Who Hates Modi And Why
Modi’s absolute victory last year means that the government is becoming more open to revising India’s myopic Marxist world view in favour of a more fresh and Indian perspective. With political patronage drying up and a new India that is more accommodating of an alternative narrative of past and present events means that these old Indian intellectuals fear being rendered meaningless in Modi’s India
If the admirers of democracy were honest, they would have rejoiced when a tea-seller becomes the Prime Minister. If they were consistent, they would have considered this the logical end result of democratic politics. But, they do not. The liberal intellectuals and journalists still treat Narendra Modi like a pariah. It is an old story. They despised him when he was chief minister of Gujarat. The 2002 riots made them condemn him as a collaborator of mass murderers. Modi was analysed, dissected and damned. The intellectuals’ hatred towards him dates back to 2002, all of 13 years, during which some critics fell by the wayside when their own background details surfaced, many went under covers, fearing Modi in power and some are hiding fearing inquiries by CBI.
Yet quite a handful remains to pop up whenever clouds gather and Modi stops being popular like a Rock Star. But why these ‘intellectuals’, TV anchors and the usual suspects rush back to their trenches once the signs emerge that anyone from their club might be embroiled? No doomsday predictions by these erudite gentlemen if Modi became India‘s prime minister have come true even after almost 19-month of his premiership. Would these eminent personalities have some shame left to admit their mistake in assessing Modi? Why quite a few of them still spew venom whenever they get a chance to criticise him?
As BJP leader Narendra Modi showed signs of winning premiership’s hurdles race, liberal intellectuals at home and abroad rose against him. Through letters to the Editor to The Guardian and The Independent– by Salman Rushdie and 24 others in The Times and 22 in The Independent—in TV discussions, seminars and conferences–their intensive campaign jointly with media barons and anchors and members of the privileged Lutyen’s Club reached its climax as the poll dates neared.
One would have thought that intellectuals and pseudo-secularists like Salman Rushdie and Anish Patel would have the grace to revise their views and publically express them because one year after Modi regime, India has not disappeared, instead risen in stature, no communal divisiveness has taken place and Modi has throughout been talking about 1.25 billion people and not just about Hindus. Warning about Hindutva has gone waste, and Modi can hardly be blamed for any policy which promotes it.
The recent outburst of the literary illuminatis in the country stemmed from the killing of M. M. Kalburgi. The writers started protesting by returning their awards amidst the cry of rising intolerance in the country. But the most important question, which needs to be asked, is that was M. M. Kalburgi the first rationalist in India to be killed? The Kannada scholar was a well-known fighter against superstitions, prevailing mostly in Hinduism. He was an opponent of the idol-worships, something that made him enemy of many Hindu extremists. He was unfortunately gunned down this August. But then he was not the first such rationalist to die in India. Two years ago, in 2013, a Maratha rationalist, Narendra Dabholkar, the founder-president of Maharashtra-based Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti—an organisation set up to eradicate superstition–was also killed, but his killers remain at large.
The notable aspect in these two condemnable murders is that they took place in two states under the rule of the Congress party. The Congress is in power in Karnataka and the Congress was in power in Maharashtra in 2013. The only difference now is that while the Congress ruled the central government in 2013, now it is under the so-called rightist (which is actually not the case as the Bharatiya Janata Party too swears by one variety of socialism) BJP and led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. But then the fact that is to be remembered is that under India’s federal distribution of power, law and order, that is police, is under the control of the state government, not the central government.
These basic facts are important to understand the sheer hypocrisy, dishonesty and double standards involved in the massive hue and cry among a section of India’s literary personalities and performing artists in the wake of the tragic killing of Kalburgi. At the time of writing this, more than 40 Indian writers who had received awards at various points of time from the Sahitya Akademi, India’s highest literary body, which is supposed to be autonomous but funded by the Ministry of Culture, Government of India, have returned their awards. Their ostensible reason is that the Akademi remained silent on the killing of Kalburgi at a time when there is a growing “atmosphere of intolerance” of independent views in India under Modi.
