'This government is feeling uneasy because IT cell narratives are being demolished by cartoons.'
'If narratives are so weak to be demolished by cartoons, then they must be fake ones.'
Cartoonist Satish Acharya speaks to Prasaanna D Zore/Rediff.com about the prevailing climate of fear and intimidation unleashed against cartoonists who caricature the Narendra Damodardas Modi-led government and its policies.
Like cartoonist Manjul (interviews with whom you can read in the couple of links below), Acharya too has been at the receiving end when he refused to go soft on Modi.
"No creative person deserves this kind of treatment. History tells us that whenever you tried to curb any creative work, it ended up reaching more people," says the fearless cartoonist.
Words that resonate loudly on the 46th anniversary of the First Suspension of Indian Democracy -- the Emergency of 1975-1977.
As a cartoonist, how do you respond/react to the challenges posed by the prevailing political climate in India, particularly, the Modi government's efforts to intimidate cartoonists?
As an editorial cartoonist, the Constitution of India gives me enough right to express my opinion through cartoons.
Governments are temporary. Political leaders are temporary. Political parties keep changing positions. But the Constitution is supreme and forever.
I strongly believe in the power given to me by our Constitution and I'll continue to draw cartoons come what may.
It's natural for any ruler to be upset by criticism, but only a true statesman takes criticism in a positive way.
This government is too much worried about Brand Modi and is insecure about criticism damaging his image.
My only response to every tactic used by any government to intimidate me or restrict my art, is through more cartoons.
Do you feel suffocated by the restrictions imposed on cartoonists in India today?
It's obviously irritating. It's not new. The organised trolling through abuses, threats and fake propaganda has been happening for the last few years.
Their intention is to get into your head, as creative people are sensitive fellows. Initially, it used to bother me. But soon I realised that I need to defeat them by not letting them enter my head.
So, I mostly ignore their trolling. But when they snatch your jobs/clients it affects you. It's extremely silly of this government to snatch the jobs of cartoonists. It happened with me many times in the past.
Have you been, in any way, told what cartoons you must do and what you must not? Like, what is acceptable to the regime and what is not?
I used to contribute to many newspapers during the last many years as a freelancer. Editors of many of these newspapers gradually started interfering in my work. They were wary of carrying a critical cartoon showing PM (Narendra Damodardas) Modi or the RSS.
They started advising me to change the face, but in all cases I declined to do so. That's when you start losing clients.
How did you overcome these threats/nudges?
Initially, I had many clients as a freelancer, so losing a client or two didn't bother much. But after the Corona lockdown last year, it has become difficult to get a new client. Some existing clients used the opportunity to get rid of cartoon columns. Some new clients succumbed to government pressure.
But luckily social media and cartoon lovers on social media came to my rescue. They supported my work through Patreon and other platforms. Reach of cartoons has never been a problem because of social media.
You have been selling your cartoons online on vibhinna.in. How has the response been from Digital India to your cartoons?
The response and support from cartoon lovers is overwhelming. They care for you more than editors did. They stand with you when needed.
This support gives me more confidence and doesn't let me crumble under any pressure.
How many copies of Cartoon Sarkar and Hum And Them! have you sold till now?
What's the response been like to Cartoon Sarkar given the way this government has been reacting to cartoons critical of its policies?
I publish cartoon books with an intention to document these cartoons. I self-publish them regularly, so I don't print much. I only print around a thousand copies. In case of Go Corona Go, I printed around 2,000 copies.
I sell them mostly on social media. And if copies remain unsold, I gift them to participating students during our annual cartoon festival, Cartoonu Habba.
These are all published cartoons. Most of these cartoons went through severe trolling on social media.
As an artist, what role do you think should cartoonists play when they are faced with a government that tries to counter their influence on how people create political perceptions?
Cartoonists are not fond of any political party or leader. Modi or Mamata or Uddhav don't matter to them beyond their positions. Only these leaders are replaced from their positions, cartoonists will continue to draw the new faces. It's as simple as that.
I strongly believe that it's my fundamental right. My job is not to create political perception. This government is feeling uneasy because IT cell narratives are being demolished by cartoons.
If narratives are so weak to be demolished by cartoons, then they must be fake ones.
Recently, Network 18 reportedly dropped cartoonist Manjul from its panel. The government too is seeking action against Manjul's Twitter account.
Do cartoonists deserve this kind of treatment?
Obviously not. Government has been using numerous unofficial techniques to intimidate cartoonists. This is only getting official.
No creative person deserves this kind of treatment. History tells us that whenever you tried to curb any creative work, it ended up reaching more people.
How do politicians react to cartoons when they are the ruling party and when they are in the Opposition? Could you share your personal experience?
Not many Indian politicians show sporting spirit by appreciating cartoons on them. Their reaction changes drastically as the equations of power change.
For example, many BJP leaders used to share cartoons which were critical of the UPA government policies. But the same leaders call the cartoons critical of the Modi government, vicious! They (ruling party politicians) forget the truth that they would need cartoonists when they return to the Opposition bench.
If you were to draw a cartoon capturing the prevailing climate of fear and intimidation related to cartoonists and their freedom of expression, how would you go about doing it?
Mr Satish Acharya kindly permitted to use the cartoon above and this cartoon in response.