Why Jaipur Lit Fest ignored Modi’s imprint on Bodo accord

It's a problem when something as important as the Bodo Accord is ignored and only Shaheen Bagh is exalted, so disproportionately.

 |  5-minute read |   29-01-2020
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What is the relationship between the Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF) and Shaheen Bagh? Or between both of them and the new Bodo Accord signed on January 27? Ostensibly, there is no connection. But on looking a bit deeper at India’s narrative wars, a complex and intriguing web of relations begins to emerge. A web that is by no means accidental or entirely innocent.

Ignorant intellectuals

First, the just-concluded JLF.

I was in several sessions this year. Eight to be precise. Almost close to Congress MP Shashi Tharoor’s probable record of nine a couple of years back. As someone said to me facetiously, even Tharoor had fewer panels this year. Did that signify anything? No, I said, tongue equally in cheek, while Tharoor often got a walkover or free hand in his panels, I had to struggle for every bit of space and time to present a view somewhat different, if not at odds with the general thrust.

True, there were other voices like mine at JLF. I myself have also defended the right of festival organisers to invite whom they please. Several so-called Right-wing festivals actually resemble echo chambers, with no divergent voices. And JLF does provide space for Left, Right and Centre, though the first and last are usually overriding. Who dominates a particular event shouldn’t make us hate it or try to shut it down. That would be most unfortunate.

But at the end of “the greatest literary show on earth,” I cannot help reflect on how so many Indian, as opposed to foreign participants, used their panels to lambast the Modi sarkar. Even if the topic did not warrant it. For instance, the closing debate on the proposition “Social Media Has Divided Society” where a senior journalist and owner-editor of a portal known to be critical of the government said that it was not social media but PM Narendra Modi who had divided the society. Another quickly hailed Shaheen Bagh as some sort of revolutionary space. Earlier, a well-known actor had proclaimed that Shaheen Baghs were erupting all over India. Of course, no one mentioned Sharjeel Imam or his call to vivisect India again. When I did, I was shouted at by a fellow-panellist as if I had broken some sort of unwritten code by mentioning the unmentionable.

When I was interviewed by Swiss Radio, I invited the reporter to look for empirical data. In my view, Shaheen Bagh is far from being India’s Tahrir or Taksim Square (of Egypt and Turkey, respectively). In fact, the Shaheen Bagh protests would probably have fizzled out had it not been for the Delhi elections. Those who have observed social movements in India over the decades will vouch that the scale of mobilisation is nowhere close to a mass movement. What is cause for more worry is the overt or covert Islamist agenda behind Shaheen Bagh, threatening to cut off Assam and the Northeast from the rest of India.

Rectifying gaps

That brings me to the new Bodo Accord. The third in the last nearly 30 years, the question is whether the accord will at last bring peace in Bodoland. Without conceding separate statehood, the Centre has promised a slew of measures in an impressive Rs 1,500 crore package. Nine groups are party to the tripartite accord between the central and state governments, and agitating Bodo groups. The latter are made up of nine groups, including remnants and successors of all three of the major insurgent groups — National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB), All Bodo Students’ Union (ABSU), and Bodo Liberation Tigers.

Union home minister Amit Shah said the new accord marked a “final and comprehensive solution” to the demand of the Bodos, “while retaining the territorial integrity of Assam”. Promising that it would “usher in a golden age for the Bodo region and Assam”, Shah added that the issue “has been solved forever under the leadership of Modiji”. The PM tweeted:

No divisiveness here

What is different about this accord from the previous two? The answer is that this one includes all the stakeholders, even those who were left out earlier. But, more importantly, the Bodo movement itself has run out of steam as have other insurgencies in the Northeast. The package offered by the Centre includes a Central University, National Institute of Technology, polytechnic, Navodaya Vidyalaya, medical and management institutes, dairy, and so on.

This will give a huge boost to employment and development in the newly formed Bodoland Territorial Region. No one mentioned this accord at JLF. While both Modi and Shah were pilloried not one of their critics praised a single thing they had accomplished. It is not that Shaheen Bagh should not be spoken of at a lit fest. Or that intellectuals and writers should not criticise the government. The problem is when something as important as the Bodo Accord is ignored and only Shaheen Bagh is exalted, so disproportionately. In the last session of the festival, the aforementioned senior editor said, “Don’t trust the government.” I countered, “Yes, but don’t trust the media.” It would be good to add “don’t trust our so-called intellectuals and writers either”.

I would say to the youth, “Be critical, be open, be fair. Come to your own conclusions.”

(Courtesy of Mail Today)

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Makarand R Paranjape Makarand R Paranjape @makrandparanspe

The writer is director, Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla. The views are personal.

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