The real problem with Jaipur Lit Fest is not the participation of RSS ideologues – it's the sponsor

It's time for writers and intellectuals to be reminded about Zee's recent campaigns against people they have branded 'anti-national'.

Should we criticise the organisers of the Jaipur Literature Festival for inviting two functionaries of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh to this year’s edition of the annual festival? Murmurs in the literary circles seem to suggest that the organisers of JLF succumbed to pressure from the Right Wing. A glance at the list of speakers and programmes makes it clear that there are a fair number of liberal and Left-leaning people among the speakers. Even the general secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), Sita Ram Yechuri, is in that list. So a balance appears to have been struck.

Journalist Shekhar Gupta was right when he lambasted those who oppose the idea of giving Right Wingers space. By doing so, he argued, it is the liberal space that gets shrunk. That idea was even upheld by the man who is much hated by the Right Wing, Jawaharlal Nehru. When he was prime minister, he rejected a suggestion by the editor of the weekly Blitz, RK Karanjia, to proscribe the RSS as it was opposed to the constitutional values of India. Banning ideological groups would only drive them underground where they could assume a dangerously subversive power, Nehru said. Even a majoritarian ideology like that of the RSS needs to be fought out in the open.

Moreover, in present-day India, it is not the prerogative of Liberals or the Left to decide whether to have a dialogue with the Right. It is the Right Wing, now in the ascendant, that is in the position to choose whether Liberals should be allowed access to prestigious forums. Keeping in mind the sensitivity of the Right-Wing masters of the day, even people who previously championed liberal democratic values have started to examine what they say.

We see it being done in the universities where positions should actually depend on the recognition of an individual’s work by their peers in academia. But increasingly, heads of academic institutions are creating occasions to give platform to the so-called intellectuals of the RSS. So one should not be surprised or upset that the JLF is inviting intellectuals belonging to the RSS.

Of course, Right Wing voices need to be made part of a civil dialogue or conversation. One is only struck by the timing of this realisation by the organisers of the JLF. The RSS has been around for a long time, but it has only recently qualified as a potential participant of the JLF. The real problem with this festival is not the presence of the RSS ideologues but the main sponsor of the JLF, whose name is prefixed to that of the festival. Perhaps some of the finest minds from India and abroad who are attending the event should be reminded that they will avail of hospitality paid for by people who were instrumental in vehemently mobilising and instigating lynch mobs against some of their peers.


Concerted campaigns

Let us not forget the concerted campaign last January against young student activists at the Jawaharlal Nehru University. So effective was the vilification that Kanhaiya Kumar, who was president of the university students union, was brutally assaulted by a group of lawyers in Delhi. In fact, so pervasive were the hate-campaigns, led by the very television news channel whose name is prefixed to the JLF, that they have made Kanhaiya Kumar and other student leaders permanently vulnerable to attack by people who have been persuaded by the propaganda that these young students are “anti-national”.

It didn’t stop there. Nivedita Menon, a respected professor and feminist writer, was targeted by the same news channel, inciting violence against her. Gauhar Raza, an Urdu poet and scientist at the government-funded Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, was declared a member of the “Afzal-lover gang”, a reference to Afzal Guru, the convict hanged for his role in the 2001 Parliament attacks. These were not isolated attacks. The tirade against these writers and scholars continued on the channel for many days .

People who have not been targeted in this way would perhaps say that such attacks need not be taken seriously. They fail to realise that for those whose faces have been displayed prominently on television for days, and described as friends of terrorists or anti-nationals, it is matter of life and death. They are under mortal threat.

It is nobody’s argument that merely attending the event will turn visitors into advocates of hate-ideology. But they do legitimise their efforts.

The channel has also been at the forefront of a propaganda war against Muslims. Its blatantly false reporting about Kairana in Western Utter Pradesh is only one such example. It has portrayed Muslims as a threatening presence for Hindus in Kairana and in Dhulagargh in West Bengal.

Or consider how this channel handled the 2015 case in Dadri, Uttar Pradesh, when 50-year-old Mohammed Akhlaq was lynched by a mob because it was rumoured that his family had been eating beef. Writers, artists and scientists protested the killing and the rise of intolerance, which embarrassed the government and the party in power. But these very writers were attacked as being anti-national by the channel, which is the patron of the celebration of creativity in Jaipur.

