February: Who's Sane?
'Inspired' perhaps by the protests over the
Prophet Cartoon issue, and the resultant publicity (notoriety is not a word in
political lexicon, apparently, as being in news is considered good news), a self-styled Hindu Personal Law Board of Lucknow decided
to issue a similar bounty of Rs 51 crores on MF Husain. A minor Congress
functionary in Madhya Pradesh offered a more modest amount of Rs 11 lakh to any "patriot" who would chop off Husain's hands. His crime? Depicting "Bharatmata"
in an obscene manner. Husain apologised, clarified that he had not even named
the impugned painting himself, and withdrew it from the auction — to raise funds for
victims of the Kashmir earthquake.— in an exhibition in Delhi on 8th February.
But that was obviously not enough. Vinay Katiyar, the newly appointed
spokesperson of the BJP demanded that Husain be immediately arrested and
prosecuted for creating "disaffection" among communities and the
Mumbai based Hindu Janjagruti Samiti (HJS) lodged a police complaint against
Nafisa Ali of Action India, an NGO, which had organised the exhibition where the
impugned painting was to be auctioned. Quite what people were offended about remained less than clear as campaigns
began with scanned images of the painting being spammed far and wide so that
more and more people could be outraged by the portrayal. Surely, one wouldn't
wish to circulate what one is insulted by? But the illogic was the same as in
the Prophets Cartoons issue. In this case, it became more a case of baiting the
'secularists', as prominent Muslim spokespeople had already denounced what they
called Husain's repeated transgressions. It was not just in India. Asia House
gallery in London shut down a major exhibition by Husain because of threats,
which continued to loom large for all art galleries displaying his work. The
91-year old artist's troubles increased in May once the home ministry
"advised the police chiefs of Delhi and Mumbai to take appropriate
action" against him. Husain decided to stay out of India to stay out of
trouble. Perhaps because he justifiably cannot trust the government that won't take action against
those who issue death-threats and suparis against him. What was it you said
about freedom of expression? After all, wasn't it another "secular"
government that first banned Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses? UPA seems to think
it is pay-back time, this time by taking "appropriate action" against
someone who has offended the self-appointed spokesmen for all Hindus.