By Saket Suman
New Delhi, Dec 25 (IANS) Dubbed as one of India’s greatest such shows, the journey of the Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF) has been marked by several controversies. Its producer, Sanjoy K. Roy, says these are disappointing, trying and draining — and a distraction from a plethora of actual significant discussions happening during the five-day-long event.
“When you wake up in the morning and you see social media attacking you yet again and not talking about the actual depth of the programme, it is like what are we doing! Is this festival only about controversies, is it the only thing that can drive the festival,” he wondered while speaking to IANS here.
The upcoming 10th edition of the festival has drawn a flak on social media for the inclusion of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) leaders in the programme and the exclusion of some writers who had returned their awards during last year’s “award wapsi” protest against intolerance.
Contrary to the prevailing notion, Roy said that it is not for the first time that somebody from the RSS or the right has been invited to the festival, adding that JLF stands for diversity and includes voices from all sections and that it will continue to do so.
“Every year we try and include voices from all sides. While everybody is saying that it is for the first time that RSS is coming to JLF, we have had the Tarun Vijays, the Murli Manohar Joshis among others in the past too.”
While some social media users were quick to point out at the “growing clout” of the RSS, Roy said that the festival has equally hardline speakers from the left of the political spectrum.
“One of the principal reasons for the balance was also to look at the left ideology, which is also on the other extreme, whether it is M.A. Baby from down south or Sitaram Yechuri. They are all people from one ideology and one philosophy. They too are in attendance at the festival. There are voices from all sides,” he pointed out.
“When we talk about freedom of expression, we have realised that freedom of expression is only restricted to your voice or your set of people and everybody else is not allowed the same freedom of expression. I think that is a worrying situation on both sides of the divide.
“These are issues that need to be debated. It is again a sign of an extremely intolerant society and I think the liberal Left needs to introspect. Is it yet another example of a self-goal,” Roy wondered.
Responding to a question on not inviting writers like Ashok Vajpeyi, Uday Prakash and K. Satchidanandan, who had returned their Sahitya Akademi awards, Roy said there are other writers in this year’s list of speakers who had also returned their awards.
“Yes sure, we have not invited the same people but there are others like Keki N. Daruwalla, who had also returned his sahitya Akademi award,” he said.
Daruwalla, in fact, was one of the most vocal authors during the “award-wapsi” protest and had strongly condemned both the central government as well as the Sahitya Akademi on failing to protect the rights of authors and rational thinkers.
On claims that Dalit priorities are being ignored, Roy pointed out that a session titled, “Look Back in Anger: Writing and Remembering”, will feature Ajay Navaria and Hari Ram Meena in conversation with Anu Singh Choudhary exploring the subject.
According to the announcements already made, JLF 2017 will also host a session on “The Legacy of the Left”.
In another session, “We The People of india”, Ashok Desai and Sitaram Yechury will be in conversation with Pratap Bhanu Mehta and Yadav Khosla and will explore “the implementation and interpretaion” of the term in the world’s largest democracy.
There will be another session “Azaadi Mera Brand: Walking Free”, featuring Anuradha Beniwal and Swanand Kirkire.
Other speakers known for their Leftist inclinations include, Ashok Ferrey, Helena Kennedy, Hridayesh Joshi, Kanank Mani Dixit and Yatindra Mishra.
Roy further said that JLF stands for diversity and that it encourages and provides a platform for everyone.
“We have always created a platform for all kinds of voices. Perhaps there has not been a balance because most authors come with a particular point of view but one should not imagine that two speakers will, in any way counter the rest of the programme,” he said.
“Sometimes I feel that people are too lazy to go online and read about the other authors. It is one of the 175 sessions and it is two out of 270 speakers and one needs to look at it in the larger perspective,” Roy said.
“We are looking at the Constitution, we are looking at the freedom to dream, first time Magna Carta is coming in and there is incredible wealth of writers and authors not just from across the world but also from various parts of India”, Roy said.
(Saket Suman can be contacted at [email protected])