While some unhesitatingly speak out against injustice, others prefer to look the other way
A seasoned Bollywood hero known for working in cinema rich in its socio-political texture was asked if he experienced any pangs of conscience supporting Narendra Modi, often criticised for the killing of thousands of Muslims in Gujarat in 2002. Replying in the negative, he argued he was not a politician and was in Gujarat only as a businessman – he had set up a solar power plant. What Modi did in 2002 was not his business; the solar power plant was his business.
Another senior star, who when faced with a barrage of criticism for promoting the State, said he was merely a brand ambassador for the State, not the CM or his party. So, it did not tantamount to endorsing anybody. That Modi was a divisive figure, who drew a parallel between the killing of the minorities and a puppy coming under the wheel of a car, mattered not a bit to the star. He was in Gujarat for the specific advertisement, nothing more. Thank you. It did not strike him that he was starring in a commercial that promoted Gujarat, and indirectly, the Government of Modi.
These big stars with a fan following of millions needed no brownie points from the CM. They needed no sops for their business either. Yet they chose the path they did. Over the past few weeks as the Modi juggernaut has rolled on, the two incidents haunt me. I am reminded of Martin Neimuller’s words: “First they came for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up, because I wasn’t a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up, because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up, because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time there was no one left to speak up for me.”
As days pass , I realize my folly. I, not they, am guilty. Yes, it hurt me to see a galaxy of stars turn apologists; their disguises so thin that one saw right through them. I was seeking hope and redemption at the wrong quarters. This dawned on me, courtesy U.R. Ananthamurthy, the Kannada writer who dared to be vocal when many others have equivocated. First quoted for allegedly saying he would not like to live in India if Modi were to become the PM (he subsequently denied making the statement), he was then brave enough to call Modi a bully. With him comes hope. At a time when others have lost their head, a seasoned writer has kept his, adding spine to our discourse. At 80-plus, Ananthamurthy has stood up to be counted. And, ably countered the growing propaganda that the Gujarat CM is the panacea for the nation’s afflictions. At a time when the media would have us believe that the CM is an open book with a text that is easy on the mind, and one that deserves to be read at the national stage, Ananthamurthy talked of moral anomie of our society, the deep chasm which propels a Right-wing proponent to centre-stage. His words stem not from individual caprice but principles set firmly in the pluralist way of living. He derives his strength not from Hindutva, but Vedic Hinduism, something akin to Mahatma Gandhi. The Jnanpith award winner provides a ray of hope for us all.
This little ray of hope needs to become an incandescent beam. More radiance has just been added by the renowned author Amitav Ghosh. Of course, there has been Amartya Sen too. He, in fact, was probably the first to call the Modi bluff and bluster.
All men of substance, all authors of unquestioned integrity. What is it about authors that they have found the voice to take on the juggernaut while the much more popular film stars have been reduced to fawning courtiers? Maybe, simply because of the nature of their work; they operate in zones not easily understood by many . Maybe, it’s their conscientious nature. Whatever, but we need to learn from our literary gurus. We need not a Bachchan but an Ananthamurthy to cope with the hubris of our times.