Nobel laureate V.S. Naipaul, Meghnad Desai, Karan Billimoria, and Mahatma Gandhi’s granddaughter Tara Gandhi Bhattacharjee were among the prominent people who attended the event on Friday, the first day of the two-day affair.
Started in 2006 with only 18 authors, the Jaipur Literature Festival has grown to become the largest free literary festival in the world, with close to 250,000 visitors annually.
The two-day event in London is designed to give an insight into “the greatest literary show on earth”.
The schedule contains an array of programmes which showcases South Asia’s multilingual literary heritage, oral and performing arts, books and ideas, dialogue and debate, Bollywood and politics.
The first day’s events began with a performance of Saberi Misra with Dhanraja Persaud and Prabhat Rao.
The highlights of the first day’s event included a clash on dais between Indian journalists Rajdeep Sardesai and Swapan Dasgupta and allegations by Nadira Naipual, wife of V.S. Naipual, against Jnanpith Award winner Girish Karnad. She was accompanied the wheelchair-bound Nobel Laureate for a conversation with Farruk Dhondy.
During an event to honour Naipaul in Mumbai, Karnad questioned the Nobel laureate’s secular credentials for his critical views on the influence of Islam on India. He said Naipaul had painted even the Taj Mahal in poor light for the utilisation of slave labour and extravaganza.
“Karnad’s tirade against Vidia (Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul) in Mumbai was unnecessary and out of context. The comments were not suitable and unexpected from a fellow literary figure,” Nadira said. “Karnad is an idiot and fool to understand the essence of Vidia’s writing.”
She was supported by Dhondy, the writer of “Bandit Queen” and “Rising Star of Bollywood”.
“There are many people in Vidia’s immediate family who are Muslims and he won’t insult a religion for literary gains,” Dhondy added.
A panel discussion on Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi attracted a packed audience.
Writer journalist John Elliot moderated the discussion on Modi’s good governance practices, foreign policy besides his personal credentials. The panel included Rajdeep Sardesai of India Today group, columnist and writer Swapan Dasgupta, Lance Price, author of “Modi Effect”, and Deutsche Bank‘s Anshuman Jain.
Sardesai said the prime minister was narcissistic and has some emotional issues to bond with the masses.
“Modi’s reforms are favouring a section of the society,” Sardesai said. “Reforms without considering all sections of the society and facilitating some citizens to access the national resources will undermine Modi’s good governance agenda. Most of his policies are just copy paste from the Congress manifesto — but Modi knew how to market it well. Indian media is polarised and the Modi camp is not tolerant to any sort of criticism.”
When the moderator questioned Modi’s penchant for foreign tours and mega projects without attending local issues, Dasgupta, a known supporter of Modi, said India was a federal country and there was no need for the prime minister to intervene in state affairs to implement good governance.
He also justified the pace of reforms taking place in India.
“Modi is going slow on some of the reforms because he a has to dismantle shibboleths hampering India’s progress like Planning Commission,” said Dasgupta.
The first day’s events saw the participation of prominent figures from the Indian diaspora like Faisal Devji, Salil Tripathi, Somnath Batabyal, Suhail Seth, Sidin Vadukut, Moni Mohsin, Amukulla Banerjee, Namita Gokhale, Nasreen Munni Kabeer, Ashis Ray, Divya Mathur, Dilip Hiro, Anita Raghavan, Anita Roy, Ashwin Sanghi, Anita Anand, Prayag Tiwar, Qaisra Shahraz, Romesh Gunesekera, Saf Saaz and Shrabani Basu.
The event will conclude on Saturday with a public debate on whether or not the Westminster model of democracy has taken root in South Asia.