Author Nayantara Sahgal on Monday said she will not attend the 92nd all-India Marathi Sahitya Sammelan this week, even if a fresh invitation is issued to her. A Maharashtra Navnirman Sena leader had opposed Sahgal’s invitation, following which the organisers of the literary event rescinded the invitation on Sunday, to “avoid any untoward incident and in view of the controversy that has cropped up against her name”.
Sahgal’s refusal to attend the literary meet in Maharashtra’s Yavatmal came despite the Chief Minister’s Office issuing a statement that it has nothing to do with deciding the invitations. The Akhil Bharatiya Sahitya Mahamandal, which organises the meet, is an autonomous body and the government does not interfere in its functioning, the office said.
Sahgal, 91, was supposed to inaugurate the event in the presence of Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis on January 11. A group of citizens on Monday condemned the revocation of the invitation. “It is clear that the invitation to Ms Sahgal was withdrawn because her speech and her strong stand on liberty, freedom of expression, and recent assaults on intellectuals and writers would have been inconvenient – even embarrassing – to the political establishment,” their statement said. “At the Sammelan, she would have read her speech in the presence of political leaders, especially Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis.”
Following the incident, Maharashtra Navnirman Sena chief Raj Thackeray had said that his party was not against inviting Sahgal to the meet, and expressed regret for the trouble the organisers had faced.
Sahgal had returned her Sahitya Akademi Award in 2015 amid allegations of “rising intolerance” in the country.
Mumbai Congress chief Sanjay Nirupam had criticised the move to cancel Sahgal’s invitation 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 Nationalist Congress Party spokesperson Nawab Malik claimed that the state government had a hand in the cancellation. He claimed that the invitation was rescinded because Prime Minister Narendra Modi would not like it if Jawaharlal Nehru’s niece was invited to the meet.