India yet to have free debate on communalism: Nirmala Sitharaman

“Writers’ protest raises more questions than it answers”.

Updated - December 04, 2021 11:33 pm IST

Published - October 15, 2015 12:39 am IST - NEW DELHI:

Union Commerce Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said on Wednesday that the Dadri incident demonstrated that the “country does not have a free and fair debate on communalism.” Ms. Sitharaman also said the protest by writers in returning awards conferred on them by the Sahitya Akademi, raises “more questions than it answers.”

Speaking to The Hindu, she said: “I’ve always found that in issues to do with communalism, a lot of things get churned up and by the time a reasonable dialogue takes place, enough is said about the BJP, its ideology, the RSS without ever giving the BJP its voice.

“It is invariably assigned a defensive position, by the time it enters the fray. It is a shame that the country does not prefer to have a free and open debate on communalism and communal incidents.”

To blame the Centre in a State issue is to deny its seriousness, she charged.

BJP’s views not heard, says Minister

Union Commerce Minister Nirmala Sitharaman claimed on Wednesday that in communal issues the BJP’s side of the story was hardly heard and the Centre was blamed when it was hardly in the picture.

“Where the Centre is to be blamed, please do so. But where it is a State issue, to expect the Prime Minister to answer… and to push him to say things and to bemoan that ‘this country is going to the dogs, etc.’ is to deny the seriousness of the issue.”

Asked about Culture Minister Mahesh Sharma’s incendiary comments while visiting the village in Dadri where Mohammad Akhlaq had been lynched on suspicion of keeping beef in his house, Ms. Sitharaman said she could not presume on her Cabinet colleague’s right to represent a case from an area where he was an MP. “The larger picture is that such debates cannot be appropriated by some people, who are well within their rights to air their opinion, but deny any attempts at a counter-argument.

“I always find the counter-argument is pushed to the BJP, with all these narratives arraigned against you, already in place, in an arena stacked with opponents, and our party is expected to step in and ‘fill in the blanks.’ For example, a professor in Kerala had his hand chopped off for setting a question paper for his students which was not to the liking of a certain community. How many debates of the kind we are seeing now happened then? Why are these debates always wrenched out and appropriated by just some people?”

She questioned the wide spectrum of writers who had returned awards conferred on them by the Sahitya Akademi.

“The first thing to note in this is that they are protesting, aren’t they? They are speaking out, aren’t they? Is there an attempt to muffle their voice?

“Mr. Kalburgi had been killed in Karnataka, where a Congress government is in place, Dadri is in Uttar Pradesh where the Samajwadi Party rules. If all over the country, as they put it, it is the responsibility of the Centre for having created an environment that they feel like protesting against, are they denying the State government’s role in taking care of law and order? The writers have every right to protest, their protest is a message, which we have received, but have they properly contextualised their protest?.

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