Monday, November 26, 2007

The Taslima Nasreen affair and role of Governments

It is quite clear that Taslima Nasreen is a person from whom most politicians want to stay away from. So, while the Prime Minister feels for a terrorist's family suspected of involvement in a terrorist attack in Britain, he is absolutely quiet about the hounding of a writer all over India. This whole attitude is what leads to hardening of majority opinion against the kind of secularism practised in India.
I consider myself a moderate Hindu, not very religious, but aware to a large extent about what happens all around. And one keeps on watching what the Government does when faced with a ticklish issue, and invariably the Government keeps on failing to remain even-handed when dealing with the same issues but across different scenarios.
So, do people remember the case of M F Hussain? He is the most famous painter from India, but he has been massively criticized by many for the paintings he has done of Hindu goddesses in the nude. He was threatened by right-wing Hindu organizations, and there was an instant uproar at the threats, with the Government and many sections of civil society reacting sharply at such threats (my opinion of MF Hussain however changed when he withdrew his movie, Meenaxi - A Tale of 3 cities after there were some protests by fundamentalist Muslim organizations. This sudden capitulation to fundamentalism was not protested or criticized).
And back to la affair Taslima Nasreen. Her works are controversial, and she is essentially a refugee from Bangladesh (there is a strong chance that she will be killed if she goes back to Bangladesh). The Indian Government has never claimed that she will not be allowed into India, and has issued her a visa regularly. If she is a person under threat by fundamentalists, then she deserves to be protected.
And what does the Government do ? First, the Left Front essentially pushes her out of Kolkata under the pressure of religious Fundamentalists, then ties itself in knots when questioned about this action. And of course, the usual clutch of critics do not say much when it comes to either the Left or such actions. And now that the author has herself admitted that the Left pushed her out, it is a black mark on the Left and CPM:

Bangladeshi author Taslima Nasreen on Monday said that she had not decided on her own to leave Kolkata but chose to remain silent about her controversial departure. "Why should I take a decision on my own? It did come to my mind that someone would come and kill me. Many like my writings, many others don't," she told a Bengali TV news channel.
"I want to return to Kolkata. I have not received any green signal as yet. I wonder from where the green signal will come", she told the channel in a telephonic interview from Delhi.

Given how the CPM is unlikely to do anything to imperil its Muslim support, it is unlikely that she will get a call from anybody in the CPM Government that she can come back. As it is, the Congress Government in the center is unable to decide what to do. Ideally, they would like her to go back to Europe, but that does not seem likely. Pushing her out of the country would make the Congress come under too much fire.
And one wonders about the impact this has on the majority community. Given the highly politicized society that we have now, if there is a perception that the Government (essentially, everybody else except for the BJP) is pandering to minority fundamentalists, then there is an equal reaction against such thoughts. Almost all the media coverage that I have read till now in mainstream magazines and newspapers also points out this contradiction on the part of the Congress, Left, left-leaning intellectuals, and the like. Such an attitude only reinforces the feeling that the Government will cave in whenever it is pushed by the thought of losing minority vote; at the same time, there is absolutely nothing in this position that can provide some support to moderate opinion (moderate opinion in turn gets marginalized). It's a never ending spiral, and one can be quite sure that in the next campaign, there will be more political push about the Congress pandering to minority fundamentalism and atleast a section of people will be convinced.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 6:48 PM