Controversy-hit lit fest banks on event lineup to spark interest

Barely 48 hours before the curtain-up, the Bangalore Literature Festival (BLF) is still stuck in muddied waters.

The wordy duel sparked by the pullout of three writers and subsequent withdrawal of historian-writer Vikram Sampath as co-organiser has left the fest in deep trouble. Will the shadow cast by the intolerance debate overshadow BLF’s larger literary agenda?

Letters, social media posts and articles for and against Sampath’s reaction to the writers’ pullout have triggered unprecedented interest in the festival. Fiery debates could be on the cards since BLF’s lineup boasts of a bevy of celebrity writers and commentators from different sides of the idealogical divide. But in the process, will discussions on literary works and trends take a backseat?

Not everyone wants this to be a political-apolitical categorisation. “Bringing differing ideologies on a common platform to debate and discuss is how good ideas are churned. These in turn produce good literature. We are all political and it is the creative writers who excavate our political and cultural experiences, find meaning through words and give our collective ideas their form,” contended Vinutha Mallya, a publishing industry person.

For any literary festival, shying away from “politics” would be a foolish objective. But, Mallya said, to be free and fair, “a platform should not be reduced to hollow ideological banter, like in Arnab Goswami’s studio, where people representing different positions come to speak but not talk.” Neither should it be a purely author-marketing event.

The run-up to the fest might be dominated by the intolerance issue. But as BLF’s advisor V Ravichandar hoped, a lot of intellectual stimulation in store at the Fest would shift the focus to the issues on the agenda.

Elaborating, he said: “There are sessions on Tipu and Netaji files, writings for young authors, film-screenings, one on the dying Beary language, and more. While the buzz has sparked a curiosity, participants will be pleasantly surprised that the fest has considerable diversity and is not a single-track event.”

Among the first to withdraw his participation from BLF, Kannada writer Dayanand reasoned that the intention was not to spark a controversy but only to show disagreement with Sampath. “We never levelled any charges or allegations. Nor did we use the word ‘boycott.’ What right do we have to boycott a literary event?

That would have brought a black mark. We don’t feel great by not participating either,” explained the writer. BLF has listed a big mix of writers, journalists, politicians and political commentators as participants. But, whether this would stoke political, bookish or boorish debates, the coming weekend would decide!

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