Singer-musician Adnan Sami’s recent statement that he would not have sought Indian citizenship had India been intolerant was an apt answer to the vicious campaign run by the Left-Liberal-Congress clique against the Narendra Modi government. Few seemed ready or keen to challenge Sami’s statement. The Bihar Assembly elections coincided with the “intolerance” debate run by an illiberal section that sought to force its opinion on the gullible masses.
The single-point agenda of this illiberal section seemed to be to ensure the BJP-led NDA alliance’s defeat in Bihar. They saw Bihar as the beginning of a new experiment where a “better caste coalition” could defeat the agenda of development and good governance.
Those who alleged that India had become intolerant did not bother to see that rationalist Dr Narendra Dabholkar (Maharashtra) was gunned down by unknown motorcycle-borne assailants in August 2013 when the Congress was in power in the state. Kannada writer M.M. Kalburgi was shot dead in a similar fashion last year at his residence in Dharwad in Congress-led Karnataka. The party needs to expedite the probe and get the guilty punished. Even in the Dadri incident, the blame for the killing of Mohammad Akhlaq should have been put on the Uttar Pradesh government run by the Samajwadi Party.
The award wapsi brigade was not concerned with facts and justice, but was merely interested in maligning the Modi government and the BJP despite the fact that the Prime Minister had on several occasions condemned incidents of hate, irrespective of who was involved.
For the illiberal section, everything went according to the plot as, within a week of the Dadri incident, Nayantara Sahgal announced that she would return her Sahitya Akademi Award to protest against the alleged “rising intolerance”. She conveniently forgot that she had received the award in 1986, merely two years after the anti-Sikh massacre in 1984 presided over by the same government that gave her the award. Then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi had justified the killings of Sikhs saying that when a big tree falls, the earth shakes. Sahgal now says that she will take her award back.
Sahgal was followed by many who returned their awards one after the other. One could easily make out that there was more to the award wapsi than what appeared on the surface. On the one hand, it was a conspiracy to malign the Modi government close to the Bihar elections and portray the BJP as intolerant; on the other hand, it was an attempt to tell world leaders that they should not be too awed of the Indian Prime Minister. For some, it was just an opportunity to be in the limelight after living in oblivion.
The campaign reached a crescendo ahead of the fifth and final phase of the Bihar elections on 5 November 2015, when on 3 November, Congress president Sonia Gandhi led a march of Congressmen to the President of India to oppose the alleged rising intolerance in the country. A few days before that, about a dozen filmmakers had joined the award wapsibrigade to demonstrate solidarity with Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) students opposing the appointment of Ganjendra Chauhan as chairperson of the Institute.
The Anupam Kher-led agitation against the award wapsi brigade on 7 November was clearly without any electoral motive and driven solely by the concern that a handful of people had no right to defame the image of the country. When faced with a real challenge in the form of Anupam Kher and later, Adnan Sami, those people were finally forced to fall silent.
The brigade that had lent its support to the “intolerance” debate may have been forced into a tactical retreat, but it is likely to resurface during elections in states. Gajendra Chauhan’s appointment as FTII chairperson is the first major setback to the “old order”. The agitation by students had an ideological fervour rather than the desire to work for the betterment of the institute that excels in unauthorised stays by students much beyond the tenure of the courses they pursued. A handful of students sought to challenge the democratic right of the government to appoint Chauhan. With over 30 years of experience in the film industry, he cannot be said to be “not up to the mark” for the post. Most student leaders opposing Chauhan were known for their Leftist affiliations, though Chauhan, who had struggled in Mumbai from his one-bed tenement, had chosen to join the BJP. Their attitude in opposing Chauhan was the same as that of Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar who had tried to ridicule Narendra Modi by saying that a chaiwala could never become the Prime Minister of the country.
The intolerance debate also emanated from the failure of the “Liberal Leftists” who could not reconcile themselves to losing “hegemony” over various institutions of the government that sustained them even when they were not in power politically. The Ministry of Human Resources Development has various short duration and long duration scholarships that these people used to “sustain the intellectual cadre”. Smriti Irani has been the target of their attacks precisely because she is trying to challenge the Leftist “hegemony” over institutions like the Indian Council of Historical Research, Jawaharlal Nehru University, FTII etc.
The intolerance controversy showed how non-entities could strike at the root of Indianness which is synonymous with tolerance. More such “weapons” are likely to emerge as the Modi government demonstrates its determination to rid the country of hidden ideological nepotism that is so obvious in Lutyen’s Delhi.
Sudesh Verma is the national spokesperson of the BJP.