Decrying Modi’s Silence, Poet Ashok Vajpeyi Returns Sahitya Akademi Award

Ashok Vajpeyi. Credit: PTI

Ashok Vajpeyi. Credit: PTI

New Delhi: After eminent writer Nayantara Sahgal, former Lalit Kala Akademi chairman Ashok Vajpeyi has returned his Sahitya Akademi Award to protest the “assault on right to freedom of both life and expression”.

Voicing displeasure over the Dadri lynching incident and and a string of killings of rationalists, he also questioned Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s continued silence on these.

“Sehgal was right. He is a very loquacious Prime Minister.

“Why doesn’t he tell the nation that the pluralism of this country will be defended at every cost?” Vajpeyi told PTI today.

The 74-year-old Hindi poet, essayist and literary-cultural critic disapproved of statements by senior leaders, including those of Union Culture Minister Mahesh Sharma which, he said, “belittled the “multi-cultural and multi-religious” fabric of the country.

“What can writers do but protest?” he rued, noting that the Culture Minister, while speaking on renaming Aurangzeb Road as APJ Abdul Kalam Road had said that Kalam was a great nationalist ‘despite being a Muslim.’

Yesterday, Nayantara Sahgal, the 88-year-old niece of Jawaharlal Nehru, had announced her decision to return her Sahitya Akademi award. In an open letter titled “Unmaking of India” she had referred to the Dadri lynching of a Muslim man by a mob over suspicion of eating beef, and also the killings of Kannada writer M M Kalburgi and rationalists Narendra Dabholkar and Govind Pansare.

Sehgal had also questioned the silence of PM Narendra Modi on these incidents.

“This is in solidarity with writers and intellectuals being murdered in broad daylight…,” Vajpeyi said.

He also expressed disappointment over the failure of the Sahitya Akademi to “rise to the occassion” to protect the autonomy of writers.

“The Sahitya Akademi has failed to rise to the occassion.

They have not protested against what has been happening to the the writers’ autonomy. The writers’ community should rise in protest,” Vajpeyi said.

  • Satheesan Purushothaman

    Nayantara Sahgal was awarded the Sahitya Akademi Award for her book Rich Like Us in 1986 two years after the massacre of thousands of Sikhs.- She had no hesitation in receiving this award then.

    Asok VAJPAYEE published over 23 books of poetry, criticism and art, and was awarded the Sahitya Akademi Award given by Sahitya Akademi, India’s National Academy of Letters, in 1994 for his poetry collection
    only one year after Bombay bob blast. -He had no hesitation in receiving this award then.


    (1) Three murders–those of Dr. Narendra Dabholkar, comrade Govind Pansare and
    Shri M M Kalburgi, Kannada scholar and rationalist, within a span some 26
    months tell us about growing lawlessness and the State’s unwillingness or
    inability to deal firmly with those who take law into their own hands. Are these
    murders a grim reminder of bitter social reality of religious intolerance as
    also of rise of influence of the fundamentalists? (2) Influence of groups with strong rightist/
    fundamentalist views, who would play the religion card
    unashamedly, is growing in BJP. Saner elements in BJP would soon be marginalised
    and eventually thrown out of the party. (3) Hence, it is absolutely necessary for citizens’ groups to take a firm political stand
    against use of religion and violence /murders in the name of Hinduism or Islam. Incidentally,
    I believe return of Sahitya Akademy Awards by people like Shri Ashok Vajpeyi should
    be seen in this context and not from a political angle.