A look at the world of politics, statecraft, diplomacy and books.
Indian controversies have a surreal quality about them. In almost all major public debates involving "cultural" issues the same suspects dance around in the arena. Shoba De, Javed Akthar, Dipankar Gupta and we can round a few more of the ususal suspects. M F Hussain's right to aristic freedom in not questioned by anyone, but surely that right does not include the right to insult "hindu dods and goddesses". The so called liberals and secularists were out in strength defending the "right" of Hussain to cast scorn on hindu icons but they are strangely silent when Salman Rushdie's artistic and literary freedom is concerned. In other words Indian secularism can be constructed as a right of the citizen to insult one religion but does not include the right to crtique any other. In fact the Salman Rushdie Affair has once again drawn attention to the absolute hypocracy that exists in India.
Personally speaking I feel that there is no difference between the M F Hussain Controversy and the one over Salman Rushdie: both of then interpretted artistic freedom to mean the right to attack religion, Rushdie chose to target his own and Hussain chose to denigrate Hindu religion and therfore both stand on the same footing. The Congress Party, facing as it does a tough fight in Uttar Pradsh chose to side with the Deoband School and decided to somehow ensure that Salman Rushdie does not visit India during the Jaipur Literary Festival. It created a non- esistent SIMI plot to frighten Salman Rushdie from not attending. It is also likely that the whole sordid affair was created in order to hype the Jaipur Literary Festival and bestow international notoriety on it by bringing in Salman Rushdie. Western nations which speak of "freedom of expression: have demonstrated their commitment to this ideal by the way inwhich Julian Assange,the founder of Wikileaks was perscecuted by the ruling establishment.
There is no need to panic over the future of freedom in India for the simple reason Indians do not read and consequently do not think and hence there is no possibility of freedom in India losing its sheen. The Indian middle class, a parasitical and venal class that it is, just does not read, write or think and therfore there is no real threat to freedom of expression. Only when the written word becomes subversive will there be a threat to freedom of expression. Indian writers adopt the safe option of either taking the stance of unrealistic radicalism like Roy or resort to magic realism like Rushdie and there can be nothing subversive in either. So there is really no threat to freedom in India.
Only when writers start articulating the problems of the people and infuse them with the desire to change and make them aware of the reality of their social and political existence will the Indian state resort to punitive measures. Domesticated radicals do not pose nay real threat and Rushdie can ignite street protests but no change is possible.