Noted poet Javed Akhtar was on Tuesday presented the 21st edition of the Indira Gandhi Prize for National Integration for upholding secular values and fighting divisive forces.
Though Congress president Sonia Gandhi, who conferred the award, did not refer to the BJP, RSS or any other organization while commending Javed for fighting fundamentalism, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh noted that the lyricist and screenplay-writer had seen the 2002 Gujarat riots not as a Hindu-Muslim problem but a "clash of secularism and democracy versus fascism and intolerance."
He hoped that the award, which carries a citation, a shawl and a cash prize of Rs 1.51 lakh, would bring more power to his pen. Both Sonia and the PM called for a resolute fight against terrorism and communalism to preserve national integration.
But it was Javed who openly hit out, in his acceptance speech, at the Muslim League and the RSS and the RSS-backed shishu mandirs which injected "poison" in young minds and called for a closer monitoring of the education imparted at madrasas. He also took a dig at "our neighbour" alleging that Pakistan was stoking communal passions in India since it was embarrassed by its secular values.
Calling for vigilance against fundamentalism, communalism and terrorism, including state terrorism, to ensure a pluralistic and democratic social order, he also said that there had been a slip perhaps in thinking that tolerance of non-secular attitudes was part of secularism.
Wife Shabana, who was recently conferred the Gandhi International Peace prize, was present when Javed wrapped up his speech with the call for a place in the sun for the common people who are for democratic values, communal harmony and a pluralistic social order. Aao chal kar suraj dhundeh (come let us look for that sun),’’ he intoned to an appreciative audience.