I am a liberal centrist, says Vikram Sampath

Updated - March 24, 2016 01:19 pm IST

Published - December 02, 2015 12:00 am IST

CHENNAI, 05/05/2010: Author Vikram Sampath, at an interview with The Hindu in Chennai on May 05, 2010.
Photo: S.S. Kumar

CHENNAI, 05/05/2010: Author Vikram Sampath, at an interview with The Hindu in Chennai on May 05, 2010. Photo: S.S. Kumar

Vikram Sampath, writer and key organiser of Bangalore Literature Festival, stepped aside from his role following the withdrawal of some writers from the event. They took exception to his article on ‘award wapsi’ and opinion on Left historians. The Hindu spoke to him on the ‘intolerance’ debate:

The writers who have walked out of BLF are now accused of ‘forcing’ you to quit. Was there an element of coercion in their decision to walk out?

It was coercion in another form. Authors were calling up on a daily basis and threatening to pull out of the festival. There was a campaign by a section of writers and media houses, calling up authors from across the country asking them how they could support a ‘tainted festival’. If such bullying and ganging up is not called coercion or intolerance, what is?

Some writers allege you called those returning awards political stooges.

I only said I was not given the award for being a political stooge and that does not deductively mean I have called all the others political stooges. Why should nuance die such an ironic death? The writers who have pulled out should now clarify as to why they pulled out and how their stand wasn’t intolerant of a contrary opinion. There is a huge centrist position out there between the straight-jacketed rigid world of left and right. I am neither right nor left, but am a liberal centrist supporting either sides based on the issue on hand. Majority of the society is centrist, neither left nor right. We need to reclaim this space.

While you opposed those giving back awards and resigning from the Akademi, you resigned as an organiser? You could have stood your ground.

The external pressure and intimidation was so extreme that there was no option left. We could call off the festival altogether, go ahead with a truncated festival with authors from one end of the spectrum pulling out or I resign. We did not want a monochromatic festival, so I quit.

Are we moving towards extreme polarisation where people with differing ideals are not able to engage with each other?

Are the writers saying such conclaves turn into echo chambers or cozy clubs of fellow-backslappers, without engaging with those holding contrarian views? We are not being intolerant here. We are only calling people to our platform. Liberals are those turning the most illiberal here. As soon as we call Ravishankar or Rajiv Malhotra, we are branded right wing. We need to grow out of this.

How do you foresee your association with BLF in the future?

I really don’t know if I will continue to remain a liability. But one thing is for sure. I cannot live in constant fear all through the next year of which author may take offence to what article I write through the year and how it affects the litfest.

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