Five-day literary jamboree ends

Former Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhra Raje with socialite Bina Ramani (right) at the Jaipur Literature Festival on Monday.

Former Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhra Raje with socialite Bina Ramani (right) at the Jaipur Literature Festival on Monday.   | Photo Credit: Photo: PTI

Sunny Sebastian

JAIPUR: The Jaipur Literature Festival, the five-day extravaganza which the organisers themselves compared to a “Big Indian Wedding”, came to an end here on Monday. The concluding event at Diggi Palace was a political debate on “State v/s People: The State has declared war on its poorest people in the name of development”.

The session, for which the participants were not announced in advance, had Union Minister Salman Khursheed defending the State while other panellists included writer-publisher Urvashi Butalia, Jawaharlal Nehru University Professor Moushmi Basu, Tehelka journalist Shoma Choudhary, activist professor Dileep Simeon and British businessman H. S. Narula, one of the promoters of the DSC Jaipur Literature Festival.

The success of the event, the fifth in uninterrupted succession this year, could be measured from the fact that it even attracted politicians this time, though – barring Mr. Khursheed and Rajasthan Tourism Minister Bina Kak— none of them was extended a formal invitation by the organisers who till now, and perhaps rightly too, remain wary of any kind of political association!

Among the regular visitors at the festival was former Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje, who on days dropped in at the venue for a second or third time to spend some time in one of the tents—where the sessions were in progress—or to talk to litterateurs and to browse through the books at the temporary book stalls put up at the venue.

The other visitors included Rajasthan Health Minister Imaduddin Ahmed and local Congress leader Rajeev Arora, who is also one of the organisers of the Jaipur Virasat Festival, the event which gave birth to the idea of an exclusive literature festival in the city.

At the concluding session, Mr. Khursheed recognised the presence of Ms. Raje in the front rows as he went up to her to shake hands before climbing on the stage.

New prize

It was not political debate alone at the concluding event as the organisers came out with the announcement of a scintillating prize for literature in South Asia. The award, “DSC Prize for South Asian Literature”, to be given from next year, carries a cash component of 50,000 dollars, one of the biggest awards of its kind for Asia. Festival Producer Sanjoy Roy termed the award as “the most generous prize Asia will see”.

The panel of judges will include British politician and author Meghnad Desai, Tina Brown, Editor-in-Chief of The Daily Beast, author Nayantara Sahagal, Urvashi Butalia and others. Mr. H. S. Narula, who has promoted the award, is a member but said it would be for the rest of the jury to decide: “I will not interfere.”

The political debate went on predictable lines with those supporting the theme blaming the government for the brutalities perpetrated on Maoists and its past acts of omission and commission during the anti-Sikh riots and the post-Godhra violence.

The anti-people activities mentioned by the panellists included acquisition of land for Special Economic Zones and building shopping malls. Mr. Khursheed, while accepting the pitfalls of the system, argued that the country did not have an oppressive government. He listed the initiatives taken by the United Progressive Alliance government such as RTI and NREGA as steps towards equity and social justice.

Only peacocks and parakeets, whose peaceful existence in the Diggi Palace garden -- which formed one of the venues of the sessions if the topic attracted a larger crowd -- was disturbed by the five-day events, seemed to be the happy ones about the end of the show .

“It is getting better every year,” said Namita Gokhale, writer-publisher and one of the directors of the festival, as the participants embraced each other bidding good-bye.

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