Return of Sahitya Akademi and Incestuous Networks of Indian Intellectuals

If I create a world with two categories and I am in one of them by my own definition, then where will the “others” fall?  In the dark alley.  As the ignoramuses.  This is what has happened to the narrative and debate on important cultural and social topics in India.  When I am an intellectual and other an ideologue, then it should be clear that what is being debated is prejudiced nonsense.

At the latest count, 16 authors have announced that they are returning their Sahitya Akademi awards.  To understand their motivation, one has to understand the social context of their moral narrative itself.

Here is a list of the “top intellectuals” in three important fields which structure the narrative of India’s social fabric in “intellectual” circles.  What do you find?  All of them are self described and avowed leftists.  And, (any surprise?) liberals!

History: Prof Mandal, Shireen Musavi, Seema Alavi, Shahid Amin, Nayanjot Lahiri, Rudrangshu Mukherjee, Janaki Nair, Chetan Singh, Upinder Singh and AR Venkatachalapathy

Political Science: Rajeev Bhargava, Peter DeSouza, Zoya Hasan, Niraja Gopal Jayal, Gurpreet Mahajan, Pratap Bhanu Mehta, Suhas Palshikar and Valerian Rodrigues

Sociology: Amita Baviskar, Dipankar Gupta, Surinder Jodhka, Nandini Sundar, AR Vasavi and Susan Visvanathan

Ergo, Ram Guha opines that only Left – a haloed group of which he is a “self checked in” member – has come up with “serious intellectual thought”.  He dumps Subramanian Swamy and Arun Shourie after anointing them as the only two important thinkers from the “right”.  Ostensibly, he is trying to drive home the point that somehow the genetic pool in the world is such that the gene of IQ and “leftist thinking” are twins, while the “right wing” gene and IQ are mutually exclusive.

Let us now dig deeper than Guha’s self-congratulatory note on how left has the brains for serious thought.  The hypocrisy and shallow nature of the eminent historians was most clearly and tellingly exposed during the Babri Masjid deposition.  Here is how Prof Mandal came through when questioned by the judges who weren’t the fawning students that the Prof was used to, to be brushed aside by these self-important intellectuals.

Prof Mandal retired from the Department of Ancient History and Archaeology, Allahabad University. He was appointed on an ad hoc basis as Lecturer in 1972 but prior to that he claimed to have worked as exploration assistant since 1960. Initially he appeared as an expert to depose that there was no archaeological evidence to show either the existence of any temple at the disputed site or that a temple was demolished before construction of the disputed structure. The statements made by him in cross-examination show the shallowness of his knowledge and provide a sample about all these “eminences”
A few of his quotes:  “I never visited Ayodhya”. “I do not have any specific knowledge of the history of Babur’s reign.” “Whatsoever little knowledge I have about Babur is only that Babur was the ruler of the 16th century. Except for this I do not have any knowledge of Babur. I do not have knowledge of anything in 2nd Para of the editorial preface to my book (exhibit 63) in which Romila Thapar has written that Vishwa Hindu Parishad, BJP and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, for the first time, raised the issue of the Babri Masjid being located on the place which was earlier Rama’s birth place. I also do not know whether or not it is correctly written on page 10 of the aforesaid preface that Ayodhya is a site of pilgrimage for adherents of Ramanand school.” “The Communist Party issues a red card, and I am its holder. It is true that I have no faith in religion.”
Further: “It is true that I have not seen the disputed building as yet. I did not make any physical investigation of stone used in inscriptions carved out in the disputed building. Likewise, I also did not make physical investigation of basalt stone.” “My finding in my book (exhibit 63) is not based  on any article. My finding is based on materials written in this connection and given in the book (paper no.118C-1/35) filed in Suit No.5/89 and chiefly on the photograph (paper no118C-1/36) depicting the excavation undertaken by Prof BB Lal near the Babri Mosque. It is also correct to say that I drew findings, taking the brief report of BB Lal, as given in paper no.118C-1/35 (Ram Janambhumi: Ayodhya) and the reproduction of the photograph taken by him to be sacrosanct.” “Many of my colleagues inspired me to write the book (exhibit 63).”
Mandal also said: “It is also true that I had requested one of them to write an introduction to my book, and the colleague thus requested was Miss Shereen Ratnagar.”

What had worked with the students didn’t quite work with the judges.  But Mandal’s deposition did give a very interesting insight into how the the whole “intellectual” circle of historians work.  One person reads others’ works, writes their prologue, mentors them for PhDs, and they all promote each other’s books.  Ask deeper questions and push for answers and you know the truth!  Which is that knowledge was at best cursory and based on reading newspapers – written by but of course their own friends and students!

