Saturday, November 7, 2015

The Tolerance Tussle

"Intolerance" is the new buzz-word that India has found. Every Tom, Dick and Harry who's got a word in print and has won an accolade for it is running to the press to return his or her award. Oops . . sorry; returning his or her award and then running to the press. To each his own, I say. But when this farce turns inside out and becomes a fad just to grab some limelight, there's bound to be some mirth. The whole #awardwapsi business is so contrived it's almost laughable; if it weren't so lame at the same time. Let's take an objective look at some of the artists who've returned their awards in chronological fashion. 

  • Nayantara Sehgal - The #tolerancetussle started with Sehgal returning her 1986 Sahitya Akademi (National Academy of Letters) award that she won for her book "Rich Like Us". What's so strange about this act is that Jawaharlal Nehru's niece didn't think she should have refused the award in the wake of the 1984 riots or any other instance of "intolerance" right from 2002 riots to the 2006 Mumbai bombings. But she did suddenly think that the atmosphere in the country was "increasingly intolerant" as soon as the NDA came to power. Very convenient. 
  • Ashok Vajpeyi - As soon as Sehgal announced her #awardwapsi, Mr Vajpeyi jumped on to the bandwagon. He had won the Sahitya Akademi award in 1994 for his collection of poems "Kahin Nahin Wahin". Another classic case of selective activism. Mr Vajpeyi couldn't refuse the award remembering the Mumbai riots the previous year (January 1993) but remembered the award as soon as he read about the Dadri killings and the Kalburgi murder in 2015. Again, very convenient. A little digging easily reveals his political antecedents. Ashok Vajpeyi was the Secretary of State for the Ministry of Culture during the Congress regime. He was also the pro-tem chairman (subsequently appointed permanantly) of the Lalit Kala Academy (a government body affiliated to the Ministry of Culture) from 2008 to 2011. He has also served as Vice Chancellor of the Mahatma Gandhi International Hindi University, Chairman of the Bharat Bhawan Trust, Trustee for the Indira Gandhi National Centre of the Arts, a member of the Indian Council of Cultural Relations and an executive board member of Sangeet Natak Akademi. He's got Congress antecedents through and through. No surprise then that his morality didn't kick in when he was given the Sahitya Akademi Award in 1994. Where was his sense of outrage for all the lives lost in the 1993 riots in Mumbai? Where was his sense of outrage over the innumerable acts of violence perpetrated by the government in Naxal areas? Wasn't India intolerant then?

After this, a bunch of authors went on this limelight-grabbing spree. As of October 2015, as many as 40 writers have returned their awards. The show didn't stop there. Where there's publicity, how can Bollywood be far behind? Towards the end of October 2015, we also had a bunch of film personalities join the #awardwapsi gang. Let's look at this list again in objective fashion - 
  • Saeed Mirza & Co - What can I say? Saeed Mirza is a trustee of ANHAD (Act Now for Harmony and Democracy) which is an NGO established in March 2003, as a response to the 2002 Gujarat riots. Get the drift? He's worked with Kundan Shah (also one of the first of the film fraternity to return his award) from way back in 1986 on the hit TV series "Nukkad". 
  • Dibakar Banerjee - Right around the same time, Dibakar Banerjee (quite a young upstart compared to the age-old relics who are the founding members of the #awardwapsi brigade) also announced that he would return the National Film Award "he" won for "Khosla Ka Ghosla". This act was roundly criticized by the producer of the film since the award was for "Best Film" and therefore did not belong to Dibakar to give away. Very conveniently, Dibakar did not mention the award he had actually won for his other movie, "Oye Lucky, Lucky Oye" since it was produced by Walt Disney which is a much bigger production house and would obiously take umbrage at this. 

With film personalities out of the way, we now also have talk of scientists returning their awards. The question that immediately springs to mind is - do they think the public are absolute idiots? Where was the #awardwapsi brigade when Sikhs were being murdered on the streets of Delhi? Where was the #awardwapsi brigade when Kashmiri pundits were being slaughtered in the valley between 1989 and 1990? Where was the #awardwapsi brigade when Mumbai had erupted in flames in 1993?

The ground reality is that India is no more intolerant than it always was. This government is no more and no less intolerant than the collective psyche of the citizens it represents. In point of fact, it is rather more tolerant than previous governments that have ruled our country from the Congress stable. The only difference is that it is not a government of appeasement. It has its priorities right - toilets before temples and governance before goons. Right from the Maharashtra government's ingenious Jalyukt Shivar Yojana to the Modi government's Make in India initiative (and everything in between), Modi's team has its game-face on. It's gunning for a developed India. An India that shall take centre-stage on the global scene. An India that has its sights set on bigger and better things than squabbling amongst it's own divisive units. 

The government's response has been appropriate. It ignored the farce for as long as it could . . and has since taken the very mature route of publishing a booklet that puts the facts straight. The booklet is titled "Know the Truth" and symbolically is published in Hindi as "सच्चाई जानिए". One can download the entire PDF here. An English response (which in essence is a summary of this booklet) can also be accessed here and here

As informed citizens of the digital age, it is important that we be able to parse the Real McCoys from the fraudsters. The #awardwapsi incident is exactly what Arun Jaitley described it to be - a manufactured rebellion. It is time that we recognized it for what it is and threw it to the back-pages of historical insignificance. It is time to talk about development, it is time to talk about the Black Money Bill, about Chhota Rajan, about GST, about Digital India, about Make in India and about Swacch Bharat Abhiyan. It is time to become better citizens. It is time to get to work . . for all of us.

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