Oct. 29: Writer Nayantara Sahgal today said that Arun Jaitley's attack on those returning awards to protest growing irrationality and intolerance showed that the Narendra Modi government was rattled by the outcry.
"I'm afraid the government is very rattled and nervous about this
huge public response and is acting in the way it is and not in an
intelligent way," Sahgal said on the sidelines of a literary festival in
A host of writers, historians, scientists and filmmakers have
renounced their awards citing the recent attacks on minorities and
rationalists, prompting the Union finance minister to accuse "rabid
anti-BJP elements" of a "manufactured rebellion".
The protesters' ranks have grown with 415 artists and art critics -
including Vivan Sundaram, Anjolie Ela Menon, Anish Kapoor, Jatin Das and
Subodh Gupta - issuing an "Artists Alert" through the Safdar Hashmi
Memorial Trust (Sahmat) in Delhi.
Also, 53 historians including Irfan Habib, Romila Thapar and M.G.S.
Narayanan issued a statement today against intolerance that referred to
the silence of the "head of government" on "prevailing conditions".
Senior biologist Pushpa Bhargava has decided to give up his Padma
Bhushan and 12 filmmakers and film technicians yesterday renounced their
national awards, joining the 50-odd writers who have dumped their
Sahgal, whose decision to return her Sahitya Akademi award triggered
the avalanche, said: "The country is anguished about what is happening
to defenceless people who are being gunned down, who are having ink
thrown on their faces, who are being brutally threatened."
She narrated an incident in her hometown of Dehradun. "In the bazaar yesterday, a man said to me: ' Yeh log khali ladai karna jante hai; inko nahin maloom kal kya hoga (These people know only to fight, they don't know what will happen tomorrow)'."
Sahgal, a niece of Jawaharlal Nehru, today participated in a panel
discussion re-evaluating the contribution of the country's first Prime
Minister. She described Nehru as an institution builder.
"Nehru attended Parliament daily. He encouraged the Opposition and
nurtured it. What I want to say today is that cohesiveness is being torn
apart by the idea of Hindutva," she said.
"Earlier they divided us. Now they are re-dividing us as Hindus and
others. We're not Hindus and others. We're Indians. We need to debate
and discuss cohesiveness and Hindutva."
Bhargava, founder-director of the Centre for Cellular and Molecular
Biology in Hyderabad, said India seemed to be "moving into an era of
"We're straying away from democracy and towards a nation and a
government guided by religious autocracy," Bhargava told The Telegraph .
"This is deeply disturbing to many of us. It is disturbing that some
are celebrating (Nathuram) Godse (the assassin of Mahatma Gandhi) as a
martyr - it appears that the government through its inaction is
promoting the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh's agenda."
He denied that his action was politically motivated, saying: "Dissent
is dissent and there is a specific point on which you dissent."
The historians' statement said: "When it is hoped that the head of
government will make a statement about improving the prevailing
conditions, he chooses to speak only about general poverty, and it takes
the head of the state to make the required reassuring statement, not
once but twice."
The artists said: "We condemn and mourn the murders of M.M. Kalburgi,
Narendra Dabholkar and Govind Pansare, rationalists and free thinkers
whose voices have been silenced by Right-wing dogmatists but whose
'presence' must ignite our resistance to the conditions of hate being
generated around us."
The last time a similar alert was issued was after the 1989 murder of
communist playwright Safdar Hashmi by Congress goons in Ghaziabad.
"Artists must be willing to fight from the barricades even from a minority position," Sundaram said.