But it is more important to know about these ladies and gentlemen and their ideologies. Before that, it is noteworthy how selective they have been in their protests. None of them returned their awards when Dabholkar was killed. None of them uttered a word of condemnation when noted Islamic scholar Maulana Masoodi (a great proponent of liberal Islam) and Sarvananand Kaul Premi were brutally gunned down by the fundamentalists in Kashmir. None of them ever dared to protest against the then Congress government in Delhi and the Communist government in West Bengal for hounding the asylum-seeker Bangladeshi novelist Taslima Nasreen. None of them shed tears over the ethnic cleansing of the Hindus in Kashmir. And none of them hesitated to accept the government-honours under the Congress regimes, even though the Congress government witnessed arguably the most horrendous communal riots in the form of anti-Sikh pogrom all over the country in 1984.
Now let us begin with Hindi writer Uday Prakash, who was the first to return the award last month over the “silence” of the Akademi. Uday Prakash claims to be a “secular, liberal and pro Dalit and minorities” in his outlook. He studied at and taught for some time in India’s Left-dominated Jawaharlal Nehru University. When the Congress ran the central government in 1990s, the Ministry of Agriculture had commissioned him to research, write, and direct the 15-episode television documentary Krishi Katha on Indian agricultural history, broadcast in 1997. Prakash won the 2010 (India was under the Congress rule) Sahitya Akademi Award in Hindi for his collection of short stories, Mohan Das.
We have K. Sachidanandan, a poet and critic writing in Malayalam and English. He is a former Secretary of Sahitya Akademi and was serving in the General Council, Executive Board and Financial Committee of the Akademi before he left these posts in the ongoing series of protests over silence. He also claims to be a public intellectual “upholding secular anti-caste views, supporting causes like environment, human rights and free software”.
Then there is Ashok Vajpeyi, a former civil servant, known not for his eminence in the bureaucracy but for being a crawling courtier along with his works in literature to late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and Congress strongman late Arjun Singh. In fact, under the Congress governments, he became a Vice-Chancellor; Chairman of Bharat Bhavan Trust in Madhya Pradesh; trustee, Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA); member, Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR); executive board member of the Sangeet Natak Akademi; and chairman of Lalit Kala Akademi, India’s National Academy of Arts.
Look Who Is Talking
Allegations of witness tampering
In November 2010, Setalvad was accused of pressuring Zaheera Sheikh , the key witness in the Best Bakery Case, to make certain statements, leading to the unprecedented transferral of the case outside Gujarat. In August 2005, the Supreme Court of India committee absolved her of the charges of inducement levelled against her by Zaheera and awarded a one-year jail sentence to Zaheera for perjury. Teesta Setalvad’s former aide Rais Khan Pathan has filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court alleging manipulation of evidence, which were in the form of statements of witnesses, by her in five sensitive post-Godhra riot cases.
In April 2009, the Times of India ran a story claiming that the Special Investigation Team (SIT) set up by the Supreme Court of India to investigate and expedite the Gujarat riot cases had submitted before the Court that Teesta Setalvad had cooked up cases of violence to spice up the incidents. The SIT which is headed by former CBI director, R K Raghavan has said that false witnesses were tutored to give evidence about imaginary incidents by Teesta Setalvad and other NGOs. The SIT charged her of “cooking up macabre tales of killings”.
Allegations of misappropriation of funds
In 2013, twelve residents of the Gulbarg Society who were the victim of Gujarat riots, accused Setalvad of collecting donations in the name of riot victims but failing to use them for their benefit and sent a legal notice to her. They claimed that she had collected huge donations from national and international organisations in the name of providing financial assistance for reconstruction of houses or developing the society into a museum but it was not passed to the members of the society. They also sought to ban her organisation “Citizens for Justice and Peace” and prevent them entering the society to organise programmes. The Ahmedabad Crime Branch is conducting an inquiry into the matter.
