This is a slightly edited translation of Kannada Litterateur and novelist Dr. S L Bhyrappa’s views shared with the Kannada daily Vijaya Vani over the ongoing Sahitya Akademi award returns.
The political agenda of the writers returning the Sahitya Akademi awards must be subject to public examination. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru’s relative, Nayantara Sahgal is the progenitor of this ugly culture of returning the awards.
In the backdrop of Indira Gandhi’s assassination, the Congress-administered Delhi witnessed the genocide of 2500 Sikhs. The new Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi justified this genocide in the now-infamous quote of “when a big tree falls, the earth shakes.”
Perhaps this genocide didn’t prick her conscience back then because during that period, Nayantara Sahgal received an award from the Kendra (Central) Sahitya Akademi. However, now, it appears that thanks only to the Dadri incident, her dormant conscience has suddenly woken up.
And so, in this background, people need to examine the secret behind returning the Sahitya Akademi award.
What exactly is Ashok Vajpeyi’s Contribution?
Ashok Vajpayei who returned the Sahitya Akademi award with Nayantara Sahgal was the right hand man of former Congress central minister Arjun Singh. Throughout his career, Vajpayei has done work for the Congress party. His award is the fruit of that service. However, he has returned it after Dadri.
Apart from being aware of the fact that he was close to the Congress, the people of India don’t know his exact contribution to literature. Therefore, his political agenda behind returning the award is clear.
After returning the award, these writers have waxed eloquent about morals, ethics and principles. However, we need to investigate their political background and subject them to public scrutiny. Such scrutiny will expose their true psyche. Which is when we will be able to accurately pinpoint who in the literary world is an‘actual litterateur’ and who is a ‘political litterateur.’
Hunger for Publicity
If recent news is anything to go by, one gets more publicity upon returning an award than when actually receiving it. Thanks to this hunger for publicity, some of the award-returnees have taken to falsely roaring that intolerance is rising in the society.
The Dadri incident belongs to a small village in Uttar Pradesh, which is ruled by the Samajwadi Party. In the same manner, Dr. M.M. Kalburgi’s murder too, occurred in Karnataka, which is ruled by the Congress party. It’s thus clear that neither case has anything to do with the Central Government. Yet, some writers have embarked on a ploy to somehow establish a link between these two incidents to the Central Government.
A CID inquiry is ongoing in the case of Dr. M.M. Kalburgi’s murder. And so, what can Prime Minister Modi do in this regard? Hypothetically, if Modi had issued some sort of guideline or suggestion, these same writers would’ve alleged, hollering that “Modi is curtailing the autonomy of the states!”
Let it be repeated that there’s no connection between the Dadri incident and Modi. Despite this, by brandishing the weapon of award returns, there is an ongoing conspiracy of trying to put Modi in a jam.
Thanks to Modi’s efforts, significant amounts of funds are flowing into India from abroad. Rattled by this, there are efforts aimed at ensuring that obstacles are erected at every step to impede progress in Modi’s work. This diabolical aim is at the root of much of this propaganda.
The Opposition parties’ tactic seems to be this: it’s fine even if foreign investments don’t flow into India but anti-Modi propaganda must not stop at any cost. These writers have joined hands with them.
Salman Rushdie’s book was banned during the Congress regime. Equally, Taslima Nasrin was hounded,too, during the Congress regime. Why didn’t these writers speak up back then? Because they didn’t have the courage to tell the truth of an ugly political agenda.
And why did they surrender to silence over M.F. Hussain’s perverse paintings of Hindu Goddesses? They stitched their mouths under the excuse that insulting Hindu Gods constituted freedom of expression. Some of them vocally supported Hussain himselfbecause playing with Hindu sentiments was the mark of progressiveness.
Whose Freedom of Expression?
Compared to the past, today, there needs to be an even more vigorous and widespread debate over freedom of expression at the national level.
This freedom is not restricted to just one group. It is not correct to raise this point only when it concerns this group. This term needs to have the same meaning when it applies to everybody. However, it appears that the cry of “freedom of expression is under threat” is invoked only when critical questions are raised in public about certain groups or communities. Thanks to this phenomenon, the notion of freedom of speech has been wantonly abused.
This is why there needs to be a debate on this at the national level.
Besides, there’s absolutely no connection between the Sahitya Akademi—which is an autonomous body—and the questions these writers are raising.
Attempts were made to meddle in the affairs of the Akademi during Congress rule. An IAS officer was sent as the Government’s representative to the Akademi’s Working Committee. In a Committee meeting, I had vehemently opposed this move when I was the Convener of the Kendra Sahitya Akademi. Back then, a Congress-affiliated Kannada litterateur had remained mum in the meeting with an eye on securing the vice chancellorship of a university.
The Akademi has more or less retained its autonomy despite this sort of rampant political interference. Besides, it must be remembered that the Akademi as it exists now was constituted during the Congress government.
Stealth Tactics and Smokescreens
The stealth tactic behind returning the Akademi awards is to “record” a protest against the Central Government. This tactic seeks to plant in the minds of the people the misleading notion that the Kendra (Central) Sahitya Akademi functions under the Central Government. The shrill propaganda of ‘save the autonomy of the Akademi’ is also geared towards furthering this misleading notion.
Who among the award-returnees can be counted as a serious litterateur? These are all either affiliated to one specific party or are Leftist political writers. It is in this context that people need to understand these writers.
In both the Kalburgi and Dadri cases, there have been attempts by some of these writers to politicize both issues by trying to create smokescreens and to confound the public.
There needs to be a public debate that clearly shows up the ideological and political affiliations of these award-returnees.
Behind the Conspiracy…
On 14 October, The Hindu carried an article by one Abhijit Sengupta titled Saving the Sahitya Akademi in the nature of a public letter which begins with “Dear Mr. Prime Minister.”
Together with Ashok Vajpeyi, Sengupta had submitted a proposal/report to the then UPA Government recommending the dismantling of the existing democratic system in the Akademi,and further recommended that the Central Government directly appoint the Sahitya Akademi’s Chairperson.
However, the UPA government fell before anything could move forward in the direction. That still didn’t deter them from renewing their efforts in this regard. They continue to attempt this.
Their manoeuvre is simple: like the Lalit Kala Akademi, they seek to put the Sahitya Akademi directly under Government control and lobby to get one of their people appointed as its Chairperson. The tragic fact is that Satchidanandan who was the Akademi’s Secretary for over five years, too, is involved in this manoeuvre.
Litterateurs must not be involved in this project of destroying the Akademi’s autonomy.
~ Sandeep Balakrishna (@sandeepweb) is a columnist and author of Tipu Sultan: the Tyrant of Mysore. He has translated S.L. Bhyrappa’s “Aavarana: the Veil” from Kannada to English.