Former Sahitya Akademi president Vishwanath Prasad Tiwari has claimed that he has evidence to prove that the so-called “award wapsi” movement in 2015, when more than 50 writers returned their awards to protest alleged growth in intolerance under the Narendra Modi regime, were part of a politically motivated campaign organised by Marxist writers and Hindi poet Ashok Vajpeyi to defame the government in the run-up to the Bihar assembly election.
Vajpeyi has, however, rubbished Tiwari’s claims, published in a 10-page piece in literary magazine Dastavez that Tiwari edits, telling ET that he had decided to return his award because the situation prevailing in the country demanded the solidarity of writers and that most of those who returned the awards did not even know each other.
In the piece titled ‘The truth of award-wapsi and the hypocrisy behind it’, Tiwari said the four-month campaign was motivated by three groups of writers – those who had a personal hatred for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, friends of those who wanted to defame the government and a group of 25 writers who were seeking publicity for themselves.
“I have evidence to prove award wapsi was not spontaneous but an organised effort led by five writers, many of whom were holding anti-Modi sabhas even before he came to power,” wrote Tiwari, who headed the Akademi at the time. Vajpeyi, he alleged, started the movement “only because of personal reasons and hatred against Modi, the Akademi and Tiwari himself”.
He has also published the text messages and letters he had received during that period from writers, many of whom said they were being pressurised by their peers to be part of the movement.
Tiwari has nonetheless praised writer Nayantara Sehgal for being consistent in her show of dissent. Sehgal was among the first to return their awards. Tiwari has said that while she had protested against the emergency too and had asked for a meeting of the executive council of the Akademi, it was not clear why she accepted the award from the same institution a few years later.
“Liberty of individuals is the biggest strength we have in times like these. But it is also a dangerous weapon. There was significant intellectual dishonesty in the award wapsi campaign, which from the start was only to make a political point,” Tiwari wrote.
He said that in November that year many members of the campaign, including Virendra Yadav, Akhilesh and Kashinath Singh, celebrated Lalu Prasad’s victory in Bihar election at a Kathakaram event in Lucknow.
Singh, he said, had promised not to return his award, but was seen giving interviews just two days later about “rising intolerance”. “The irony is he did not return the award that UP government gave him, despite the fact that Dadri, where Akhlak’s lynching took place, was in UP.
Even more ironical is that there were some writers who happily accepted awards during the emergency but cried intolerance in 2015,” Tiwari said, accusing communist writers’ groups for fuelling friction between the Akademi and writers.
He also said that the next year, on July 20, 2016, the same writers met at JD (U) leader KC Tyagi’s house in a meeting with Nitish Kumar. “They had a mental block in their minds against the Centre right from the beginning which they expressed as intolerance. In reality, it was their intolerance to the democratic mandate that was striking,” he said.
Tiwari also said that Malayalam writer K. Sachidanandan called him “arrogant”. “He had written an email to me which unfortunately I could not read as I need someone to operate the computer for me. He could have called me to discuss. His statements hurt me the most,” he said in the piece.
Vajpeyi dismissed Tiwari’s claims, though, saying the accusations were completely wrong. “If I had a personal grudge, it would not be for mediocre people. It has to be at least for an outstanding personality, which is not the case here,” he told ET. He said that he had decided to return his award because Sehgal had returned hers and the situation in the country demanded that. “For the first 15 days I was not even in the country. So it is absurd to think there was an organised effort,” he said.
Tiwari stuck by his accusations, however, and told ET that he had written the piece to bring out the real faces of writers who had declared themselves “champions of free speech”. “I refused to take back the awards because the Akademi is not an open window where you can return awards whenever you want,” he said.
In his piece, Tiwari also accused Vajpeyi of repeatedly hiding the fact that the Akademi had hosted a big prayer meeting for the Kannada writer MM Kalburgi in Bengaluru. He said he had also approached the executive council of the Akademi about demands for his resignation and that some writers were upset there was no prayer meeting held for Kalburgi in Delhi. “They refused to even entertain the suggestion saying Delhi is not India and that the Akademi had anyway organised a huge prayer meeting for the writer in Bengaluru and other places,” he said. He also wrote that Vajpeyi’s problem with the Akademi started from the day the ministry and the institution four years ago refused to associate with Vajpeyi’s Raza Foundation for an event.
Tiwari wrote that on October 23, 2015 the Akademi after its working committee meeting came up with a very strong letter condemning murders of writers and the general violence in the country but still, despite several requests, the writers did not stop their campaign. “In the world of Hindi literature, not being a Marxist is inviting isolation. While all this was going on, I was only worried about the dignity and honour of the institution which was being played around with,” he wrote.
Credit: The Economic Times