“I am not reconsidering my visit to the literary meet in Maharashtra,” said Nayantara Sahgal after a row was kicked up over an invite sent to her to inaugurate the 92nd all-India All Marathi literary meet this week.
Questions were raised when Sahgal’s invitation to the January 11 event at Yavatmal, was cancelled, citing law and order issues. Opposition leaders like Mumbai Congress chief Sanjay Nirupam alleged the invitation was cancelled at the behest of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.
In a statement, the chief minister’s office said the decision on whom to invite for the meet is taken by the organisers and the state government has no role in it. The CMO statement said a section of media is dragging the state government’s name in the controversy. The Akhil Bharatiya Sahitya Mahamandal (which organises the meet), is an autonomous body and neither the CM nor the state government interfere in its functioning, it said.
The Sharad Pawar-led Nationalist Congress Party was not impressed by the government’s statement and said the invitation was cancelled “out of fear that Prime Minister Narendra Modi” would not like if Sahgal, niece of first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, attended the literary meet.
The NCP said Modi always speaks against Nehru and asked Fadnavis to re-invite Sahgal for the meeting.
The noted English-language author who was at the forefront of the ‘award-wapsi’ (returning of awards) campaign, was to inaugurate the meet on January 11 in the presence of Fadnavis.
NCP spokesperson Nawab Malik said, “The way Sahagal’s invitation was cancelled by the organisers of the meet, the government’s hand is there somewhere (in this).”
“Modi always speaks against Nehru. Sahgal belongs to Nehru’s family. There is a fear in the mind of the Maharashtra BJP and the chief minister of Maharashtra that if Nayantara Sahgal attends the meeting, Modi won’t be happy,” Malik said.
The invitation was cancelled after a member of the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena threatened to disrupt the meeting opposing Sahgal’s presence, the NCP leader said.
“If the invitation was cancelled in the name of law and order, it is the responsibility of the chief minister, who is also home minister of the state, to convince Sahgal to
attend the function,” Malik said.
Maharashtra Navnirman Sena chief Raj Thackeray issued a statement Monday, admitting that one of his local party workers had opposed Sahgal’s presence at the literary meet. “As the party chief, I am not against inviting her,” Thackeray said.
“If Sahgal’s presence at the All India Literary Meet is transcending into a cultural exchange, I or my party will not oppose it,” Thackeray said, adding that he “deeply regretted’ the inconvenience caused to supporters of such literary events by the action of a few of his men.
Nirupam said the decision of the organisers to rescind the invite to Sahgal was taken at BJP’s behest. The MNS is just a front, he added.
“Literature should not surrender before politics. If a government is scared of writers, it means that its days are over,” he said.
The rescinding of the invitation to Sahgal has exposed the “intolerant” face of the BJP government led by Devendra Fadnavis, Maharashtra Congress president Ashok Chavan said.
The invitation was cancelled to ensure “political security” of the chief minister, he said and attacked Fadnavis for issuing a clarification on the issue but not condemning
the meet organisers’ decision to cancel the invitation to Sahgal.
Maharashtra’s Cultural Affairs Minister Vinod Tawde, however, said the state welcomed everyone.
“If someone had opposed Sahgal after her speech at the meet, then it could have been understood. It is not fair to oppose her completely. Maharashtra is a state that welcomes everyone to present their work,” he said.
Noted Marathi author Aruna Dhere, who will preside over the event, also criticised the organisers for cancelling Sahgal’s invitation.
“It is shocking that you respectfully invite someone and later back out. Sahgal should be invited (again) with respect,” she said.
Laxmikant Deshmukh, the outgoing chairman of the literary meet, said the organisers should have thought before inviting Sahgal, as her line of thinking was well-known.
Meanwhile, several Marathi authors and journalists on Monday announced they would be boycotting the meet to mark their protests over the Sahgal’s ‘insult’ by the meet’s organisers.
Historian Ramachandra Guha tweeted, “The Maharashtra that fears the words of a ninety one year old woman writer is the Maharashtra of Godse and his mentors, not the Maharashtra of Ambedkar, Phule, Gokhale or Tilak.”