A day after 10 filmmakers returned their National Awards, 3 scientists declared they’d give up the Padma Bhushan, and on the day 53 historians wrote to the PM about the country’s “highly vitiated atmosphere”, Devendra Fadnavis says the viral culturati protest is little more than selective rebellion
It’s nothing short of bad timing. As Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis completes a year in office, it’s a time when the state’s development graph may be at a high but it’s also a time of controversy.
Following a ruckus by its ally, Shiv Sena, over Pakistani artistes and authors being hosted in Mumbai, the air is thick with protest as eminent thinkers and creative minds rally against what they believe is his government’s intolerance towards dissent of thought.
Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis implies that the protests are nothing but a targeted attack at his party. Pics/Rane Ashish
They cite the horrific Dadri lynching over consumption of beef, and the murder of rationalist MM Kalburgi by fringe groups. Following on the heels of 10 filmmakers returning their National Awards and three scientists relinquishing the Padma Bhushan, 53 of India’s best known historians have written to the PM about the country’s “highly vitiated atmosphere”.
It’s not the best time for an interview but Fadnavis is ready for a discussion at his official residence, Varsha. Diving straight into the tricky subject, he implies that the protests are nothing but a targeted attack at his party.
“I wonder why they did not return awards when a Keralite scholar’s arm was cut off by fundamentalists on charges that he had included a question in an examination paper that allegedly hurt their religious feelings.
Was it because a leftist party and the Congress ruled Kerala then?” he asks, referring to the 2010 incident when Newman College Professor TJ Joseph’s arm was hacked for allegedly insulting Prophet Mohammed.
He also brings up the Khairlanji killings in which a Dalit family of four were murdered in 2006, also during the Congress-NCP regime. “I didn’t see any litterateur or others returning their awards when a Dalit family was killed in Bhandara in Maharashtra.”
Also read: 13 filmmakers return national awards
He says the rebels are deliberately attempting to create a public misconception about Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Since Modi detractors cannot accuse him of corruption, inefficiency or indecisiveness, they have taken to accusing his government of not doing enough to control intolerance.
This is far from the truth, he argues, citing instances when the BJP leadership reacted and reined in the motor mouths. “Our party chief personally ensured that those who made wrong statements were issued (show cause) notice.”
Fadnavis says the literati are supposed to stay neutral instead of harbouring a bias. The latter influences the public. “When authors and artistes have a bias, it creates a lack of open dialogue (in society),” he says.
He considers it unfair to blame the Modi government for Dadri, an incident that occurred under the Samajwadi Party’s rule in Uttar Pradesh. “Samajwadi Party is responsible for law and order in UP, and the Congress should take blame for the incident in Karnataka [Kalburgi murder].”
But he quickly chases the defence with the fact that he respects the litterateurs and creative minds that have returned their awards, and is prepared to honour them again. “They shouldn’t have returned their awards. But those who had been awarded by the Maharashtra government, we will honour them again.”
On Muslim quota
Fadnavis says his government is for ensuring the welfare of Muslims, but the community will only enjoy a quota in employment when the courts of the land allow it.
“Our Constitution and the Supreme Court have ruled out a quota on the basis of religion. The Congress-NCP regime had approved a 5% quota in jobs and education for Muslims through an ordinance for vote bank politics.
We’re trying our best to bring Muslims into the main economic stream by way of welfare schemes,” he says, adding that when the courts pass a judgment on the issue, a new law can be formulated for job quota.
On beef ban
Emphasising that not all issues are tied to religion, he rubbishes confusion over Maharashtra’s decision to ban the consumption of beef. “The President’s office had been asking Congress-NCP’s successive governments whether it wanted the law (Maharashtra Animal Preservation (Amendment) Act) approved.
The Congress-NCP did not do it because of vote bank politics, despite government-appointed panels giving an opinion in favour of extending the ban to cow progeny. The state had a ban on cow slaughter in place for decades.”
On BJP’s feud with Sena
The subject to score headlines in the last year is the feud between the BJP and the Shiv Sena. But the CM says Sena antics do not bother him.
“Politics is all about the number game. Sena was number one then (in the first government between 1995 and 1999); now, we are number one. People understand this very well. In fact, we would not have needed the Sena’s support had we won 22 more Assembly seats last year,” he says.
“It is a fact that the BJP and Sena have differences, because they are two different parties. Our conduct, thought process and methods are different. And this is the reason why we are not ‘one’ political party.” He justifies the alliance as a coming together that respects the mandate of the people, one that helped them keep the Congress-NCP out of power.
“The people of Maharashtra fully understand why small issues are made big for political reasons (by the Sena). The real truth is not hidden from them. And, some people, who issue threats about pulling down our government, don’t speak the truth,” he says, hinting at Uddhav Thackeray’s Dussehra rally speech. When asked to comment on the speech that was nothing more than a salvo on the BJP, he says he had not heard the speech.
However, during an election rally in Kalyan-Dombivli on Wednesday ahead of the upcoming municipal elections, he told the audience that the BJP didn’t need to learn nationalism, patriotism and Hindutva from other parties. “We know what nationalism and patriotism is. We, the patriots, have fought for nationalism on the streets of the country,” he said.
On BMC polls
He says the decision to fight against the Sena in the Kalyan-Dombivli and Kolhapur municipal polls was taken due to demands by local party workers, but in all probability, the alliance with the Sena would continue in the 2017 Mumbai municipal polls.
“As a party, we stand by the local workers, because they fight the polls there… I don’t see any issue between us that will stop us from forging an alliance in Mumbai,” he says.