Condemning the Eknath Shinde-Devendra Fadnavis-led government’s “interference” in the fields of art and literature, Maharashtra Leader of Opposition and senior Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader Ajit Pawar on Wednesday said the State’s decision to withdraw an award for the Marathi translation of alleged Maoist ideologue Kobad Ghandy’s memoir smacked of an “undeclared emergency.”
In another development, the Chairman of the State government’s Marathi language committee and four members of the literary board have resigned in protest against the ruling government’s “one-sided” decision to withdraw the award for the translation of Mr. Ghandy’s memoir.
On December 6, the Marathi Language Department of the government had announced an award for literary translation in the memory of renowned ‘Tarkatirtha’ (logician) Laxman Shastri Joshi to Anagha Lele for her Marathi translation of Mr. Ghandy’s book Fractured Freedom: A Prison Memoir.
However, a Government Resolution issued on Monday this week said that the government was reversing the decision of the selection committee, dissolving the committee and withdrawing the award (which carries a cash prize of ₹1 lakh) for “administrative reasons.”
Hitting out at the Shinde-Fadnavis government’s unwarranted interference in cultural fields of art and literature, Mr. Pawar said that despite the award being announced after careful deliberation by the committee of the Sahitya Sanskriti, it was highly improper of the government to dissolve the award selection committee.
“Withdrawing the award announced to Anagha Lele for her translation of Mr. Ghandhy’s memoir is wrong, condemnable and fatal to freedom of expression and democracy. A total of 33 awardees were announced for best literary output in 2021 of whom the Laxman Shastri Joshi Award for Translated Literature was to be given to Ms. Lele for her translation of Mr. Ghandy’s book…it appears that in a mere six days [from December 6-12] after the announcement of the award, many things took place behind the curtains,” alleged Mr. Pawar, speaking to reporters in Mumbai’s Vidhan Bhavan.
Likewise, Mr. Pawar’s colleague in the Opposition ‘Maha Vikas Aghadi’ (MVA) alliance, Shiv Sena (Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray) leader Sanjay Raut, too, censured the State government’s decision.
“There was no need to scrap this award which was given for a translation of Kobad Ghandy’s book. Maharashtra is a progressive State and we have respected all streams of thought. The committee had given this award after some thought. People will not stop reading this book [translation] merely because the government withdrew an award,” said Mr. Raut.
Sources say that the Shinde-Fadnavis government’s ‘jittery’ decision allegedly followed social media outrage over the award being given to a translation of a book by a one-time Maoist ideologue.
Meanwhile, writer Laxmikant Deshmukh, chairman of the State government’s Language Advisory Committee, said he was stepping down in protest against the manner in which the government withdrew the award.
Mr. Deshmukh, in his letter addressed to Minister for Marathi language Deepak Kesarkar, said that while Maharashtra had not witnessed such incidents, the first incident of rejection (since the Maharashtra government started this literature award) was in 1981.
“At the time, the Congress-led government had announced the award to Vinay Hardikar’s book Janancho Pravaho Chalilo which protested the Emergency. The government later withdrew the award, which led to severe censure against it in the literary world. This government has taken a similarly one-sided decision and as a protest, I am quitting from the post of Chairman of the Language Advisory Committee of the State government,” said Mr. Deshmukh.
He further pointed out that Mr. Ghandy’s book had not been banned by the Central or State government till date.
“The book has been available in the market for two years while its Marathi translation has been available for sale in shops across the State for the last six months. There is no ban on the original book. Another important point is that the State government award is not for the original book but for best Marathi translation. The act of cancelling the award is not only unfair but also in violation of fundamental constitutional values of freedom of expression. I strongly condemn it,” said Mr. Deshmukh, adding that Mr. Ghandy’s book neither sympathised nor promoted the violence of Naxalism.
Three other authors – Dr. Pradnya Pawar, Neeraja, and Heramb Kulkarni – who were also members of the now-dissolved award selection committee too resigned in protest.
In a statement, Dr. Pradnya said that the State government’s one-sided decision to scrap the selection committee insulted democratic procedures.