Eminent sculptor Anish Kapoor's characterisation of the Modi government as a "Hindu Taliban" has invited instant action from Rajasthan Government -- In an obviously retaliatory move, it has scrapped Kapoor's nomination from the Governing Board of Jaipur's Jawahar Kala Kendra.
I am no advocate of the Modi government, but as things stand today, even I believe that the descriptor "Hindu Taliban" is quite far-fetched. I am sure that had the sculptor taken a relook at his draft, he would have reconsidered using that term in his article. I am saying this because I have heard and read him in his area of expertise, where he seems to take very balance views. In fact, the rest of his article is not very off the mark, but it's been difficult for many people to look past the headline.
"The right approach for the Rajasthan Government would have been to counter Anish Kapoor's point of view by organising a debate during the literary festival when the sculptor is due in India."
Anyone who understands Hinduism well would agree that this is the religion that is most unlikely to produce the kind of society or culture implied in the word Taliban. The great resilience and assimilative nature that Hinduism and Hindu society have displayed despite centuries of aggression, and the true tolerance of an average Hindu mind, all provide a built-in safety mechanism against any attempt at its Talibanisation. In fact, such reckless attacks only offend the sensibilities of the average liberal Hindu. An eminent artist friend of mine, who is always targeted by the BJP government in his home state Goa, summed up this sentiment eloquently: "Hindus are thinking beings, across economic and social strata. Ours is one of the greatest religious philosophies of the world -- highly intellectual, highly sceptical and highly plural. We cannot allow bunch of foolish fanatics to represent us."
The very fact that no one issued anything resembling a fatwa against Anish Kapoor despite this article exemplifies a true Hindu response, one that reflects that Indian culture in not only eclectic but permissive in some ways. It would be a great service to the cause of secularism if such hyperbole, with all its inner contradictions, was avoided. Otherwise, fringe elements and extremists will grab the opportunity to discredit liberal secularism by creating a synthetic claustrophobia which is foreign to the average Hindu mind. (At this juncture, I find it pertinent to mention that when social reformer Mumtaz Ali appeared on a TV channel, he was asked by a yogi from the Swami Vivekananda foundation if he did Namaz five times a day. Surprised, Mumtaz Ali asked him the reason for his question and the yogi confounded all expectations by replying, "I do it because I find it very liberating.")
However, condemnation on the basis of selective reading is also not fair. Anish Kapoor has made some valid points in this article. What else has Anish said that in any way that calls for such a drastic tit-for-tat putdown? As many other commentators have done, he pointed towards evidence of a growing culture of intolerance towards certain sections of society and NGOs. Further, have we not proved his point that we do not take kindly to any criticism? Have we not shown our attitude is indeed "it's either this view - or else"?
Unfortunately, many critics have also missed the point when they say that this is our elected government. The Indian public has given Modi a mandate to show us achche din by way of economic progress and not be changing the core values or spirit of the Constitution. To be even more precise, it is only 31% of us who have voted the BJP into power.
Democracy is an instrument for governance and mandates are for a period. Societies undertake major course corrections through a much more all-encompassing process involving the active participation of ordinary men and women. Something which happened during the French Revolution, the universal suffrage movement in the UK and even the Russian Revolution, whether you agree or otherwise.
I think the right approach for the Rajasthan Government would have been to counter Anish Kapoor's point of view by organising a debate during the literary festival when the sculptor is due in India. As for him, perhaps he will take a more nuanced approach the next time he airs his views.
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