On Narendra Modi's Birthday, An Unwitting Political Comment By A Google Doodle

17/09/2015 8:22 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST

NEW DELHI -- Today is the 65th birthday of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and the 100th birthday of India's great artist, the late Maqbool Fida Hussain.

A Google doodle celebrated, rightly, the birth centenary of the legendary artist. On any other day, it would have been unremarkable. Its juxtaposition against the birthday of Narendra Modi, perhaps the most popular leader ever produced by the Hindutva movement, made for a interesting, almost certainly unwitting, comment.

That is because of the rising concerns about religious intolerance and talk, even by government ministers, of "cultural pollution" and other recent pronouncements in similar vein that have overshadowed the development agenda Narendra Modi rode to power on.

The late artist was a thorn in the flesh of right wing Hindu groups such as the RSS and VHP and the larger Sangh Parivar, of which Prime Minister Modi has been a life-long member. His crime was painting Hindu godesses in the nude. He was hounded with lawsuits around the country and his shows were vandalized by the VHP and other affiliates of the Sangh.

To be clear, Modi personally has had no direct involvement in agitations against Husain. He just happens to share a birthday with an artist disliked by his ideological family.

The damage these forces did to one of India's preeminent artists of the 20th century is a dark page in India's cultural history.

Ultimately he left the country and was forced into exile in the middle east, where he remained until his death, unable to return to the country he loved. Husain died far from home, in the summer of 2011, at a hospital in London. He relinquished his Indian citizenship in 2010 and died a citizen of Qatar.

While the Supreme Court acknowledged that erotica is celebrated on scores of temples walls across India, Hindutva activists objected to Husain's portrayal of Hindu gods and goddesses in the nude, picketed his exhibitions, issued death threats, took him to court and accused him of promoting enmity between religious groups.

While the courts of India stood resolutely behind Husain, its governments failed him. The Congress-led government was no improvement on the preceding BJP-led government in providing Husain a safe space to continue painting in India.

In 2006, the year he left India, a little-known body called the Hindu Personal Law Board announced a Rs51 crore reward on Husain's life.

In 2010, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat said that he was not opposed to Husain living in India but RSS was opposed to any artistic expression that offended the sentiments of sections of society.

The doodle hasn't gone unnoticed.

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