Alleged violation of the Foreign Contributions Regulation Act
A private organisation in India can accept donations from abroad only if it is registered under the Foreign Contributions Regulation Act. Teesta’s Sabrang Communications and Publishing (not registered under FCRA) had between 2004 and 2014 accepted $290,000 from the US-based Ford Foundation without the government approval .The Ford Foundation, one of the largest international donors, was put on the watch-list following a Gujarat government complaint that it was interfering in India’s “internal affairs” and encouraging Teesta’s NGOs to promote “communal disharmony”. Ford Foundation has been accused of such allegations in another country also. It is also alleged that Ford Foundation had a deep penetration into Nehru Government.
Padma Shri in 2007 awarded for “Public Affairs in Maharashtra” by theUnited Progressive Alliance government led by the Congress Party.
The 2002Rajiv Gandhi National Sadbhavna Award given by the Congress party annually to people promoting “ national goodwill.”
Psyche of a Journalist
While covering the events of 2002 Gujarat violence, Barkha Dutt identified attackers and victims of a riot as “Hindus” and “Muslims” on television, flouting the guidelines of thePress Council of India. In the 2012 book Corruption Free India: Fight to Finish, Yasir Hussain described Barkha Dutt as a “controversial” and a “pro Sonia Gandhi” journalist.
Dutt was criticised for her coverage of 2008 Mumbai attacks, during which she reported from Taj Mahal Hotel and Oberoi Trident. She was blamed for sensationalising the events, putting lives at risk and causing deaths by identifying on live television where the hotel guests might be located. A blogger, Chaitanya Kunte, who had criticized Barkha Dutt’s reporting was served legal notice by her, and coerced to take down his blog.
Radia Tape Scandal
In November 2010, the magazines OPEN and Outlook published transcripts of some telephone conversations between Nira Radia with some senior journalists, politicians, and corporates. The Central Bureau of Investigation announced that they had 5,851 recordings of phone conversations by Radia, some of which outline Radia’s attempts to broker deals in relation to the 2G spectrum sale. Barkha Dutt’s conversations with Radia were reported and Dutt became the face of the tapes scandal.
In 2008, the Indian government awarded Barkha Dutt the Padma Shri, a civilian honour, for her coverage of the 2004 Tsunami.
Arundhati Roy has been accused of various charges. Among them are:
2001 Indian Parliament attack
Roy has raised questions about the investigation into the 2001 Indian Parliament attack and the trial of the accused. She had called for the death sentence of Mohammad Afzalto be stayed while a parliamentary enquiry into these questions are conducted and denounced press coverage of the trial.
2008 Mumbai Attack
In an opinion piece for The Guardian (13 December 2008), Roy argued that the November 2008 Mumbai attacks cannot be seen in isolation, but must be understood in the context of wider issues in the region’s history and society such as widespread poverty, the Partition of India (“Britain’s final, parting kick to us”), the atrocities committed during the 2002 Gujarat violence, and the ongoing Kashmir conflict. She was widely criticised for her comments by many eminent personalities including Salman Rushdie for linking Mumbai attacks to Kashmir conflicts.
In November 2010, Roy, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, and five others were brought up on charges of sedition by the Delhi Police. The filing of the First Information Report came following a directive from a local court on a petition filed by Sushil Pandit who alleged that Geelani and Roy made anti-India speeches at a conference on “Azadi-the Only Way” on 21 October 2010. In the words of Arundhati Roy “Kashmir has never been an integral part of India. It is a historical fact. Even the Indian government has accepted this.”
We have also the likes of high profile Nayantara Sahgal, a niece of independent India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, who has returned the Sahitya Akademi award she had won in 1986 for her political novel Rich Like Us. Her conscience did not prevent her from receiving the award soon after, the anti-Sikh pogrom in 1984, and that too when the country was run by the same Congress party. In an interview to a newspaper, Sahgal explained why she returned her ward. She said, “We need to save the idea of India. India needs that atmosphere of trust and appreciation again. Unfortunately, today, we are ruled by people whose mindsets belong to the Dark Ages. We are being governed by people who are fascists by mind and ideology. The country is going through dangerous times…. A few months of Modi’s rule, and people who voted in the name of development have realised their mistake. The Modi model of development is a farce”. And then she goes on to say how the Congress party can revive its lost glory and expresses her happiness by adding, “I believe Janata Parivar is doing a good job of raising their voice both inside and outside the Parliament. The need of the hour is for the Opposition parties to get together and present a united front.”
