Taslima Nasreen has said that she was not surprised to hear that Salman Rushdie was not welcome in West Bengal. Nasreen herself was driven out from West Bengal in 2007 and is yet to set her foot back in the state. The inauguration programme for her book Nirbashan was also scrapped at the Kolkata book fair last year. "I have been forced to lead a painful life. I have no place in Bengal although I am a Bengali (she was targetted in her own country Bangladesh as well). I have been attacked physically. Am I the one who will feel surprised to see this?", Nasreen was quoted in a newspaper report.
The renowned author slammed the decision to ban Rushdie. She said the state takes such illogical and undemocratic decision whenever extremist groups raise unfair demands. She said the preemptive strike which was made against Rushdie reflects such fear. "But how long will this continue?", asked a disturbed Nasreen.
She said: "India is the world's largest democracy and unlike countries like Pakistan and Bangladesh, is considered one of the developed states in terms of power, stability, industry and education. Why a country like her is allowing herself to be hijacked by extremists? The elected representatives are pushing the country back and insulting the Constitution by bowing in front of a few. Who will take the responsibility if the entire community and its religion is dubbed as intolerant? Is the concern to win elections the only thing and not the welfare of the nation?"
Nasreen's observation couldn't have been better. Whether we organise elections at regular intervals or whether we follow the world's largest constitution do not mean anything as long as we continue to censor the creative minds, both from our own country or abroad. And this is precisely what is happening. The democratic state is surrendering before the whims of bigots, making us wonder is this what we are so proud about?
Ironically, elections crippled other aspects of our democracy
The relentless attack on individual freedom and the silence of the state prove that it is just election that has kept the facade of democracy intact. The institutions of democracy in this country have been eroded so much that the state's capacity to rule with an authority has diminished alarmingly. Democracy has gradually led way to an authoritarian style of governance, for due to deterioration in the level of institutions and leadership qualities, inclusive governance of a multicultural society has become almost an impossible task for those in power today.
Today's political leaders, if at all we can call them leaders, only stress strategy to live another day for they neither have the ideology, vision nor the political skill to effect positive changes on the ground. At the end of the day, it is just populism (which also includes a refined form of divisive politics) that prevails over a constructive public policy-making.
Just strategy, no responsibility
See for instance, the escapist attitude of the central government. Union Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde, according to a report, was initially harbouring a negative thought on the screening of Vishwaroopam. He was concerned about the law and order situation. But later, he took a pro-Haasan stand, saying an artiste had all the freedom. Was it a guidance of the party chief?
Another minister Manish Tewari slammed the Tamil Nadu government, saying the states should implement decisions taken by the censor board. Does the Congress government also harbour a similar thought when something goes wrong in a state ruled by its own government? The Congress wanted to stay away from the issue for it was in the court. Again a case of political strategising but little commitment to social responsibility. Is this how a democratic government function?
The right to take offence is getting bigger than the right to speak freely. The likes of Nasreens, Rushdies and Nandys are being targetted for they are softer targets. No political party is clean on this. Each of them has its own political interest to take care of and amid all this, it is the social division which is getting wider. A clear case of ill-governance.
If our 'prized ' democracy is ultimately reduced to the equation of majority and minority and if every word said, every story told and every book authored is targetted by cultural vultures, then the very idea of 'India' will not take much time to disappear. Each day, we are making our position weaker through our words (read Hindu terror) and action and it is allowing failed countries like Pakistan advise us to take care of Shah Rukh Khan's security.
Are police and court the only hope for the ruler and the ruled?
Moral policing by political forces, particularly by those in power, have become an integral part of governance. The disconnected leadership feels compelled to react when there occurs a huge uproar against an unjust incident (like rape) and show some solidarity but no concerted effort is ever found to give direction to the socio-political entity. Political leaders speak in favour or against an issue just to gain a political advantage. No wonder such hollow and weakened democratic state system is being mocked regularly by undemocratic forces. Police action becomes the only hope for the beleaguered civilian rulers while the cornered citizens, who elect their own leaders, find no other option but to fall bank on the judiciary against tyranny.
Even Pakistan has an excuse. Do we have any?
(With inputs from Bengali daily Ei Samay)