Vehemently rejecting the charge that Congress and Leftists were behind their protest against “growing intolerance”, writers and artistes on Sunday alleged that the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party was unable to “control its mobs”, with one of them even comparing the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh to Islamic militant group Islamic State.
They also took umbrage to Union Minister Arun Jaitley’s remarks dubbing the protest as “manufactured rebellion” questioning how he could make such a claim when the President, many business leaders as well as common people have joined in voicing concern over the “disturbing” trend.
The writers, artistes, thinkers and academics had gathered for a “resistance” meet (Pratirodh) against what they described as “attack on reason, democracy and composite culture”.
A minute’s silence was kept by gathering for three slain rationalists MM Kalburgi, Govind Pansare and Narendra Dabholkar.
“In its inability to control its mobs, the only comeback that the BJP has is to describe the protesters as Leftists or instigated by the Congress party.
“Many of us are Leftists but many of us are not Leftists. What the protest is about is the need for a liberal space and this being emphasised again and again,” historian Romila Thapar said.
In his speech, historian Irfan Habib said, “There is not much difference between Islamic State and the RSS as far intellect goes.”
Noted poet Ashok Vajpeyi, who was among at least 37 writers those who had returned their state awards in protest against the alleged “rising intolerance” in the country, referred to recent allegations by ministers including by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley terming the protests by writers as “manufactured”.
“The President, the Reserve Bank Governor and leading industrialist Narayan Murthy have joined this manufactured politics. Some of us had returned our awards and now the number has crossed 40. And we are being accused of practising manufactured politics.
“Sir, the politics of hatred, violence, killing and ignorance is being manufactured by you,” he alleged.
The intensified attack by the writers came on a day Jaitley filed a fresh salvo to counter the protest, accusing Congress, Left thinkers and activists of practising “ideological intolerance” towards the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Meghna Pansare, daughter-in-law of Pansare, said it was good to see the writings of the trio who wrote in Kannada and Marathi now being published in English in the book “The Republic of Reason, Words They Could Not Kill,” released by Sahmat.
“All three people who had written these articles had one common link that they were all rationalists. They used to create awareness and enlightenment in the society about values like freedom of expression, democratic values,” she said.
She said family members of the three had come together to ask for justice and a complete investigation . “We hope people who killed them should be punished,” she said.
Dabholkar’s children Mukta and Hamid attended the meet via video-conferencing. Dalit writer Mohan Das Rai was also present.
“We are now going through a period of anti-intellectualism, “ said Romila Thapar, who was among over 50 historians who recently spoke out strongly against Modi “for not making any reassuring statement” following concerns over “highly vitiated atmosphere” in the country.
Mentioning an event in Mumbai last week where Thapar had gone to give a lecture, she said police had insisted on giving her protection to guard against a repeat of ink attack on Sudheendra Kulkarni.
“I came home in the evening feeling deeply depressed because after 68 years of independence, I thought was it not possible for an academic to give an academic lecture on the subject of secularism without needing police protection?”
She said it was “bizarre” to call the protests by writers and others as a “rebellion.”
“A rebellion is a movement against the existence of the state. We are not demanding the removal of the state. We are demanding that the crisis of murder and mayhem that has overtaken Indian society should be brought to an end,” said the 83-year-old historian.
She said the acts they were protesting against were not new but “in the past one year there has been a dramatic increase of such acts.”
She alleged that fringe elements were calling the shots and have “succeeded in creating an atmosphere of fear, violence and acute disharmony”.
Dismissing accusations that they had never protested in the past, Thapar said it was incorrect and cited Emergency, the killing of Sikhs in the 1984 riots, destruction of the Babri mosque and Nandigram.
She also said she had twice declined Padma awards from Congress governments.
Justice (retd) Rajendra Sachar, writers Krishna Sobti, Keki Daruwala, Gita Hariharan, activist Teesta Setalvad, scientist Dinesh Abrol, and theatre activist M K Raina were among those who spoke.
Video messages by actor Sharmila Tagore and scientist PM Bharghava who returned his Padma awards recently was also played at the event.
Image: Noted historian Irfan Habib