So if the nature has not created DNA structures for genetic make based on ideological narratives of people, then what is it that places ONLY the Indian leftists at the helm of the “intellectual pool”?  The answer is in the story of Prof. Mandal and the truth of his scholarship.  The Indian intellectual world is basically an exclusive club which doesn’t brook any challenge.  Doors are automatically shut off for any challenger.  That is why Shourie and Swamy become ideologues and are thrown out of the clique of intellectuals.

We will now use our learning from how the networks work in the field of history and look at the current Sahitya Akademi free-for-all.  We will learn that the world there – in the literary circles – isn’t much different.  What we have is a Literary Mafia there!

Sahitya Akademi and its politics

Suddenly the morality of all the really tolerant and humane Indian literature experts has woken up.  Over the years, so much happened:

  • Salman Rushdie’s book was banned, a fatwa issued against him
  • Da Vinci Code was banned in India
  • Tasleema Nasreen was forced to leave India because the Muslims didn’t want her to be in the country

These are only three incidents, but there have been riots happening in India since the first invasion by the barbaric hordes.  A list of religious violence incidents is embedded below.  A perusal of it can show the reader how many riots and killings have happened.  And, in our memory, one doesn’t remember any perpetrators ever brought to book.  It is also important to say that except for the Gujarat riots after which everyone went after Modi and BJP in Gujarat, there was no interest in who was responsible for any of the other 50+ rioting/killing events.  In fact, I challenge the readers to write the names of the Chief Minister under whose watch the 50+ incidents happened!

Of course, in times of all these 50+ incidents, a Congress PM was at the helm of the country.  Have we ever blamed Nehru?  Or Indira? Or Rajiv?  Or Manmohan Singh?  And, we have seen Muslim, Sikh and Christian terror groups doing so many massacres.  Who, pray, returned his or her literary award?

It is because these writers were patronized by Congress – the political party in power and they have their allegiance to the powers that be of the party.  In a time of universal defeat for Congress and its politics, it becomes important for its surrogates to start chipping in.  A good case to the point is the Gujarat award winner Ganesh Devy.

Devy’s personal fortunes have been badly hit by Modi’s government as it went about implementing the FCRA law in its letter and spirit.  As Ford Foundation found it hard to explain its funds routing to India and the work that they did with those funds, many NGOs being patronized by it have seen their life of prosperity being threatened.

In 8 years starting from 2007 to 2015(March), Devy’s NGO received more than Rs 12 crore from the nations abroad.
The lowest foreign donation Devy’s NGO received in all these FCRA submissions was in year 2014-15 (April to April) which coincides with the Narendra Modi government in centre. A major Ford Foundation is missing in the list of donors this year for the first time. Centre’s watch over Ford Foundation’s donations in India is well-known affair. (Source)

Any wonder why Devy would be all livid about the Modi government?  And it is interesting how he cloaks his personal interest being impacted by the enforcement of law in general – that should have been done from the beginning – as an issue of overall social morality.  The hypocrisy is hard to miss.

In 1995, Outlook wrote about the Literary Mafia.  Amit Prakash and YP Rajesh wrote about how the winners were anything but good.

“Undoubtedly, there is a literary mafia at work,” says Hindi writer Krishna Sobti, author of Mitro Marjani. “There is always a silent decision to promote someone or the other. It’s a circuit game barred to outsiders. Only a few have access to the India International Centre bar where so many things are decided.” Khushwant Singh recalls his decision to quit the Sahitya Akademi’s award panel after a writer, whom he had reported for lobbying for her book, not only got the award but even declared her husband would get one the following year.
Says Singh: “The kind of lobbying that goes on is shocking.
In particular, there is a rampant scandal in Punjabi awards. I can’t think of a single Akademi awardwinning book that has been commercially successful: they are simply unreadable. And it is disgusting to find writers forming cooperatives and raising money to publish books which are released by ministers whose departments then lift copies of the books and flood village and town libraries with them.”

Ashok Vajpeyi, who returned his Sahitya Akademi in a hurry to please his political masters, was known as the “Culture Czar” in his heyday of the Congress rule.  It is very interesting to see how he gamed the system to snatch the Sahitya Akademi award in 1994!

