Voices against BJP

Artists, writers against Modi

Print edition : May 10, 2019

Romila Thapar. Photo: T. Singaravelou

Amitav Ghosh Photo: K. RAMESH BABU

Naseeruddin Shah. Photo: Vivek Bendre

Harsh Mander. Photo: K. RAGESH

Girish Karnad. Photo: V. Sreenivasa Murthy

Arundhati Roy. Photo: M. Moorthy

Artists and writers raise their voice against the present regime and call upon voters to throw out the government for the sake of India’s pluralist tradition and the Constitution.

MORE and more writers, film-makers, theatre directors, academics, scientists and now civil servants have raised their voice, alerting people to the challenges facing the nation. Making impassioned appeals to the electorate to save democracy, illustrious writers such as Arundhati Roy and Amitav Ghosh, seasoned academics and civil rights activists like Romila Thapar and Harsh Mander and noted film and theatre personalities like Naseeruddin Shah, Girish Karnad and Amol Palekar have drawn attention to the challenges posed to the nation by Hindutva politics. Refusing to be browbeaten by allegations of being “urban Naxals” or “anti-nationals”, they have either directly urged the nation not to vote for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its allies or asked citizens to ponder over the ills of the last five years, notable for a climate of intolerance, fear, and hatred towards fellow Indians, before casting their vote.

An appeal signed by over 600 actors and film-makers, including Naseeruddin Shah, Amol Palekar, Girish Karnad, Anurag Kashyap, Konkona Sen, Makrand Deshpande, Mahesh Dattani, Mita Vashisht, Ratna Pathak Shah and Usha Ganguli, urged people to vote out the BJP as the very idea of India and its Constitution was under threat in the climate of fear, prejudice and exclusion. The letter, which was issued in 12 languages on the Artists Unite India website, said the upcoming Lok Sabha elections were the “most critical in the history” of the country.

“A democracy must empower its weakest, its most marginalised. A democracy cannot function without questioning, debate, and a vibrant opposition. All this is being concertedly eroded by the current government. The BJP, which came to power five years ago with the promise of development, has given free rein to Hindutva goons to indulge in the politics of hate and violence,” it said. Earlier, over a hundred independent film-makers from across India, such as Anand Patwardhan, Deepa Dhanraj and Gurbinder Singh, had issued a similar appeal under the umbrella of Save Democracy. In their appeal, the film-makers pointed to the “unleashing of polarisation and hate politics; marginalisation of Dalits, Muslims and farmers; steady erosion of the cultural and scientific institutions; and increasing censorship”.

They criticised lynchings of Muslim and Dalit men on the pretext of cow protection. They said that criticism had become an unpatriotic act under the current regime. “Any individual or institution that raises the slightest dissent is labelled ‘anti-national’,” they said in a statement. In fact, it was their appeal that paved the way for similar appeals by renowned individuals such as Arundhati Roy, Girish Karnad, Amitav Ghosh, Romila Thapar, Harsh Mander and Keki Daruwalla. In a signed statement, the eminent authors, poets and academics appealed to the people to vote out the BJP and save India’s pluralist ethos. Arguing for equality and diversity, they said in a joint statement: “Let us vote against hate politics. Let us vote for an equal and diverse India.” They were supported by authors of various Indian languages such as Punjabi, Hindi, Marathi, Konkani, Gujarati, Bengali, Urdu, Malayalam, Kannada, Telugu, Tamil and Kashmiri.

The statement

The statement was released by the veteran writers K. Satchidanandan and Githa Hariharan on behalf of the Indian Writers’ Forum. It read: “The upcoming election finds our country at the crossroads. Our Constitution guarantees all its citizens equal rights, the freedom to eat, pray and live as they choose, freedom of expression and the right to dissent. But in the last few years, we have seen citizens being lynched or assaulted or discriminated against because of their community, caste, gender, or the region they come from.

“Hate politics has been used to divide the country; create fear; and exclude more and more people from living as full-fledged citizens. Writers, artists, film-makers, musicians and other cultural practitioners have been hounded, intimidated, and censored. Anyone who questions the powers-that-be is in danger of being harassed or arrested on false and ridiculous charges.

“All of us want this to change. We don’t want rationalists, writers, and activists to be hounded or assassinated. We want stern measures against violence in word or deed against women, Dalits, Adivasis and minority communities. We want resources and measures for jobs, education, research, healthcare and equal opportunities for all.... Vote out the division of our people; vote out inequality; vote against violence, intimidation, and censorship. This is the only way we can vote for an India that renews the promises made by our Constitution. This is why we appeal to all citizens to vote for a diverse and equal India.”

The statement revived memories of how some writers returned their Sahitya Akademi awards in 2015 after Nayantara Sahgal decided to return hers as the literary body stayed silent in the face of attacks on freedom of expression and the dastardly killings of the rationalists Govind Pansare and M.M. Kalburgi.

Later, when Mohammad Akhlaq was lynched for allegedly storing beef in his fridge in Dadri in Uttar Pradesh, Nayantara Sahgal spoke up about the sustained and multi-pronged assault on India’s pluralism. Noted authors like Satchidanandan, Uday Prakash, Chaman Lal and Rahman Abbas raised their voice in unison.

The latest series of appeals are in line with those protests.

Barely a couple of days before the elections, visual artists joined in with an appeal to save the spirit of India by voting out the BJP. Their statement said, “The BJP-led government has created a pervasive atmosphere of fear and all-consuming hatred, which has infiltrated our homes. We believe that this sustained regressive agenda is to impose an intolerant, mono-culture and destroy our rich and diversified social fabric. We do not wish to see it a day more in office. This is thus an appeal to all thinking citizens to see through their subterfuge and vote for change.” The signatories included Orijit Sen, Babu Eshwar Prasad, Sukanya Ghosh, Georgina Maddox and Dakxin Chhara.

There were artistes and film-makers who lent their voice to Prime Minister Narendra Modi too. That is not unexpected, with Bollywood personalities such as Akshay Kumar, Anupam Kher and Madhur Bhandarkar having consistently supported the government. Among the signatories in favour of Modi’s continuation as Prime Minister was Vivek Oberoi, whose film PM Narendra Modi has been much talked about and, thanks to the intervention of the Election Commission, will be released only after the general election.

Significantly, among the 900-odd classical, film and theatre artists who pitched for Modi were Ustad Wasifuddin Dagar, Ghulam Mustafa Khan, Saroja Vaidyanath, Pratibha Prahlad, and Radha and Raja Reddy. Lesser-known actors like Rahul Roy, Payal Rohatgi and Koena Mitra were also on the list. During the last five years, India has seen a government that has delivered corruption-free good governance and development-oriented administration, they said. They added that India had acquired greater respect globally under Modi.

Within 24 hours of the pro-Modi statement, dancer Geeta Chandran distanced herself from the campaign launched by the Nation First Collective, raising doubts about the veracity of the signatories. The battle for the nation is well and truly under way.

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