Sunday, 20 April 2014

Why Left’s intellectual bullying won’t work any more

`We cannot so easily hand over a good writer to the Modi camp, not without a fight. . .’
Those are the words of S Anand, founder-publisher of Navayana, in an interview with Business Standard.  Navayana is the publishing house that withdrew an agreement to publish the translation of a novel by noted Tamil author Joe D’Cruz because he praised Narendra Modi.
So, the intellectual world’s worst-kept secret is out. Writers and artists belong to `camps’. They don’t inhabit the free, boundary-less world of ideas where, yes, there are rightist and leftist slants, but only to give an edge to debates. Those belonging to one ideologically-rigid camp will not tolerate one of their members being tolerant of, or agreeing with, the other. Anybody doing that will be found guilty of apostasy and be bullied back into the fold. So, contracts will be reneged on, books and articles will not be published, and opprobrium will be heaped on the renegade. And if that fails, they will be blackballed.
What else is Navayana’s action, and the words Anand has used in the interview, other than bullying? `We genuinely hope and believe Joe will eventually reconsider his views, which have drawn flak in Tamil literary and political spheres’. The implication is clear - the publication of the book (perhaps with another translator) will depend on D’Cruz revising his views on Modi, or at least publicly saying so.
Even when he is admitting that Navayana’s action may have been a bit haste, Anand cleverly shifts the blame on D’Cruz, accusing the latter of airing his support for Modi after signing the contract because he sensed the translator and Navayana would not have come on board otherwise. As writer Mukul Kesavan (who can by no stretch of imagination be called a Modi sympathiser), asks very aptly in this piece in The Telegraph, what if D’Cruz had aired his views after the book was published – `would Navayana have physically withdrawn the book and pulped it? Stacked the copies up and burnt them?’ He adds: `just to ask the question is to know the answer: of course not.’ Maybe he is right, but that scenario is not entirely beyond belief or possibility.
The D’Cruz affair has shattered another myth - the left-of-centre intellectual brigade’s sanctimonious pretence that it is the sole defender of intellectual freedom against the right-wing - specifically the Hindu right-wing – ravagers of this space.
The intellectual terrorism of the oxymoronic left-liberal brigade has actually been the elephant in the room for very long. Navayana’s immature action and rationalisation has only brought into the open what has always been done silently and in a very sophisticated manner. The rabid right-wing has very stupidly got books, plays and art exhibitions banned, physically attacked independent writers and artists and vandalised buildings and very rightly attracted public revulsion for itself and sympathy for the objects of its attack.
The left clique, in contrast, has for decades labelled people who hold positions diametrically opposite to it – American agents, World Bank-IMF stooges,  corporate apologists, pro-establishment, Hindutva types, and, lately, sanghis – and banished them to intellectual and academic Coventry, far  more effectively and without any taint of censorship being attached to it. 
Sometimes, it has not been silent. There have been occasions when an award or a official post being given to someone perceived to be a right-winger, or supported by a right-winger, or simply opposed by a left-winger or two on some selection committee has been openly and hysterically attacked. Let us not forget how, through the sixties and seventies and even part of the eighties, universities and academic institutions were systematically packed with left-leaning academics and right-leaning ones effectively sidelined.
If D’Cruz hadn’t gone public with what happened, his would have been yet another unnoticed case of successful gagging of non-left voices. Anand sounds peeved that the author `chose to speak to the media before he responded to my and Geetha’s [the translator of D’Cruz’s novel] emails or calls’. Is that a grouse that D’Cruz didn’t give them space for intellectual intimidation?
Can you imagine the outrage that would have ensued if a publisher with a right-of-centre ideological bent had dared do what Navayana did to an author who criticised Modi or wrote something that would have got khakhi knickers all a-twist? The muted criticism of Navayana is almost akin to deafening silence, in contrast.
Instead, there are too-clever-by-half attempts at sophistry, drawing distinctions between right wing and left wing intimidation.  What happened to Wendy Doniger’s book was censorship, we are told; this is only a publisher exercising his right to freedom to publish only certain kinds of authors. So, here is a publisher saying his decision to publish a book will be determined not by its contents but by the political views of its author. That’s not censorship? Anand is not a left-wing Dinanath Batra, the self-appointed guardian of Hindu history? Seriously?
For far too long had the right-of-centre band (the economic and social/cultural liberals as well as the conservatives) been edged out of the public discourse space by the left-of-centre cabal. But they are beginning to challenge this mafia and reclaim their place. They will not be intimidated any more by either whispered calumny or open taunts, by social or intellectual ostracism or by allegations that they have struck cosy deals with the New Establishment. Their resolve to fight back will not be weakened by broad hints that their freedom is short-lived and dependent on their not criticising the New Establishment. If and when they face attacks from this New Establishment, they will not go running into the arms of the self-appointed Sole Upholders of Liberal Values and beg to be forgiven for their transgressions and be taken back into a left-leaning world.
Joe D’Cruz has shown the way by standing up. The country needs more of his kind.

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