The festivals that turn political rather than literary
Recently a literary festival closed in the salubrious climate of Himachal Pradesh at Kasauli. The most renowed one is Jaipur festival that denied entry to Salim Rashdie when minor writers compared to his statue ruled the functioning of the festival.
Festivals are supposed to be gathering of literary people writers artist and those who are interested in creating artistic works. The pity is that these festivals in India are always reeking political controversy.
Rushdies controversy caught the eye of international community as the two books written by him Mid night children as well as Stanic verses had earned the wrath of Mullahas. Khomani had declared him an offender and issued a fatwa against him. Rushdie continued to hide but when he was invited to India he showed some courage. His books were banned in India also. Before reaching India he started making statements of reports to remove him. He feared that he will be assassinated and even blamed the government in failing to offer protection to him when it Is being reported that he will be killed. The government denied any such conspiracy or any written order to stop him. But this controversy took international proportions and the government of India had to clarify it and deny it. Then Chief Minister of Rajasthan Ashok Ghelot met the home P. Chidambaram to clarify this matter.
There was nothing literary in the festival but his absence or invitation became the matter of discourse. When he came he made wildcharges in his statement against the government as his assigned killers were on the prowl.
Recently concluded festival at Kasauli was not literary festival but totally political festival. The authors’ one by one cursed the government in power and only one author Tawleen Singh blazed independent trail. To start a tirade against Modi or his government through condemnation of his policies was not the baic purpose of a literary festival that should get into the life and writing rather than pure campaigning on politics. We could have captioned it ‘anti Modi festival or political conclave’. Why was a festival of this type called literary yet remaining purely political? Were we following classic leftist approach to use arts for political purpose and restrict art to mere ideological exhibitionism?
Another vital dimension of such festival is the locale or the culture of the culture where the function is being conducted. It is anticipated that the festival of this kind must reflect local culture and give space to the writers of the state where it is held. But Kasauli feswtival totally ignored this. A man like Shanta Kumar who had been Chief Minister of the state and a writer in his own right was not given any attention and he had to issue statement critisising the way the festival made political mess in its narrow pursuit of psudo secular ends. No doubt Khushwant singh in whose memory the festival is organized by his son was a man of distinction in writing and his train to a Pakistan was greatly admired by the writers but on the same theme Toba Tek Singh of Sadat Hussain Minto was far superior and powerful portrayal of the partition times. One wishes he were alive and condemned the BJP but he would have shown some humor and wit in doing so. His assessment in politics or his predilections in religious matters were not very stable. Nevertheless he carried literary mantle with him.
The joke of politics in the festival, was that whole festival was addressed to dressing down the BJP ideology but the BJP leaders did not understand it and praised it. This led to riot in Solan where Hindu outfit crowds protested rather violently against praise of the festival by the BJP leaders. Much of the praise was due to the inability of the leaders to understand the theme and confabulations.
It is wish of the writers and artists of Himachal, and for that of all other states, that literary festivas must reflect, if not portray, the talent of that state and promote greater opportunities for the artists –writers of the state. The festival must have more literature than politics rather having more politics and less literature.
By Prof. NK Singh
(The writer is International Management Adviser.)