Image Courtesy: Facebook/JLF
Image Courtesy: Facebook/JLF

Unfreedom and fear

It has been reported that JLF’s organisers did try to look for other sponsors but failed. It is being argued that the JLF, having evolved into a unique institution, could not have afforded any discontinuity. This school of opinion says that it is vital to understand the compulsions of the organisers who, it is claimed, want to build a literary culture in this country where literature is rarely celebrated publicly.

But do we need such a massive celebration? It is the gigantic scale that necessitates the participation of corporations, the head of one of India’s top management institutions told this writer. The ethical universe of these corporations, he said, is defined by a very old and simple word: profit. They cannot be expected to be proponents of freedom and democracy.

The last two and half years have been difficult for many of India’s minorities. We, in universities and elsewhere, too have lived with a feeling of unfreedom and fear. This feeling has brought us closer to understanding what minorities face. We are being made part of a zombie culture. Therefore, it is difficult to miss the strategic mind behind the theme of the JLF: Bhakti. Bhakti sounds sublime. The selection of the theme brings to mind something Bertolt Brecht wrote: “Times of extreme oppression are usually times when there is much talk about high and lofty matters. At such times it takes courage to write of low and ignoble matters.”

In India 2017, we need this courage as badly as oxygen.

Apoorvanand is a literary and cultural critic who teaches Hindi at Delhi University.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Why should inclusion matter to companies?

It's not just about goodwill - inclusivity is a good business decision.

To reach a 50-50 workplace scenario, policies on diversity need to be paired with a culture of inclusiveness. While diversity brings equal representation in meetings, board rooms, promotions and recruitment, inclusivity helps give voice to the people who might otherwise be marginalized or excluded. Inclusion at workplace can be seen in an environment that values diverse opinions, encourages collaboration and invites people to share their ideas and perspectives. As Verna Myers, a renowned diversity advocate, puts it “Diversity is being invited to the party, inclusion is being asked to dance.”

Creating a sense of belonging for everyone is essential for a company’s success. Let’s look at some of the real benefits of a diverse and inclusive workplace:

Better decision making

A whitepaper by Cloverpop, a decision making tool, established a direct link between inclusive decision making and better business performance. The research discovered that teams that followed an inclusive decision-making process made decisions 2X faster with half the meetings and delivered 60% better results. As per Harvard Business School Professor Francesca Gino, this report highlights how diversity and inclusion are practical tools to improve decision making in companies. According to her, changing the composition of decision making teams to include different perspectives can help individuals overcome biases that affect their decisions.

Higher job satisfaction

Employee satisfaction is connected to a workplace environment that values individual ideas and creates a sense of belonging for everyone. A research by Accenture identified 40 factors that influence advancement in the workplace. An empowering work environment where employees have the freedom to be creative, innovative and themselves at work, was identified as a key driver in improving employee advancement to senior levels.


A research by Catalyst.org stated the in India, 62% of innovation is driven by employee perceptions of inclusion. The study included responses from 1,500 employees from Australia, China, Germany, India, Mexico and the United States and showed that employees who feel included are more likely to go above and beyond the call of duty, suggest new and innovative ways of getting work done.

Competitive Advantage

Shirley Engelmeier, author of ‘Inclusion: The New Competitive Business Advantage’, in her interview with Forbes, talks about the new global business normal. She points out that the rapidly changing customer base with different tastes and preferences need to feel represented by brands. An inclusive environment will future-proof the organisation to cater to the new global consumer language and give it a competitive edge.

An inclusive workplace ensures that no individual is disregarded because of their gender, race, disability, age or other social and cultural factors. Accenture has been a leading voice in advocating equal workplace. Having won several accolades including a perfect score on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate equality index, Accenture has demonstrated inclusive and diverse practices not only within its organisation but also in business relationships through their Supplier Inclusion and Diversity program.

In a video titled ‘She rises’, Accenture captures the importance of implementing diverse policies and creating an inclusive workplace culture.


To know more about inclusion and diversity, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Accenture and not by the Scroll editorial team.