The same year, culture czar Ashok Vajpeyi got an Akademi award. Not only that, the poet-bureaucrat from Madhya Pradesh, presently a joint secretary in the Culture Department, was also conferred the first Dayawati Modi Kavishekar award (cash prize: Rs 2.51 lakh). In December, Kannada writer and Sahitya Akademi president U.R. Ananthamurthy was given the next Jnanpeeth-the only national award to come his way in his four decades on the literary scene.
The composition of the two juries that conferred the awards on Vajpeyi was questionable. For instance, the Modi award jury had little to do with contemporary Hindi poetry and comprised Ananthamurthy, Sanskrit scholar and former Navbharat Times editor V.N. Mishra and journalist V.P. Vaidik. The latter two are close to Vajpeyi and are believed to be helping him catch the next flight to the PMO-after his patron Ajrun Singh’s exit, he is said to be feeling somewhat orphaned in the Madhavrao Scindia-led HRD Ministry.
Picture Credit: Krakow Festival/Tomasz Wiech
Picture Credit: Krakow Festival/Tomasz Wiech

What Hindi poet and short story writer says about Vajpeyi says it all.

Hindi poet and short story writer Uday Prakash finds Vajpeyi unworthy of the two awards and calls him a “power broker” disguised as a poet. “Nobody takes Vajpeyi seriously in Hindi literature. History will remember him as a culture czar who doled out patronage,” says Prakash

Prakash and Rajesh ask the inevitable question – And how are such incestuous networks formed? – and then answer it with Ashok Vajpeyi as the perfect case study.

A promising Hindi poet in the ’60s, Vajpeyi joined the IAS in 1965. Consistently patronised by Arjun Singh in Madhya Pradesh, Vajpeyi’s power grew when Arjun Singh became chief minister in the ’80s and he became the state culture secretary. He set up 11 cultural institutions, 10 of them in Bhopal itself. These extended his influence beyond the literary sphere into the visual and performing arts. His was the last word in the appointment of their trustees and office-bearers.
However, till the ’80s he was a relatively unknown commodity outside Madhya Pradesh. Bhopal’s Bharat Bhawan, inaugurated in 1982 by Indira Gandhi, was his crowning glory. There is hardly a writer, painter or performing artiste of repute today who has not enjoyed Vajpeyi’s hospitality and patronage. Controversies-such as those stemming from his decision to host the World Poetry Festival in December 1984 (when Bhopal was still reeling from the infamous gas tragedy), or to divert to culture funds earmarked for social welfare–failed to shake him.
He remained extremely powerful till he was unceremoniously shunted to the state Revenue Board when the Sundarlal Patwa led BJP government came to power in Bhopal in 1989. But mentor Arjun Singh came to his rescue, this time as HRD minister, and brought him in as joint secretary in the Culture Department in 1992.
Whether by coincidence or design, the past few years have seen major upswings in the fortunes of his kith and kin. Shortly after Arjun Singh became HRD minister in 1991, Vajpeyi’s sister-in-law Kirti Jain, who was then officiating as director of the National School of Drama, was formally appointed to the post (despite the fact that her contribution to theatre is negligible and she has directed only one NSD play). Snide asides have been made at his father-in-law and ex-NSD director, Nemichand Jain, getting a big Ford Foundation grant and about the ‘spurt’ in the number of his published works since 1992.
Vajpeyi’s poet-brother Udayan, who had earlier held the Asia Poetry Chair at Bharat Bhawan, recently received an Akademi fellowship. Last year witnessed a controversy over Vajpeyi’s 26-year old son Kabir being appointed to the post of “eminent architect” by the Lalit Kala Akademi, which he declined after adverse press reports. And at the recently concluded Avignon festival in France, Vajpeyi had Kathak danseuse and close friend Prerna Shrimali dancing to the themes of his poems while noted writer B.V. Karanth was sent as her ‘stage manager’.

As you can see, the Sahitya Akademi Award is sold to the stronger and the highest bidder amongst the writers in India.  Those who can please their political masters the most and do the “wheeling-dealing” required for it.  That is why the writers say “Little wonder then that Sobti feels young writers are growing up with the belief that lobbying is essential for recognition.”

“Lobbying” for the award is a good way of saying that the winners please the political masters in various ways.

Your political slip is showing…

A man was walking on the street when he saw a very hot woman walking from the other side.  He walked up to her and asked “Will you sleep with me for a million dollars?”  She immediately replied back “Yes, why not?!”  The guy shot back “How about for $100?”  The woman was disgusted and shouted at him “What do you think I am?  A Prostitute?”  The guy replied calmly “Sweetheart, I have already established that.  Now, I am merely negotiating the price”!

Literary Awards and Intellectual halos in India are like that prostitute.  You merely have to find their price!  And as the Outlook article terms it so well, we have incestuous networks of intellect in India.  Something that the judges in Babri Masjid case exposed so openly amongst the historians.

So, if you find any writer returning his or her BOUGHT award to shame the Modi government, you can be rest assured of where the writer’s political allegiance lies.  As for the moral compass?  The day I meet Santa Claus personally, I will believe in “Moral compass” of Indian “intellectuals” as well.  Until then, I will pass up on self-deception.

Table of Religious Violence in India (Source Wikipedia)

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