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Whose intolerance is it anyway? Decoding the recent Open Letter to PM Modi by our intellectuals

They allege lynching in the name of 'Jai Shri Ram' but are silent if a Muslim lynches a Hindu. This is 'Intolerance 2.0' where Hindu-bashing and Modi-hating get instant results.

They allege lynching in the name of 'Jai Shri Ram' but are silent if a Muslim lynches a Hindu. This is 'Intolerance 2.0' where Hindu-bashing and Modi-hating get instant results.

On July 23, 2019, I woke up to non-stop calls from journalists, asking me for a sound bite on breaking news.

The breaking news was that 49 filmmakers and intellectuals had written an open letter to the Prime Minister, asking him to make a law against lynching that kills people in the name of ‘Jai Shri Ram’, especially victimising the minority.

It took me no time to comprehend that Intolerance 2.0 had arrived. 

The leader and spokesperson of the group, acclaimed film professional Aparna Sen, claimed that the letter was apolitical.

Firstly, an open letter is always a political tool.

It is used when either the recipient has refused to reply to direct letters or to publicly embarrass and corner the other person. The purpose of an open letter cannot be anything but to attract media attention and create a political narrative. To my knowledge, this group never sought an appointment with the PM, nor did they write any private letters to his office.

Having their say: The 49 celebrities, including Anurag Kashyap and Aparna Sen, exercised their freedom of speech. (Photo: India Today)

On the morning of July 23, they released the letter to the press, addressed a press conference and kept debating in TV studios through the day.

The job was well done.

But this media hunger drove suspicion upon their intent and apparent empathy.

Aparna Sen, Gautam Ghosh, Shyam Benegal, Ashish Nandy and all other signatories are noted filmmakers and very active in expressing their views on socio-political matters.

Therefore, it seems highly improbable that they are not aware that law and order is a state subject. Did they write to any Chief Minister?


Had they earlier written social media posts or raised their voices against lynching?


I asked one of their representatives in a TV debate if any member of this motley group had ever visited or contacted any victim.

His answer was — NO.

In fact, after a long debate with me, he admitted that not meeting the PM before publishing the open letter was indeed a mistake.

In a TV debate, Aparna Sen told me that she had nothing to do with politics. To my mind, this is not true. She has been a vocal political voice and, it is rumoured, has political ambitions. Her daughter Konkona Sen is reportedly a supporter of the Left and also reportedly one of the signatories of another open letter written in 2014, cautioning voters not to vote for Narendra Modi — apparently labelling him 'fascist'.

Nothing apolitical about it? Aparna Sen (R) and Konkana Sen (L) have openly expressed their political stands earlier. (Photo: Reuters)

Anurag Kashyap is a known Modi-hater with his midnight-anti-Modi rants, where he doesn’t shy away from blaming Modi for all the problems of his life.

It absolutely cannot be denied that most of the signatories are thus politically active and some, known Modi-haters since 2002.

Koi bhi gaali Aaj search kar ke dekh lo twitter pe, dene waale jyadatar Chowkidar hi niklenge..

— Anurag Kashyap (@anuragkashyap72) April 29, 2019

Most certainly, this wasn’t an apolitical act of dissent, as claimed by Ms Sen. Would it then be wrong to assume that their intent was just to create political noise and perhaps enter the electoral rink for the upcoming elections?

Assembly election season is beginning soon.

Elections in Maharashtra, Jharkhand and Haryana are scheduled at the end of this year. Next year, there is a crucial election in West Bengal which will be fought more ferociously than the 2014 or 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Mamata’s political capital is on decline, and the Left and Congress are already dead in Bengal. Sensing a political space created by this changed equation, a group of filmmakers in Kolkata seem to be trying to capitalise on the moment. To give their political ambitions a pan-India feel, they seem to have gotten their non-Bengali friends to sign this letter. Some signatories apparently signed the letter because of long associations with the leader. I came across a report which claimed that acclaimed filmmaker Mani Ratnam had denied signing the letter. While it isn't confirmed yet, knowing Mani, I would tend to believe this.

Aparna Sen said in the same TV debate that her heart bleeds when someone from the minority community is lynched.

I ask — why doesn’t her heart bleed when a human being is lynched? Why do they want to communalise a crime?

If she is genuinely concerned about minorities, then why didn't her heart bleed when thousands of Sikhs were lynched by Rajiv Gandhi’s men? I have seen with my own eyes the way a known Congress leader and his henchmen went about lynching, burning and killing Sikhs. Not just that, by justifying the mass lynching of minorities, Rajiv Gandhi gave it socio-political sanction.

Every single signatory was quiet then.

Where were you then? The celebrity signatories were quiet when Sikhs were lynched by Congress leaders. (Photo: Reuters)

Why didn’t Ms Sen’s heart bleed when minority Hindus were lynched in Kashmir, women reportedly cut into pieces on saw machines, children shot dead with AK 47s?

Why didn’t she write a letter to the then-Home Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed?

Because, in my view, back then, they didn’t have a political agenda. Now, they apparently do.

After the 1984 mass lynching of Sikhs, Ms Sen proudly received her Padma Shri from the same Rajiv Gandhi government.

