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Tempest in a teapot: To publish or not to articles by likes of Narendra Modi, Amit Shah

Gujarati Sahitya Parishad building in Ahmedabad 
By Rajiv Shah/ I was surprised over what they say in the US, a “tempest in a teapot”: Counterview published an article by Dankesh Oza, a Gujarat government official who took voluntary retirement about a decade ago, stating that two “oldies” (both octogenarians) were fighting Gujarat Sahitya Parishad polls, which has over 3,000 life-time members as voters. He appeared to support a relatively younger, though retired, person who was a key government official “looking after” Gujarati literature.
The three are in fray for the post of Parishad presidentship. With members spread all over Gujarat, nay India and the world (especially US), the polling takes place via postal ballot sent via speedpost, the results would be out some time in late October. As I am no expert in Gujarati literature, my decision on what to publish Oza’s piece in Counterview depended on the campaign for and against each of the three candidates on social media, particularly Facebook.
As for “oldies” one of them is Prakash N Shah, a venerable human rights activist and editor of a Gujarati fortnightly “Nirikshak”, originally founded in late 1960s, among others, by one of the topmost Gujarati poets, Umashankar Joshi, apart from some reputed Gujarati writers and academics. Shah has been looking after the fortnightly for nearly two decades. The other is Harikrushna Pathak, a former senior Gujarat government official, who happens to be a poet, too, but I was told, he is a very low key person.
The “young” person in fray is Harshad Trivedi, who headed the state-controlled Gujarat Sahitya Adademi, whose autonomy was abrogated about four years ago, quite in like with the Narendra Modi thinking of taking under state (call it saffron) control on all institutions which, though funded by the government, have enjoyed some degree of independence in functioning.
While there seemed to me that that there were few controversial statements in Oza’s piece, including that Shah was “not a literary person”, I decided to publish it without indulging much in editing. The article was quite well written, despite its slant. Soon, I began getting reactions from various quarters. The first was Natubhai Parmar, a former Gujarat information department official, who ran a Dalit periodical edited by his wife.
Parmar sent a WhatApp message stating Oza’s article is “deliberately written” and is “not a balanced one”, adding it is being circulated by Harshad Trivedi “as an election campaign.” I told him to send in a rejoinder, which he faithfully did, and subsequently it was published in Counterview.
Then came a call from Martin Macwan, a well-known Dalit rights leader, whom I have known since mid-1990s as a rare human being. He said, there was “some flutter” over Oza’s article, but he had told those were objecting to it that Counterview was an open forum and “Rajiv will publish the other viewpoint as well”. I said, “Sure!”, but forgot to tell him that I had already promised this to Parmar.
Following this came the phone call from Achyut Yagnik, one of the foremost Gujarat intellectuals, who has written two excellent books published by Penguins, one on history of Gujarat, and the other on history of Ahmedabad, both of which I reviewed for the “Times of India.”
In fray: Two "oldies" and one "young"
A former journalist (he once worked in “Gujarat Samachar”), and long-time activist (a Rajni Kothari protege, who headed Gujarat wing of People’s Union for Civil Liberties), and also one-time mentor of top social activist Medha Patkar, Yagnik’s reaction, I felt, was a little surprising, and I must admit, I got a little irritated, which I shouldn’t have.
Yagnik, in his usual style, wondered why I published Oza’s article at all. I said, I published it because it was well written. Sounding as if it was a saffron conspiracy, and stating that I had been “used” against Prakash N Shah, “a simple man”, he went on, “So would you publish Amit Shah’s or Narendra Modi’s article as well?” My reply was: “Yes I will, if they write exclusively for me. I believe in taking all viewpoints. What’s wrong in that?”
I have known each of the persons mentioned here, except Pathak. Yagnik was the first major contact in Ahmedabad after I joined the “Times of India” in 1993, and ever since he has been, so to say, my friend, philosopher and guide, during my thick and thin. Ironically, it is he who introduced me to Oza when I was sent to Gandhinagar to cover Sachivalaya in 1997, telling me the latter one of the few “rational” government officials. As for Parmar, I initially knew him as an information department official whose job was a interact with journalists.
While I respect each of them, when it comes to Counterview, as a current affairs blog, its main focus is news, and viewpoints are secondary. As for whether I would publish articles of likes of Amit Shah and Narendra Modi, I want to say this: Anything that they, or their aides (as they wouldn’t ever write for me), write or speak makes news, so why not?
Let me add: I have published Gujarat government viewpoints in Counterview. Reason: These made news and did create a ripple.


D.N.Rath said…
If you think about a Naom Chomsky of Gujarat It is Prakashb bhai Shah, a man who has the courage for Voice of Dissent.


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