Excerpts from an interview with Prof. Ananthamurthy

Jnanpith recipient U.R. Ananthamurthy is no stranger to controversies.

Many of his literary works and views expressed in public have generated stormy debates.

Earlier this week, Prof. Ananthamurthy stirred a hornet’s nest by stating at a book release function that he could not think of living in a country led by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi. This opened the floodgates of criticism against him, spearheaded by the State BJP leaders. In the latest encounter, the ‘NaMo Brigade’ is said to have sent him money orders to fund his “one-way foreign trip” as he does not wish to live in a country headed by Mr. Modi. Undeterred by criticism, Prof. Ananthamurthy has continued his scathing critique of Mr. Modi.

Excerpts from an interview with Prof. Ananthamurthy

Q. What is at the root of your strong criticism of Mr. Modi?

A. He strikes me as a man who has no sense of introspection and no inner life. This is unlike leaders such as Jawaharlal Nehru or even A.B. Vajpayee. India needs people with openness to cultures and not a man without introspection.

Had the death of so many in Gujarat in 2002 hurt him somehow, he would not have compared those who died to puppies that come under the wheels of an automobile… The kind of nationalism Modi propagates is dangerous.

Modi is being projected as a model of development. How do you react?

There are apprehensions about the Modi model of development. People are anxious that Modi is helping only one class, the middle class. Now they are exhibiting pictures of Muslims coming to meet him. I feel sad, as many do so with a sense of insecurity. When there is a bully, he creates cowards. Modi is a bully.

BJP has said that you are a parasite, suggesting that your loyalties change

I have been anti-Congress all my life. I was a socialist. I was very happy when Jayaprakash Narayan (JP) united all the parties, including the BJP, to form the Janata Party. Later on, I became critical of it. I thought what JP did then helped the BJP become the strong party it is today. I am critical of JP, even when I admire him. I have doubts about my own political stand in the past. One goes on learning when things do not go the way we predict. I began to doubt Ram Manohar Lohia’s concept of non-Congressism. We are not anti-Congress, but non-Congressists. Now non-BJPism is as important as non-Congressism to many of us. So there is a shift in many of us.

What dangers do you foresee if Modi becomes Prime Minister?

I was a bitter critic of Indira Gandhi and even campaigned against her. But never was I abused by Congressmen the way BJP members are abusing me now. That is an indication that the BJP is a fascist party. This never happened to us. [Ram Manohar] Lohia used to make fun of Nehru. But nobody attacked Lohia. Being a great friend of Indira Gandhi, Madhu Limaye was her bitter critic. India has a tradition of tolerance. Never did political critics attack in this manner. Opposition should have certain sensitivity to opposition. There was opposition for the sake of ideology.

What is the relationship between a creative writer, society and politics?

Most of the time, I am a citizen. I am a creative writer when I am in deep doubt about some strong convictions. I am always a writer when I am against myself. So a writer should have the quality to overcome himself, his opinions. He should keep his opinions at bay when he writes. A writer, who is active in society, should withdraw himself while writing and return to society later. It is difficult to separate a creative writer from society and politics.

What ought to be the relationship between a writer and political power?

A writer should always be a little sceptical about political power. At the same time, he should not become cynical about it. It is a difficult position. For instance, writers, including me, supported the Congress, as we were disgusted with the BJP administration. I thought it was a decisive moment when Karnataka came out of the mess created by the BJP. I am happy that Siddaramaiah is there, but it does not mean that I will stand by him forever. What is necessary in politics is Sakshi Prajne, a capacity to witness without becoming emotional.

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