JLF 2015: From debates on culture to bashing Shazia Ilmi

  • Vishakha Saxena, Hindustan Times, Jaipur
  • Updated: Jan 20, 2016 17:03 IST

The final session of the Jaipur Literature was meant to debate if 'Culture is the New Politics', but what really happened is a different story. A discussion, that quickly became quite convoluted and hard to follow, saw Suhel Seth bashing Shazia Ilmi who was booed by some audience members as soon as she took the stage.

At one point, he went on to say that "you cannot run the country through television stations, that’s why we need people like Shazia to get out of television studios".

But it wasn’t just Suhel Seth who had his guns aimed at Ilmi. Several people from the audience directed unabashed questions towards the former AAP and recent BJP member, including one who asked the politician why she was dressed in saffron-coloured clothes.

At one point during the audience interaction, a teenager accused Ilmi of being a "political opportunist". Moderator Sanjoy Roy was quick to go into a disaster-management mode, appealing to the audience to ask questions specific to the debate.

Ilmi, however, wasn’t coy about responding to accusations of opportunism saying that she really wanted to do something constructive for the country. She then went on to attack Aam Aadmi Party chief Arvind Kejriwal saying that what was really opportunistic was Kejriwal using a national issue like corruption and using it "as a tool to want to be the CM of Delhi only for political experience (and) only to fight Vidhan Sabha and Lok Sabha elections".

In her address at the beginning of the debate she mentioned how she was often asked why she joined the Bhartiya Janata Party being a Muslim and that her answer to these questions was, "I believe I’m an Indian and I have many identities," a statement that earned her a roaring round of applause.

To further her point, Ilmi quoted Amartya Sen’s address from the 2006 launch of his book ‘Identity and Violence: The Illusion of Destiny’: "There are a great variety of identities to which we simultaneously belong. I can be, at the same time, an Asian, an Indian citizen, a Bengali with Bangladeshi ancestry, an American or British resident, an economist, a dabbler in philosophy, an author, a Sanskritist, a strong believer in secularism and democracy, a man, a feminist, a heterosexual, a defender of gay and lesbian rights, with a non-religious lifestyle; from a Hindu background, a non-Brahmin, and a non-believer in after-life."

To this, Suhel Seth responded with "my free advice to Shazia Ilmi will be now that you’re in the BJP, don’t quote Amartya Sen," which invited loud hooting, whistles and applause.

Yet again, Ilmi wasn’t shy of putting Seth in his place. "I'll quote Amartya Sen just as much as Modi quotes Mahatma Gandhi," she said.

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