Vikram Seth on 2024 Lok Sabha election results: 'Limitation on autocracy now'

He even gave the example of author Arundhati Roy against whom a case is registered under the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act for her alleged provocative speeches in 2010.
Last Updated : 22 June 2024, 12:21 IST

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New Delhi: Eminent author-poet Vikram Seth on Friday said "we are in a better situation" than a month ago, referring to the results of the 18th Lok Sabha elections, and added that there will be some sort of "limitation on autocracy" in India.

Speaking here at the launch of his new book, the translation of 86 lines Hindu hymn "Hanuman Chalisa", Seth argued that the "fairly secular" Nitish Kumar and Chandrababu Naidu will keep a check on things, like the way Samata Party and George Fernandes did in the then National Democratic Alliance (NDA).

"I do think that we live in a better situation now than we lived a month ago because there is, if as was said 'that was a trailer to what was going to come', at least now there is somewhat of limitation on autocracy, and balanced by 'N and N' on either sides. Naidu and Nitish are fairly secular. So let's see what happens.

"After all in NDA, the first NDA, where they had Samata Party, George Fernandes, not only secular, but a Christian. So, I think there was a kind of limitation on the mischief that could be created," said the award-winning author.

The BJP won 240 seats, falling short of the 272 majority mark, and managing to form the government with a total of 286 seats in this election through allies.

This was well below the 303 and 282 seats it had won in 2019 and 2014, respectively, to have a majority on its own.

However, Seth, who turned 72 recently, warned that the "problem" is not over yet and said people today are "afraid to speak their minds".

He even gave the example of author Arundhati Roy against whom a case is registered under the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act for her alleged provocative speeches in 2010.

"Look what is happening to Arundhati now. Craziness," he said, and called pitting one Indian against another the "worst thing you can do to weaken your country".

Asked about the changing imagery of Hindu deities, especially Hanuman -- from being shown at the feet of Lord Ram and Sita to the starkly different figure with a frowning face in saffron and black -- Seth replied even this has more to do with politics and less with bhakti.

"They tend to use the aspect of Hanuman, which are not the bhakti aspects, not the 'sookshma roop dhari siyahi(n) dikhaawaa' (Tiny in form -- thus Sita discerning) but the 'bikaTa roopa dhari lanka jaraawaa' (Awesome in form -- setting Lanka burning)," he explained.

In fact, it was out of the fear that his 'Hanuman Chalisa' translation might be given a political colour during the election period that he decided to postpone his launch. It was earlier scheduled to take place on Hanuman Jayanti.

"I thought to myself, if I do that, it will get sucked into all electoral business, and they'll say 'this chap has gone over to the dark side or something'. 'He has become a kind of Bajrang Dali or something like that'. Then I thought let us do afterwards," he added.

On translating "Hanuman Chalisa", his first book in a decade, which Seth dedicates to Bhaskar, the boy genius in his book "A Suitable Boy", who had memorised adulatory ode to Lord Hanuman at the age of five, he said translations are like "learning to dance with chains" and even if 10 per cent of people get the joy of the original then that is "good enough" for him.

"Usha Mami, my 90-year-old aunt who lives on the ground floor, whom of course I showed my translation to. She said, 'Beta, you have to share it with other people, not just me'. I said it is a private translation. I did it 10 years ago... After that I didn't touch it," said Seth on how the translation came into being.

The “Hanuman Chalisa”, written by 16th-century poet and saint Tulsidas, is one of the most popular Hindu devotional hymns dedicated to Lord Hanuman. It comprises 40 verses. Many millions recite it by heart — in times of joy or sorrow, success or distress, and when they are in need of courage.

The book, priced at Rs 399, is published by Speaking Tiger.

Published 22 June 2024, 12:21 IST

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