Revolt of mediocrity against creativity.
This was how noted economist Professor Prabhat Patnaik characterised the spate of vandalism against art, culture, history and their institutions in various parts of the country. He said so while addressing a convention of writers, artistes and other intellectuals held in the Constitution Club, New Delhi, on February 21.
The joint convention of writers, artistes and cultural activists was organised by the Janvadi Lekhak Sangh (JLS), Progressive Writers Association (PWA), Jan Sanskriti Manch (JSM), Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust (SAHMAT), Jan Natya Manch (JNM), Act One and Jan Sanskriti, apart from the magazines Udbhavana, Samayantar, Hans and Communalism Combat. To fight the attacks on culture and freedom of expression was the declared aim of the convention.
A presidium based on Professor Namwar Singh, Dr Ashok Mitra, Geetha Hariharan and Professor Sudhir Chandra conducted the proceedings of the convention.
Referring to the attacks on creative and intellectual works in Pune, Surat, Bhopal, Udaipur and some other cities in the past one odd month, Professor Patnaik said these are expressive of authoritarianism and communalism at one level but are also expressive of a revolt of mediocrity against creativity. This is characteristic of fascism, he pointed out. In fact, fascism sees excellence where there is nothing but mediocrity, and to the learned speaker this is precisely what we see today in the India Shining campaign of the central government. Moreover, fascism always feels insecure about its appeal and that is why whenever its self-delusion is punctured, it not only blames others (for example, intellectuals and media), accusing them of ‘distortion’ and ‘wrong presentation’ of facts, but also becomes aggressive.
Earlier, after the welcome address by JLS general secretary Chanchal Chauhan, eminent photographer and artiste Ram Rahman gave an account of the attacks that have taken place on the works of visual art in the past one month. He also gave concrete examples of how such attacks have led to the loss of several valuable works of art forever. This is not only because art works have been destroyed but also because many works of Indian art, which were lying abroad and could have been brought here for display, have been sold out by their connoisseurs to others in sheer desperation. Finally, he also lamented the lapse of memory on part of the media who have forgotten how journalists were systematically targetted by the saffron goons at Ayodhya on December 6, 1992, when the Babri Masjid was being brought down.
Noted economics columnist Paranjoy Guha Thakurta also recalled the India Shining campaign being run with taxpayers’ money and drew a parallel with the US where George Bush’s administration is running a similar campaign to paint a rosy picture of job creation and what not. Moreover, both these campaigns are based on same methods, like manipulation of statistics, Thakurta pointed out.
Senior Supreme Court advocate Rajeev Dhawan said we are living in the midst of a sectarian horror as has not been seen for a long time. Moreover, this is the time of “a constitutional carnage” when the powers-that-be are playing havoc with the basic tenets of our constitution. For the BJP controlled state governments, Dhawan used the words “rogue states” which, along with the central government, are engaged in not only legal but also extra-legal prosecution of all dissent. This is not the problem of artistes alone but of all of us, he said.
Noted Hindi writer Prayag Shukla detailed the way Shail Choyal, an artiste, is being persecuted at Jaipur for a set of posters that were not even put up for display.
JLS working president and Zehn-e-Jadeed editor Zubair Rizvi lamented that resistance to communalism and fascism is dwindling in our society, adding that to be effective resistance building has to be a continuous process.
JSM secretary Ajay Singh, JNM activist Sudhanva Deshpande, veteran socialist scribe Mast Ram Kapoor, and Murli Manohar Prasad Singh, a leader of university teachers’ movement, also addressed the convention.
From the presidium, English fiction writer Geetha Hariharan stressed the fact that the attacks taking place against writers, artists and cultural activists are no spontaneous attacks but have a design behind them. She also emphasised the need of forging a critical stance for fighting these acts of vandalism.
The point was reiterated by Professor Sudhir Chandra who recalled Gandhi’s advice, at a prayer meeting in the midst of the communal holocaust of 1946-47, that everyone must learn to see to oneself. By their acts, the communal vandals have made it clear that they have no regard for the viewpoint of those who disagree with them.
Well-respected economist Dr Ashok Mitra characterised the present situation in the country as the “total Indian re-run of the German situation in 1933-45.” He also lamented that we have been very wrongly interpreting and implementing the concept of secularism so far. For our rulers, secularism did not mean total separation of religion from politics but equal appeasement of all religions. The construction of a government office does not start without bhoomipujan and a coconut is broken when a ship is to set sail in the ocean. There are several little idiosyncrasies of this kind in our day to day life, and nobody has the courage to stand up and say that this is wrong. Dr Mitra contention was clear: this kind of ‘tolerance’ has only gone in favour of the communal forces.
The last speaker at the convention was Hindi critic Professor Namwar Singh who talked of an ongoing attempt at regimentation of whole life and this, he said, is taking place for the first time in India. He also said that, contrary to earlier days, communal forces are today so much emboldened as to even praise Hitler. In this regard, he quoted from a newspaper report the BJP’s West Bengal state president Tathagat Roy’s statement that Hitler paid attention to road development during 1933-45 and that our prime minister is doing the same thing. Moreover, the present regime is even hungry for certificates from Pakistan and US, claiming that they too want the BJP-led government to return to power.
All the speakers emphasised the need to approach the common man to make him participate in the struggle against communalism and fascism.
On this occasion, some books were also released. Contrary to the earlier World Book Fairs, this time the National Book Trust had said that no book could be released in the World Book Fair 2004 without its prior permission. This is yet another attempt to browbeat the writers into submission, and the only prominent book released in the fair this time was of the prime minister’s poetry. Hence the compulsion to release some books at the said convention. Here, Professor Sudhir Chandra released a set of seven Hindi books brought out by Samanantar, Gorakhpur, while Professor Namwar Singh released a collection of Hindi short stories by Nandkishore Nandan.