Maharashtra Navnirman Sena chief Raj Thackeray on Monday expressed regret for the trouble faced by the organisers of a literary meeting in Vidarbha’s Yavatmal after they rescinded author Nayantara Sahgal’s invitation following objections raised by a MNS worker, The Hindu reported.
“If Sahgal’s presence at the All India Literary Meet is transcending into a cultural exchange, I or my party will not oppose it,” Thackeray said. “I ask my party workers to not make any statements on such sensitive issues without consulting me.”
Thackeray claimed that neither he nor his party were “against inviting her”, PTI reported.
Organisers of the 92nd All India Marathi Meet on Sunday said they had decided to revoke Sahgal’s invitation to “avoid any untoward incident and in view of the controversy that has cropped up against her name”. The writer was scheduled to inaugurate the meeting on January 11 in the presence of Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, and acclaimed Marathi author Aruna Dhere.
On Monday, Mumbai Congress chief Sanjay Nirupam criticised the move and claimed the Bharatiya Janata Party was behind it. “The decision of the organisers was taken at the behest of the BJP, the MNS is just a front,” Nirupam alleged. “Literature should not surrender before politics. If a government is scared of writers, it means that its days are over.”
The state’s Cultural Affairs Minister Vinod Tawde said the objections raised were unfair. “If someone had opposed Sahgal after her speech at the meet, then it could have been understood,” Tawde added. “It is not fair to oppose her completely. Maharashtra is a state that welcomes everyone to present their work.”
Dhere, who is expected to preside over the event, said: “It is shocking that you respectfully invite someone and later back out. She should be invited with utmost respect.”
Sahgal, 91, was surprised by the organisers’ decision, and said no reason was mentioned in the letter she received from them on Sunday. “In fact, the organisers had sent me a very warm invitation and arranged for my stay and travel,” she added. “There must be some pressure on them, hence they cancelled my invitation.”
She said that returning the Sahitya Akademi Award in 2015 did not lead to the cancellation of the invitation as the organisers knew her views. “They knew my reputation very well and my writings too,” the writer added. “They had extended the invitation knowing these things.”
Sahgal had won the Sahitya Akademi award in 1986 for her novel Rich Like Us. She returned the award in protest against increasing intolerance in the country, attacks on dissenters, and the Sahitya Akademi’s silence over attacks on writers and rationalists.