As can been seen from above examples—they are illustrative, not exhaustive—almost everybody who has returned his or her award and resigned from some posts holds strong political views (so-called liberal and left) that are not in tune with the views of the present Modi government. Almost all of them got awards and owed their positions because of their proximity and familiarity with the previous central governments. Viewed thus, their resignations are sheer political acts; they have nothing to do with literary freedom. It may be noted that the Congress, in its long decades of power, had cultivated a particular breed of ‘intellectual’ of the leftist, liberal and secular category assiduously. It had given them Rajya Sabha tickets, Padma awards and other such prizes, including jobs in government and myriad cultural and social organisations that come with low salaries but high perks like houses in Delhi. Obviously these “sarkari intellectuals” are uncomfortable and worried that Narendra Modi cannot be seduced by them as was the case before. Their agony is that they will no longer get the political patronage. So it is better that “we quit to get the martyr status and retain some public sympathy”. And this is what they have exactly done, and in the process demonised Modi.
In this context, one would like to point out the absurdity on the part of the 90- year old author Krishna Sobti, who has severed her ties with Akademi by returning her Fellowship and award. To her eternal credit, she had declined the Padma Bhushan award by the then Congress government in 2010 by stating that, “As a writer, I have to keep a distance from the establishment. I think I did the right thing.” If that was her view then, then why is it that she has crossed that distance to join issue with a government which is not even accountable for the killing of an intellectual in a state ruled by the Congress party? One can always protest legitimately in a democratic country against the government of the day and there is no need to equate the government with an autonomous organisation.
Apart from this more than 50 Indian historians have detailed their collective “anguish” at the “highly vitiated atmosphere prevailing in the country”, just weeks after these writers returned their literary awards in protest over what they called India’s “climate of intolerance”. The historians, who include eminent scholars Romila Thapar and Irfan Habib, wrote in a joint statement published in full on a news website Scroll.in that, in India today, “differences of opinion are being sought to be settled by using physical violence”, and that “arguments are met not with counter arguments but with bullets”.
For the sake of argument, one would like to quote Dr. David Frawley, which he has expressed on Dailyo.in, “ Marist scholars in India like Romila Thapar and Irfan Habib have, until recently, controlled the interpretation of ancient India at an institutional level. Being Marxists, there is naturally not much regard for any indigenous tradition of India. Chinese communists similarly rejected the Dalai Lama and Chinese Buddhism as fascists.” He further laments the fact that he was called fascist by these left groups just for contradicting some their theories on Indian history. This shows how these historians are against any argument contradicting their view. Though these ladies and gentlemen have cried over the absence of tolerance of views in a democratic and pluralistic India, their own record in this regard is abysmal. In the process of opposing the Modi regime, they have exposed their own intolerance of alternative views or ideas of a different government that they have not been used to. Their cries of “saffronisation” are sheer bunkum. Given an opportunity, they will muzzle every voice that is against their philosophy. And this is what they did when in power.
Modi’s absolute victory last year means that the government is becoming more open to revising India’s myopic Marxist world view in favour of a more fresh and Indian perspective. Stars of intellectuals, not necessarily painted by Marxism have been on the ascendant. It is this that is rankling these old Indian intellectuals. With political patronage drying up and a new India that is more accommodating of an alternative narrative of past and present events means that these old Indian intellectuals fear being rendered meaningless in Modi’s India. It is this sidelining that is pricking them. It is this that forces them to protest against innocuous events such as Beti bachao, Beti padhao, Digital India, Make in India et al.
By Nilabh Krishna