The countrywide debate on ‘growing intolerance’ under the rendra Modi regime has been heating up the politics in Assam. Dibrugarh MP Rameswar Teli has waded into the ongoing war of words by taking pot shots at writers, film-makers and artistes returning awards in protest. According to the BJP leader, these eminent people got their awards ‘when the Congress was in power’, and are now literally returning the favour. Rubbing it in further, Teli told jourlists at a press meet on Tuesday that those returning the Sahitya Akademi honour with its Rs 1 lakh cash award, have actually done so after being paid Rs 10-15 lakh by the Congress. He also pointed out the reason why some writers and artistes returned their awards — they were running NGOs with funds from abroad, which have now dried up with the Modi government getting tough with such funding! But Teli shot himself in the foot when he asserted that eminent litterateur Homen Borgohain too returned his Sahitya Akademi award after the Congress ‘compensated’ him. A deeply embarrassed Assam BJP leadership was left to do the fire-fighting after Teli’s thoughtless allegation triggered adverse reactions across the State. Writers and intellectuals who had publicly disagreed with Borgohain on his stand over ‘intolerance’, denounced in no uncertain terms this unwarranted slur on his principles and integrity. A chastened Teli had to tender an apology, while at the same time denying he had used words before the media to denigrate Borgohain. But the damage was done with Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi seizing upon the opportunity to term Teli’s outburst ‘an insult to the fraternity of jourlism and intelligentsia.’ Other political parties and organisations too have come out strongly in support of Borgohain, and rightly so. As a people’s representative in Parliament, Rameswar Teli should know better than cast wild aspersions on a person’s character and damage his reputation — which can lay him open to being dragged to court for defamation.
Elsewhere, political temperatures are once again rising over film star Amir Khan adding fuel to the ‘intolerance’ debate. At an awards event in New Delhi, Khan spoke of the ‘growing despondency in the last six to eight months which has made his wife think of moving out of the country’. Expectedly, the BJP and its allies lambasted Khan, with controversial BJP MP Yogi Adityath asking whether Khan thought ‘what ISIS is doing is tolerance’. The Congress, AAP, the Left and other opposition parties hastened to Khan’s support, demanding that ‘intolerance’ be made an issue of parliamentary debate in the winter session. It is clear therefore, that the people of this country are faced with the prospect of yet another session generating lots of heat but little light. The NDA government has flagged the Goods and Services Tax (GST) bill and land bill as important reform legislations that need to clear the Rajya Sabha hurdle this time. But a combined opposition more assertive after the Bihar elections, is fancying its chances of tying the Modi government down over the ‘intolerance’ issue. In a latest development, the government has expressed its willingness to debate over ‘intolerance’, which is welcome for it will give parties the opportunity to put their views on record. But if parties engage in posturing and playing to the gallery, which is likely, it will only confound the ‘intolerance’ issue further while vital economic issues go a-begging. While attacks on ratiolists and left-leaning intellectuals fuelled by intemperate remarks by some NDA ministers have brought the ‘intolerance’ controversy to a head, there is now a distinct change in intertiol discourse after the ISIS terror attacks in Paris. It will be unfortute if the winter session is held hostage to ‘intolerance versus terror’ rhetoric. After all, terrorism begins with intolerance; both are two ends of the same evil continuum. To ascribe this evil solely to any community — Hindu, Muslim or otherwise — is itself an evil against humanity. The country needs to focus on more worthwhile matters.