Artists Need to Unite against Communal Fascism
THE Janvadi Lekhak Sangh (JLS) held its eighth national conference at Allahabad, on February 14 and 15, with the message that it would do all it can to unite the writers, artists and other cultural workers with the broad democratic movement in order to meet the growing threat of communal fascism in the country. On the first day of the conference, a Meet on Composite Culture was held in an effort to bring on to one platform various groups of democratic minded writers and cultural workers as well as independent writers and other intellectuals against the communal threat. The day long discussion eventually culminated in the issuance of a unanimous Allahabad Declaration.
While the Allahabad Declaration underlined the need of “a big, new and bold initiative” in order to met the communal fascist threat today, it also assured that the democratic minded writers, artists and other cultural workers, who are true inheritors of the fertile secular socio-cultural heritage of this country and of the rich humane, democratic and progressive literary tradition of the Indian renaissance, would effectively discharge their role in the current situation.
The delegates session of the JLS took place on February 15, in an attempt to systematise the understanding about the current situation and about the direction in which to move. More than two hundred writer delegates from various parts of the country attended this session. At the end of the deliberations, the session adopted the main report presented by the general secretary and elected a new, 141 member national council, with some vacancies. In its first meeting, then, the council elected a 38 member national executive committee (with one vacancy). The team will be led by 24 office bearers with Doodhnath Singh as president, Zuber Razvi as acting president and Murali Manohar Prasad Singh as general secretary. While Sanjeev Kumar is the deputy general secretary, Javarimal Parakh is the treasurer.
There could not have been a better place than Allahabad, a historic city noted for its rich culture, for the JLS conference and the accompanying meet on composite culture. Ziaul-Haque, a veteran communist intellectual, specifically underlined the city’s heritage of Ganga-Jamni culture, while welcoming the delegates, invitees and speakers at the beginning of the composite cultural meet. The Senate auditorium was full to its capacity and overflowing on this occasion, as a large number of writers and artists from around Allahabad, apart from the delegates, had come to attend the meet on composite culture. While making the aim of this meet clear, Murali Manohar Prasad Singh, who conducted the first session of the meet, expressed the hope that, through this meet, Allahabad would play the same role as was played by Paris in uniting the writers, artists and other cultural workers of Europe against fascism during the 1930s.
A presidium based on Shekhar Joshi, Zuber Razvi, Aqeel Rizvi and Ramesh Kuntal Megh presided over the first session of the meet which renowned economist and Marxist theoretician Prabhat Patnaik and human rights activist Teesta Setalvad addressed. The dais of the conference was named after Chandrabali Singh, Mohd Hasan and Shiv Kumar Mishra, illustrious leaders of the JLS who departed since the last JLS conference in Dhanbad, while the main gate was reminding the audience and the common people of late Markandeya, a renowned writer of Allahabad and a leader of the JLS.
One of the main features of this session was the address delivered by Professor Prabhat Patnaik, which has been published in full in the March 2 issue of People’s Democracy.
Another main speaker of this session was Teesta Setalvad, who enriched the session’s deliberations with the experience of her protracted struggle against communalism. She traced the growth of communal fascism since the mid-1980s, its relationship with the neo-liberal economic policies in operation since the 1990s, and its masquerading as the benefactor of the majority community. She also underlined how the communal forces had been taking into their grips all the levers of socio-political life in Gujarat before they actually captured power in that state. In this context, Setalvad also deliberated upon the growth of casteism and its relationship with the growth of communalism, upon the role of television channels and of the bourgeois media in general in glorifying the so-called “Gujarat model” of development that has been endorsed by the Ambanis, the Tatas, the Adanis and the like, and upon how these media have been trying their best to prevent any discussion of this model. Setalvad asked as to who is footing the bill for the helicopters which the Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi has been using since June 2012 to address meetings all over the country and who is footing the bill for the 2,000 security personnel who are deployed at every such meeting.
Setalvad also recalled how Narendra Modi granted unprecedented concessions to the Nano car project of the Tatas as his regime badly needed the legitimacy which he hoped the Tatas’ endorsement of his model of development could give. Referring to the ruckus recently created by the Sangh Parivar about a book on Hinduism, Setalvad said fascism is characterised by this very tendency --- that no one must raise any uncomfortable question about it.
The speaker also referred to how the saffron brigade has been using the dalit and tribal people to further its communal agenda in Gujarat and used some members of the Jat community in the Muzaffar Nagar riots in UP. She also drew attention to how the communal depredations of the saffron brigade help their counterparts in the minority communities to suppress the tendencies of internal democracy in these communities, and how these depredations helped suppress the women’s struggles in the majority as well as the minority community. The speaker also stressed the need of using social media to fight the communal fascist and fundamentalist forces.
