While it’s heartening to see writers from Hindi and other Indian languages forging a unity to defend the idea of India, one hopes that musicians, theatre persons and artists will do likewise.
Writers across the country are exercised about the possibility of Narendra Modi assuming power at the Centre as Prime Minister. His autocratic behaviour, intolerance for dissent, and unabashedly communal agenda are some of the things that have caused mental agony to writers, whom Maxim Gorky had once described in a memorable phrase as “sculptors of soul”.
Recently, top Kannada writer U R Ananthamurthy, well-known Hindi poet-critic Ashok Vajpeyi and Planning Commission member Syeda Hamid addressed a press conference at Press Club of India to make people aware of the prevailing political situation. While Ananthamurthy, a follower of Ram Manohar Lohia’s brand of socialism, is no stranger to politics, it was certainly refreshing to see Vajpeyi in a quasi-political role. In Hindi literary circles, he has been among those who have always opposed mixing of ideology with literature. In the world of Hindi literature, ‘ideology’ has become synonymous with Marxism and progressive ideas and opposition to it has resulted in, as it were, a farewell to ideas or a mindless glamorisation of the fossilised Indian (read: Hindu) traditions. However, Vajpeyi’s participation in the event showed that no sensitive writer can remain aloof or insulated in his own cocoon if tectonic shifts are taking place all around him. When the pogrom of 2002 took place in Gujarat, he had raised his voice against communalism, but this was perhaps the first time that he took a palpably political stance.
It is also gratifying to note that some sense has dawned upon the residual progressives active in the Progressive Writers’ Association, as it has invited Vajpeyi, Ananthamurthy, Girish Karnad, Arundhati Roy, Amartya Sen, Gulzar, Mahesh Bhatt, Shabana Azmi and many others to come to Varanasi and campaign against Modi. It is also organising a daylong cultural programme on May 4 in Varanasi to spread awareness about the dangers of fascism that masquerades as Hindu nationalism. Ananthamurty and Karnad have in any case decided on their own to actively campaign against Modi in Varanasi. This is when the 81-year-old Ananthamurthy has to undergo dialysis twice a week. But, as he said in a recent meeting with this columnist, freedom was in peril at the moment and his worst fear is that if a bully came to power, more and more people would behave like cowards.
Ananthamurthy and Karnad are no ordinary writers, nor is Ashok Vajpeyi an ordinary cultural activist. Both Ananthamurthy and Karnad are winners of the Jnanpith award and all the three are recipients of the Sahitya Akademi Award. Vajpeyi earned nationwide fame by playing a central role in the creation of Bharat Bhawan and directing its activities for many years. He had his own share of detractors, but his importance as a cultural visionary remained indisputable. The ‘Modi Effect’ has not only galvanised him into political action but has also affected him as a poet. Three weeks ago, when his poems appeared in Jansatta, they made the Hindi literary world to sit up and take note. It was a pleasant surprise to see an anti-political poet turning explicitly political though not propagandist. These poems were proof enough — if one was ever needed — that powerful ideas provide impetus to creativity and are not an impediment to it in any way. In the end, everything depends on the creative ability of the writer.
In situations of political, social or cultural crisis, grand alliances among disparate forces are needed. Today is such a moment when all those who believe in a free, democratic and secular India should come together to defend it. It’s heartening to see that writers from Hindi and other Indian languages are rising to the occasion and forging a unity to defend the idea of India. One hopes that musicians, theatre persons, artists and others active in the domain of culture will join hands to support the secular cause.
Culture is the continuation of politics by other means. And, it is one domain of human activity where Modi and his devotees are clearly out of their depth. There are hardly any writers of note in the country who openly support the Hindutva cause.