary, called the move “an act of cultural policing by Nitish Kumar government”. He said: “What is even more annoying is the Bihar culture minister denying that Amber had a programme. Several posters and invitation cards nail his lies. The incident has brought disrepute to the state. Nitish Kumar government should apologise to the poet.”

Calling Amber “a one-dimensional poet,” RJD national spokesperson Subodh Kumar said: “Hearing one side of the story is not good for democracy. But her programme was cancelled in the nick of time. She should have been informed.” The JD(U) refrained from commenting on the matter.

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In a Hindi poem posted on Twitter on November 27, Amber made a veiled reference to the Sonepur episode. “Syahi mein jo ghola karti laakar khoon kaleje se, kalam bhala kab darti wo sinhasan ke rutve se… (one who mixes blood of one’s heart into ink, that pen can never be afraid of the powers that be),” she wrote.

First published on: 27-11-2022 at 17:27 IST
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