Aqeel Rizvi spoke on behalf of the presidium, recalling the role of Allahabad in the formation of the Progressive Writers Association in 1936 and his own association with the latter. About the fight against communal fascism, he said while our writers and artists have been fighting against its menace, their strength as of today is not enough to meet the demands of the situation.
Chanchal Chauhan proposed the vote of thanks at the conclusion of the discussion.
During the second session of the meet on composite culture, PWA general secretary Ali Javed, Jan Sanskriti Manch general secretary Pranay Krishna, and JLS secretary Manmohan endorsed the draft of the Allahabad Declaration while addressing the audience in the jam-packed hall. Recalling their common heritage of the PWA and its struggle for our country’s independence, all the three speakers stressed the need of widest possible unity of secular and democratic minded writers, intellectuals and cultural workers in order to meet the challenge of communal fascism today. Ali Javed said the situation today is worse than that in 1936, while pointing out that it is in the writers, intellectuals and cultural workers whom the common people repose their faith. Pranay Krishna said we need to do much more than what we are doing today to fight the threat of communal fascism. Manmohan asked for introspection as to why the Left is not as equipped today as the right wing forces are. He stressed that it not simply a period of crisis; it is also a big chance for the Left and democratic forces to push forward. He drew attention to the level of discontent gripping the dalit and minority masses as well as women, and appealed for transforming an anti-democratic situation into a revolutionary situation.
Short story writer Shiv Murti too participated in the discussion in this session. He described casteism and communalism as the two biggest threats today, and pointed out how they reinforce each other. He stressed on the need to evolve new methods o deal with these forces.
Speaking on behalf of the presidium of this session, senior critic Rajendra Kumar Singh said unity is the need of the day as never before. Describing self-centredness as an enemy, he self-critically said that we have not been able to generalise democracy and have been engaged only in intellectual discussions which is not enough. One of the members of the presidium was Dr Namita Singh while Sanjeev Kumar conducted the proceedings.
Dr Rekha Awasthi conducted the proceedings in the third session of the meet where speakers highlighted the various facets of the challenge of communal fascism today. Virendra Yadav, a critic, stressed the need of democratisation of literature, among other things. He also said secularism should be redefined to incorporate the fight for social justice in it.
AIDWA leader Subhashini Ali said no movement could succeed without the involvement of women in it. She also said the threat of fascism should not be ascribed to just one party or leader. She also warned against placating the leaders of minority communal outfits in the name of secularism, adding that it would not be a service but a disservice to the minority communities.
On behalf of the New Socialist Initiative, Subhash Gatare pointed out that the strongholds of communal fascists have been the areas of Phule and Abbedkar too.
Sharing the experience of street plays against communalism, Moloyshri Hashmi of Jan Natya Manch described how the nature of street theatre’s intervention has kept on changing in accordance with the changing facets of communalism in India.
Syed Riyaz, a poet from Mumbai, drew attention to the dangers of concepts like Islamic literature. Poet Rajesh Joshi and critic Dr Chandrakala Pandey also spoke in this session.
After Doodhnath Singh had addressed the session on behalf of the presidium, the meet unanimously adopted the Allahabad Declaration.
While Sudhir Singh thanked the delegates, invitees and other participants, a troupe of Haryana Gyan Vigyan Manch presented some songs and a play. Samantar, a theatre group from Allahabad, presented a play based on a short story by Satyajit Ray.
Local and outside poets participated in a large number in the poetry meet that continued till late in the night.
February 15 was reserved for the delegates session of the JLS national conference. While the office bearers constituted the presidium, the session, through a resolution, paid homage to the writers and other leaders who have departed since the last conference.
Chanchal Chauhan presented the main report of the general secretary which the delegates, divided into state-wise groups, discussed threadbare and then two delegates from every state presented the gist of the respective groups’ deliberations. After 16 delegates had thus spoken on the report, Chanchal Chauhan replied to the discussion and assured about incorporation of certain points and suggestions in the final report. The draft report was then unanimously adopted.
The session adopted certain resolutions, some of which were against anti-dalit repression, against anti-women repression, and against the growing attacks on the freedom of expression. Shekhar Joshi, Doodhnath Singh and other eminent writers released some books and magazines on the occasion, including the Shiv Kumar Mishra Number of the organ of Jharkhand state unit of JLS and three books by Neelkant. Shekhar Joshi greeted the wife of late writer Markandeya; two of the latter’s brothers too were presebt on the occasion.
After the election of a new central council and the announcement of new central executive committee and its office bearers, the newly elected JLS president Doodhnath Singh stressed the need of adopting new methods to evaluate the new strands on creativity, urging that the JLS must recognise the contributions and importance of new and upcoming writers. He was emphatic that the JLS has the potential to produce the best of writers and bring their potentials to the fore.
The conference came to a conclusion with the vote of thanks proposed by Pradeep Saxena, secretary of the Uttar Pradesh state unit of the JLS.