Ranjona Banerji: The reaction from the BJP to writers returning their awards has been weak and petulant

16 Oct,2015

By Ranjona Banerji


The week on TV news in India has been nothing if not breathless and exciting. Okay. I concede. That sounds like any week on TV news in India. There is no TV news person in this wonderful nation who cannot make a simple nail found on the road into an international incident. Forget Shakespeare and Richard Whatever’s kingdom for a horse. We did it here first and we do it better.


But this week, I am unfair. Barely had we recovered from the Shiv Sena defending our western border with Pakistan by assaulting Sudheendra Kulkarni’s face with black paint, than we jumped into the next attack of excitement. We had the prime minister express some little bits of sadness (dukkhojonok in Bengali sounds so terribly ponderous, as translated by Indian Express from an interview Narendra Modi gave to the Bengali newspaper Ananda Bazaar Patrika) about incidents like the Dadri murder and the cancellation of the Ghulam Ali concert, thanks again to the Shiv Sena’s Border Defence Force.


These writers seem relentless in their movement against the shrinking space for dissent and keep giving away their awards. This has deeply upset the government so much that the Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley took to Facebook to tell us that this was a dukkhojonok occurrence. However, he expressed more dukkho (sadness) for his own party and government than for what the writers are trying to convey. It is interesting that Facebook posts are now an established form of public expression, on the same level as an interview, an opinion piece or a blog. Some of us use Facebook to share cat videos with our friends and maybe “friends of friends”; others think of it as a public platform.


On India Today TV, Karan Thapar held a compelling discussion on Jaitley’s comments on awards being returned, between writers Shashi Deshpande and Mridula Garg, actress and playwright Maya Krishna Rao, journalist Siddharth Vardarajan and journalist and BJP sympathiser Swapan Dasgupta. Deshpande and Garg have not returned their awards but are distressed by the assaults on writers and feel that dissent is being killed or squashed. Rao has returned her Sahitya Natak Award and made some powerful arguments debunking the accusation that she was politically motivated by pointing out that all art makes political statements.


Vardarajan took issue with Dasgupta who defended the government and launched a side attack on everyone who is not in favour of the BJP’s way of majoritarian thinking. It is not a shrinking of space for dissent said Dasgupta but a truncating of an intellectual position. A fine piece of sophistry if there ever was one. Dasgupta even tried to separate writers like Nayantara Sahgal and Ashok Vajpayi from the other writers, implying that they were politically motivated and the others were just protesting. Deshpande put him right on that.


Dasgupta then selectively quoted Deshpande’s letter of protest to the Sahitya Akademi, twisting her meaning, while she was sitting there. The purpose served by this deliberate attempt to lie which could so easily be debunked was not clear. It looked either like an attempt to demonstrate that you have reading skills or actually just like desperation.


But it was Garg’s statement that she was disappointed in Jaitley who she had always considered one of the few intellects in the current dispensation that really upset Dasgupta. He took off on a diatribe on a class war being fought in the country and that ended the discussion. Perhaps Dasgupta was insulted that because he felt he was one of the main intellects in the BJP but apart from big words and coherent English, not much of intellect was on display. Quite tragic in fact.


The BJP perhaps needs to find better spokespersons on TV who can put forward their position on such tricky issues. It was unfortunate that Thapar ended the show with Dasgupta.




Comic relief came from Times Now where Anand Narasimhan and guests ganged up on politicians who were defending the closing of dance bars in Mumbai. For a change, politicians were bleating weakly and everyone else was laughing or shouting at them.


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One response to “Ranjona Banerji: The reaction from the BJP to writers returning their awards has been weak and petulant”

  1. ashok759 says:

    The ban on dance bars has pushed so many unfortunate women over that fine line that had kept them this side of prostitution.

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