This year’s Hyderabad Literary Festival concluded successfully yesterday. The Literary Festival was held for four days, starting from 7th January to 10th January, at Hyderabad Public School, Begumpet. The lectures, the debates and discussions on a plethora of issues – be it freedom of speech and expression, India’s political dynamics or even the unfortunate fate of regional languages, saw an impressive participation by writers, scholars, readers and observers, both from Hyderabad and outside. The Cultural performances and the academic exhibitions put up at the venue were added attractions.
The very first event, the inaugural event on 7th January took off with a bang, with a war of words between author Nayantara Sahgal and Telangana State Governor, E.S.L. Narasimhan, a former Police Officer. Ms. Sahagal was the first speaker. She spoke on the diminishing space for dissent in our country and how a series of intolerant incidents over the past one year have affected her and how she was the first to give up her Sahitya Akademi Award, protesting the failure of the State to safeguard India’s diversity.
Clearly incensed with Ms. Sahgal’s speech, the Chief Guest, Governor E.S.L. Narasimhan, jumped in, ditching his pre-written speech. Narasimhan went on a rant attacking Sahgal. He said Freedom is a universal right but dissent is a subjective matter, it depends on how you interpret it. He said Civil Society has double standards and it rakes up issues selectively. Using family disputes as examples he put forth his view points. He said there is dissent within families too but you get past them.
Sahgal’s call to writers and artists to take up the challenge and stop the attack on Indian-ness too irked the Governor. He took off by saying how great our Nation was and how it was home to the richest language of all, Sanskrit. He blamed the tendency among people to look outside for everything while ignoring the rich cultural heritage of India. The Governor told Sahgal who is visiting Hyderabad for the first time “You will change your opinion about dissent after you see Hyderabad, which has a big heart”.
The situation turned particularly ugly and humiliating for Sahgal when the Governor in response to her comment on the role of Cinema and how it can play a part in condemning social evils, almost unwarrantedly veered the discussion towards the Police and held Cinema responsible for showcasing them as bad guys. The Governor said showcasing Police in the wrong light is not appropriate. He said imagine the crisis if the Police is taken off the streets even for few days.