A large number of artistes, litterateurs and intellectuals, led by Bollywood actor Anupam Kher, gathered here on Saturday to protest against the recent incidents of many returning their awards for alleged “growing intolerance” in the country and to tell the world that India was a tolerant nation where people live in love, peace and harmony. Named “March for India”, the event attracted a large number of people from different cross-sections, who expressed their solidarity with the call given by Kher and others. It was a spontaneous gathering, mobilised over social networking sites, and there was no formal invitation extended for the same.
People started gathering under a Rai-jamun tree near India Gate since early morning when the city was still shadowed by smog, to send out a message to the world that India is a tolerant nation. Apart from Kher, prominent personalities who attended the march included Madhur Bhandarkar, Abhijeet, Manoj Joshi, Malini Awasthi, Nalini Kamalini, Birju Maharaj. Dressed in a saffron Nehru jacket and white kurta, Gajendra Solanki, a poet, set the tone for the “Jawab-do” rally. Warming up the audience with his poetic enthusiasm, he said, “We cannot let the world look at us as an intolerant nation. India is a democracy and we shall keep it that way.”
There was just a portable speaker and the shade of the Rai-Jamun, but the audience did not mind sitting on the grass as it eagerly listened to what the intellectuals had to say. Gaurav Chauhan, another poet, said in a loud, confident voice, “Our nation’s image is being tarnished. No country is immune to incidents, they all have their challenges to fight, but it is no excuse to start a propaganda against your own nation.”
“They have taken this fight in the name of intolerance way too far. They are calling us fascists. Do they even know what fascists do? It is no less than an abuse to my ears to be identified as a fascist. I attribute the orchestrated award-wapsi to the decimated leftists forces and the Congress,” said Madhu Kishwar, editor of Manushi.
The crowd was scattered, but everybody seemed involved, listening to the speakers, interacting with the media and making their voices heard. As the smog thinned, hawkers took their positions and amid all this, the face of the protest, Anupam Kher, arrived. The excitement that spreads with the presence of a celebrity was infectious. Kher directly got down to business and said artistes must not undermine the respect the nation bestows on them. People shouted their consent and Kher crossed the lawn and moved to another Rai-jamun tree.
Maulana Suhaibuzzafar Khan, national president of Jamaat-e-Ulama-e-Hind, said: “Modiji was elected with a mandate, people wanted development and they chose him. Congress loyalists are now helping them defame his government.” Dr Lokesh Chandra, president, India Council of Cultural Relations said: “They were given awards by the former Cabinet. Returning those awards is a slap on the face of the former Cabinet.” After the rally reached Rashtrapati Bhawan, Kher left the venue to meet President Pranab Mukherjee.