Mumbai: An invitation to noted litterateur Nayantara Sahgal to inaugurate a three-day literary event in Maharashtra this week has been withdrawn to "avoid any untoward incident", the organisers said, kicking up a huge row. Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis said the government should not be linked to "such unnecessary issues".
On her part, Sahagal, 91, and a Sahitya Akademi Award winner, thought the organisers "may have given in to political pressure".
"No reason was mentioned in the email sent to me by the organisers. They only regretted that the invitation had to be cancelled. The organisers may have given in to political pressure. I don't know, I have no idea why they withdrew my invitation as the organisers were very keen on my attending the event. Maharashtra is a BJP state. Maybe, the BJP unit in Maharashtra did not want me to be there," Sahgal told a TV news channel.
The controversy erupted after the Akhil Bharatiya Maratahi Sahitya Sammelan (ABMSS) suddenly rescinded its decision to invite Sahgal to inaugurate its 92nd literary convention in Yavatmal on Friday. Fadnavis was to have shared stage space with the author at the event.
ABMSS Executive President Ramakant Kolte said in a statement on Sunday that the invite to Sahgal was withdrawn "to avoid any untoward incident and loss during the three-day meet and in view of the controversy against her name".
On its part, the Chief Minister's Office (CMO) said the ABMSS was an autonomous body and it was the organisers' call whom to invite or not and the state government had no role to play in this.
"On the issue of inviting and then cancelling the invitation to any personality, attempts are being made to drag in the government. But neither Fadnavis nor the government are involved in this in any manner. The media should not link the government in such unnecessary issues," the CMO said in a statement.
Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) President Raj Thackeray made it clear that neither he nor his party objected to Sahgal's presence at the literary meet. This was after a MNS leader, Raju Umbarkar, protested against the invitation.
"The sentiments behind the resistance by my colleague were stemming from the fact that the very essence of Marathi language needs to be safeguarded. Though his sentiments are correct, one has to take into account the very fact that a very senior and noted writer like Nayantara Sahgal is going to be present at the literary meet. When in her presence, our profound culture and traditions stand unveiled, it can become a medium to exhibit our culture to the rest of the world. Keeping this in mind, my party and I have no objection to it," Thackeray said, tendering a "sincerely apology" to the ABMSS over the controversy.
Besides, a farmers' leader, Devanand Pawar, initially objected to inviting an English language writer to inaugurate a Marathi literary event. He later claimed he had no intention to defame Sahgal and demanded the ABMSS tender her an apology for the ruckus caused.
Several political leaders targeted the government and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on the issue.
Compounding matters, several literary figures, speakers, journalists and others have now demanded that the ABMSS should cancel their invites and some have even threatened to boycott the event.
On Monday, 42 prominent personalities from films, arts, literature, media, social work, poets and civil society, under the banner of 'Friends of Democracy', flayed the move to cancel Sahgal's invite.
They asked that the meet be boycotted.