Why veteran journalist Akshaya Mukul refused Ramnath Goenka award from Modi

His book, for which he received the prize, delves into the rise of the militant Hindu Right.

 |  4-minute read |   02-11-2016
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Award-winning author and senior journalist from the Times of India, Akshaya Mukul, in a gesture of protest against the rising intolerance in our nation, boycotted the Ramnath Goenka Excellence in Journalism Awards on Wednesday, November 2, 2016. The awards that were started by The Indian Express in 2005 are given out to journalists for their exceptional contribution in the field.

Askshaya Mukul had been conferred the award in the category of Books (non-fiction) for his Gita Press and the Making of Hindu India. In his absence, the award was collected by Krishan Chopra, the publisher and chief editor at HarperCollins India, the publisher of his book.

Mukul’s reason for boycotting the event was very simple: he said he was honoured to have received the award but he did not wish to be felicitated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was the guest of honour this year.

“I cannot live with the idea of Modi and me in the same frame, smiling at the camera even as he hands over the award to me,” Mukul said to The Caravan.

akshaya-mukul-articl_110216102641.jpg Mukul’s book, for which he received the award, ironically delves into the rise of the nationalist and militant Hindu Right. [Photo: The Hindu]

Mukul’s book, Gita Press..., for which he received the award, delves into the rise of the nationalist and militant Hindu Right. Accepting an award for the same from a prime minister who belongs to the Bharatiya Janta Party - which many describe as a "right-wing nationalist" organisation, and has, since its accession to power, not so subtly, tried to saffronise the nation - would have been quite an exercise in irony.

Mukul’s book, released in August 2015, has received widespread praise and has won literary awards such as the “Tata Literature Live Book of the Year Award”, and the “Atta Galatta-Bangalore Literature Festival Book Prize” for the category of best non-fiction work in English.

Mukul is a veteran journalist and has been a reporter for almost two decades. His absence from the event obviously did not go unnoticed. In fact, Mukul was reportedly under a lot of pressure to attend the ceremony from his peers and the management at the Indian Express.

The Caravan reported that the management’s decision to invite Modi to the ceremony had irked some of the senior editors of the Indian Express as well. The article has quoted a journalist from the publication questioning whether “journalism awards should be given by the prime minister at all, especially somebody as polarising as Modi”.

Is Mukul right in eschewing the ceremony altogether in order to lodge his protest against PM Modi, who according to the former is the poster boy of the militant Hindu rightwing? Is Indian journalism at the crossroads now in which it has to choose between journalistic integrity and principled opposition to any and every attempt to diminish the constitutionally guaranteed secular fabric of our nation and the democratic sentiment that has indeed brought PM Modi to power? Are we at a cusp, in which journalists like Arnab Goswami are the new normal and those like Akshaya Mukul are increasingly an endangered lot?

Mukul’s boycott is obviously not the first instance of its kind in Modi’s India. 2015 saw a number of artistes return their awards in protest of rising intolerance in India. From filmmakers Kundan Shah and Saeed Mirza to author Arundhati Roy have returned their National Awards after the lynching and murder of a man in Uttar Pradesh for allegedly possessing beef.

While the Awards have previously been graced by the presence of a list of politicians including India’s former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, it is important to note that in Modi’s India, the press and journalists have been vilified more than ever. The BJP rule has seen the rise of portmanteaus like “presstitute”, and “sickular”, and the bastardisation of words like “liberal”. It is also under Modi’s rule that the nation has been more polarised than ever before in terms of political ideologies and beliefs.

Also read - Akshaya Mukul on why Gita Press is Hindutva's biggest vehicle

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