24 May 2024 06:40 AM



Black Faces, Black Politics

A Controversial Cartoonist

NEW DELHI: The Shiv Sena's blackening of Sudheendra Kulkarni's face despite the occasion being hosted by the Observer Research Foundation, is clearly more than a disapproval of his act of inviting former Pakistani Foreign Minister Kasuri to a book launch, but a warning that the fringe elements have taken over a large part of the Hindutva brigade.

The Fadnavis government's attempt to define 'sedition' as any criticism of the Maharashtra government or official found no takers in the judiciary, but it was a statement of intent. But the NDA Union government had given Kasuri a visa with full knowledge of the book launch. The Sena however, was determined to disrupt the occasion. Important channels played down the blackening of Kulkarni's face, and attacked the invitation/visa to Kasuri who was seen as the "face" of the "deep state" of Pakistan which planned the terrorism which had targeted India. This is true of Pakistani Defence Ministers, but unlikely to be true of Pakistani Foreign Ministers, who normally are never linked with details of military policy. The real reason, as in the case of Ghulam Ali was that any Pakistani was unwelcome.

Those media persons, intelligentsia, corporates and professionals who have any illusions should examine recent events from the lynching of an innocent Muslim in Bisada, Dadri to the Sena threats to Pakistani singer Ghulam Ali, to the vituperative campaign by Narendra Modi in Bihar, to the continuing spate of resignations and return of Sahitya Academi awards by writers protesting the assault on the freedom of expression. There is a pattern here which is ominous. Citizens should not be deluded. Things will not get better. Either succumb or stand up for Constitutional rights, that unfortunately is the choice we are reduced to.

Kulkarni is not a nobody. He took over from K.A. Abbas' back page column in Blitz newspaper. He was a speechwriter for Atal Bihari Vajpayee, still clinically alive but unable to intervene. The attack has been included in the climate of intolerance by L.K. Advani in his recent statement. Incidentally, Vajpayee held talks with Musharraf in Agra. The talks were sabotaged by Sushma Swaraj in the press conference (on humanitarian grounds?), allegedly on the orders of L.K. Advani. So much for the Vajpayee heritage. So this is not the Vajpayee BJP, where he reminded Modi after the Gujarat riots in 2002 of "Rajdharma."

There is no liberalism in this BJP. No Vajpayee, no Jaswant Singh, no Yashwant Sinha. Democratic rights do not survive on their own. They need to be constantly defended. That was the challenge of the Emergency, an assault on freedoms from June 1975 to March 1977. Some fought, many were arrested. Some university students especially where Maneka Gandhi was active like JNU, were suspended, banned from campus and fined 6 months fellowship like this writer, and in the cases of Prabir Purkayastha, D.P. Tripathi and Sudhindra Bhadoria jailed for the entire Emergency period.

The trend of intolerance then, can return now. Those who do not now stand up for the writers, who are the countries conscience, may well regret it.