In the shadow of Ayodhya verdict, litfest plays it safe

Mark Tully.

For years, the Bangalore Literature Festival had thrived on an edgy mix of pure fiction, poetry and sessions with a distinctly political hue designed to spark fiery debates both on and off stage. But this year's edition, which opened on Saturday in the wake the Ayodhya verdict, seemed to play it safe.

This was apparent at least on the first day. From 'Savarkar: A misunderstood messiah?' to 'The Remains of Liberalism', 'Majoritarianism and the Indian Democracy' to 'The 3 Worlds of Indian Citizenship', the talks packed a punch. But interactivity and debates seemed muted.

It took veteran BBC journalist Mark Tully to break the rule. Responding to a pointed query on the verdict, he said: "I sincerely hope there is no triumphalism. If not, it would be a disaster. It is an occasion for Hindus and Muslims to sit and look at their commonalities." 

Dwelling deeper, Tully articulated the need for more tolerance in a fast-changing social scene. He had a rationale for this descent: "As India becomes more aspirational and competitive, people are getting more individualistic and not thinking as members of the society." 

For Washington-based columnist Ed Luce, deliberating on 'The Remains of Liberalism',  liberalism ideally meant a system of checks and balances.

Historian and novelist Mukul Kesavan added a context, stating that liberalism had become whatever is left after majoritarianism is deducted from the equation.

As an outsider, Luce had seen India moving towards illiberal democracy. The strain, as Kesavan added, was caused by majoritarians basing themselves on a particular race or culture.

Taking this thought further in another discussion, Kesavan noted how a principle had crystallised even before Independence: A nation's destiny should be guided by its religious majority. In this context, he recalled why Savarkar's conception of Hindutva as a united community had a specific purpose.

On the Ayodhya verdict, he traced the origins of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement in the 1980s with a demand that the sensibilities of the majority had to be taken care of. "The notion of deference to the majority has now been given statutory legitimacy." 

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