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Vikram Sampath: Our Literature Festivals Are Becoming Cabals And...Antara Das20 Dec, 2015
Weeks after stepping down as director of the Bangalore Literature Festival, writer-historian Vikram Sampath talks about the circumstances preceding his decision, and how literary fests across the country have become echo chambers for those subscribing to similar points of view.
Edited excerpts from an email conversation with Antara Das.
Q: In a newspaper article published in Mint in October this year, you had written "As an optimist, I do not believe in resignation and quitting". What changed around you that prompted your stepping down as director of the Bangalore Literature Festival (BLF)?
A: The context of the resignations are different. In my article, I mentioned that the eminent writers who are part of the Sahitya Akademi's board have an influence over it which also extends to moral coercion to initiate any reformation that the Akademi might require. All our cultural bodies do need a lot of overhaul and reform and we have had an entire High Powered Committee (HPC) at the behest of a Standing Committee of the Parliament do an audit of these bodies last year. It was in that context that I said that rather than abdicating responsibility by stepping down, stay within it and bring about the changes you seek to achieve.
The BLF was a different issue. Here my stepping down saved the festival which was otherwise threatening to get derailed by a vicious propaganda. What started as a boycott by three Kannada writers was threatening to snowball into a larger issue.
I know that manipulative editors of newspapers, a few writers and journalists were calling other participating authors and dissuading them from coming to Bangalore for the festival. Authors who were not even invited were giving long sermons about why they withdrew and did not want to legitimise what they called a "right wing" and fascist festival. A lot of moral pressure was being put with media reports mentioning names of authors "still participating" in the festival. If this is not bullying or holding to ransom, I fail to understand what else is!
Since they all had a problem with me and my public views on certain matters, I took the painful decision of stepping down to save the festival which I had founded and nurtured over the last three years.
The ones who had publicly stated their decision not to attend naturally faced a moral dilemma of coming back after my exit. But my timely exit ensured that several others who were on the fence and considering pulling out or were being influenced now took a stand to participate. Hence the two contexts are totally different.