New Delhi: Raising concerns over a “increasing tendency” of people to take offence, Congress leader Shashi Tharoor on Saturday criticised successive governments which instead of safeguarding freedom of expression, tend to appease those threatening it. Tharoor, who was delivering the foundation day lecture of the Sahitya Akademi, also wondered if he would have got away with publishing a work like his 1989 book ‘The Great Indian Novel’ — in which he “takes liberties” with nationalist heroes and satirises Mahabharat itself — in the present day. “I wonder if that book was published today whether I would get away with it. I think it would be far more difficult to get away with it,” he said.
“I think it would be ridiculous for someone to try and ban it now when it has been around for 26 years. But a new book with something similar could well run afoul of the moral policing we are seeing increasingly in our society,” he said.
In a lighter vein, Tharoor added that politicians in those days either did not read, or genuinely had a broader mind and a willingness to accept the liberty being taken with the “so-called sacrosanct heroes of mythology and history.” “The tendency of people to claim to be offended has grown dramatically. Certainly it is much worse than when I wrote ‘The Great Indian Novel’ where I took liberties both with the nationalist heroes and with the Mahabharat itself,” he said.
The Congress leader said it was important to stand up and fight for freedom of expression even though it was not easy to do so with politicians preferring to appease those who threaten peace and break down law and order.
“Very often those who threaten to disrupt the peace, to break down law and order, the politicians tend to run to appease them, rather then say that they will defend the right to freedom of expression of the writer and will instead act against those who threaten that freedom.
“The instinct of politicians and many state governments has been to go off and curb the book or the work of art in order to preserve the peace. And I think this is a lack of courage of successive governments that I personally rather deplore,” the former Union minister said.
During the lecture on “Anxiety of Audience: The dilemma of Indian writing in English”, Tharoor also spoke on the role of English literature in acting as a link to reach out to a linguistically diverse audience. “The English language fundamentally affects the content of each book. But it does not determine the audience of the writer. Because as long as the translations exist, language is a vehicle not a destination,” he said.