Intellectuals at home, abroad up against Modi

  • Zia Haq, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Apr 15, 2014 13:02 IST

As BJP leader Narendra Modi nears his premiership race, liberal intellectuals at home and abroad have risen against him. Their campaign may not quite stop Modi’s juggernaut but can seriously shape a critical discourse around him.

About 25 artists, academics and writers, including novelist Salman Rushdie, wrote to the UK’s Guardian newspaper, expressing “acute worry” over Modi’s likely ascendancy to prime ministership.

“Such a failure of moral character and political ethics on the part of Modi is incompatible with India’s secular constitution, which…is founded on pluralist principles,” Rushdie wrote. The signatories included knighted sculptor Anish Kapoor.

Opinion pieces in the western media have been sharply critical of Modi, calling into question not just his “role” in the 2002 Gujarat riots but also portending a hawkish foreign policy were he to become PM. “Britain can’t simply shrug off this Hindu extremist,” wrote Priyamvada Gopal, who teaches in the University of Cambridge, in the Guardian. The BJP has called these attacks prejudiced.

The Progressive Writers’ Association, a literary movement of pre-partition India founded in London, will organise a convention against Modi in Varanasi, from where he is contesting. Some well-known people, including poet Gulzar, actor Shabana Azmi and director Mahesh Bhatt, have been invited there.

“You cannot allow a high-sounding word ‘growth’ to be used as a fig leaf to hide the ideology of the Sangh (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh). Tyranny of the majority is an enemy of the people,” Bhatt told HT.

Although Modi himself appears to have avoided a campaign around Hindutva or “chauvinistic Hindu-ness”, many fear his becoming the PM could foster a culture of intemperate rightwing conservatism.

Bhatt, who has just wound up his tour of UP, campaigning against Modi, said, “As a film-maker, I can tell you a good promo doesn’t mean a great film.” He was mocking Modi’s media campaign.

JAWAB (response), a coalition of 50 organisations, has fanned out to 100 constituencies with 2,000 volunteers to slam Modi. “We will do all it takes to save our democracy and Constitution,” said Shabnam Hashmi, who leads the NGO Anhad.

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