The signatories of this letter were silent when poor Adivasis and the marginalised were butchered by barbarian Naxals. They were silent when separatists issued diktats to burn down schools in Kashmir. They were silent when demands for dismembering India and ripping her into pieces — 'Tukde Tukde' — were made. They were silent when slogans raised by terrorists and terror outfits echoed in the campuses of leading universities.

All these filmmakers were silent when I was attacked by hundreds of Left-leaning students in Jadavpur University — just a few kilometres from Aparna Sen’s house.

Some of them even ridiculed me publicly when I was injured after the attack, and my taxi driver was beaten up by the mob. It is this dubious selective outraging of these so-called intellectuals which raises questions about their credibility and intent.

Sen expressed her distress at instances when people have been forced to say “Jai Shri Ram”. The letter implies that the Hindu community is using “Jai Shri Ram” as a war-cry to lynch Muslims.

Well, none of these signatories apparently bothered to fact-check much.

When Mamata Banerjee threatened and arrested those who chant “Jai Shri Ram”, they kept silent. When RSS workers are killed in Kerala and West Bengal, when an orgy of violence was unleashed during the Panchayat elections in Bengal, when Jagannath Tudu was reportedly bludgeoned to death in Purulia, when temples were reportedly vandalised in Kaliachak, Deganga, Baduria, Raniganj — these signatories were silent.

They did not even dare speak against Triple Talaq.

They kept quiet when reportedly nearly two dozen people, including policemen, were killed by cattle thieves, often from one community, in the past year.

Lynching is bad: But why is the outrage over it so selective? (Representational photo: Reuters)

On the night of June 30, 2019, as per recorded videos, a mob reportedly shouting “Allahu Akbar” unleashed violence in Chandni Chowk and desecrated a temple.

They were silent then.

There was no open letter when a mob of Muslims pelted bricks and stones on a government-run hospital and assaulted the staff in Kolkata — critically injuring a junior doctor.

Why were they silent when a mob of 15-20 men vandalised a shop in Mathura and brutally assaulted the shopkeeper, Bharat Yadav, with lathis and rods, all the while reportedly calling him ‘kaafir’? Bharat ultimately succumbed to head injuries.

Why there was no outrage when Jahangir Khan allegedly stabbed and killed Dhruv Tyagi in Delhi after the latter complained about Jahangir’s son reportedly molesting his daughter?

There was another contention here — that lynching has become a socio-political cultural phenomenon since 2014. This is a direct accusation on Narendra Modi, implying that since he became the PM, the country has gone into social anarchy.

It is shameful that in today’s day and age, we still lynch people.

When two vehicles collide, often, the poorer man is beaten up — even killed. In Mumbai, every single day, some pickpocket is lynched. Eve-teasers are attacked almost everywhere. Cattle smugglers are lynched. So, in a way, these signatories are right — there certainly does exist a ‘lynching culture’.

But to blame Narendra Modi for this seems politically motivated. 

The real reason for lynching is a broken, corrupt and slow justice system. 

In the absence of quick justice, people use lynching as a means for personal justice. It is an instant and group activity, so the guilt is shared equally. Normally, the police don’t do much in lynching cases, as they are later accused of excesses and face disciplinary action. The mob knows this.

Lynching is a serious crime.

But a bigger crime is to communalise it.

The signatories are guilty of this. In my view, the intention of these filmmakers was not to raise a voice against a barbaric crime like lynching but to embarrass Hindus — and corner Modi, who is perceived as representing Hindu sentiment.

It's all his fault? To blame Narendra Modi for lynching in the country seems to get instant results. (Photo: Reuters)

Last but not least, they want us to listen to them because they are intellectuals or creative people.

Being an intelligent or creative person does not make one apolitical or honest.

I’d rather listen to a street vendor or an ordinary person who rubs shoulders with the reality of India every day.

If he says there is intolerance, I’d believe him.

But not the self-proclaimed intellectuals who often despise the appearance and odour of a common Indian.

Being removed from the soil of India, without any real skin in the game, they want us to believe that they are genuinely concerned about the minority. For them, the minority is never an Adivasi or a Sikh or a Jain or a Parsi. For them, 'minority' means only Muslims because the Muslim card is the urban Naxal’s best card.

They therefore feel intolerance only when a Muslim is hurt — though they claim to empathise with Dalits, when Muslim mobs kill a Dalit, they put their heads in the sand. They feel intolerance growing only when Congress/Leftists/Jihadis/Naxals lose against Narendra Modi. They never feel it when pujaris are beaten up, temples broken, schools and hospitals burnt or our Jawans are killed.

Because Hindu-bashing gets instant results.

Today, in Modi’s leadership, the common Indian is getting empowered. The common Indian believes that s/he has a stake in India’s success.

New India is being built on the aspirations of these forgotten Indians. India is no more an elite’s club. The success of India is being shared with everyone — and that is difficult for the elites to digest. They feel the common, deprived people are entering the once-off-limits arena.

Hence, intolerance is rising.

Also read: The Intolerance Joke: Intellectuals protesting lynchings under PM Modi are being amazingly selective

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