The Karnataka unit of the BJP is unhappy that among the awardees for the 2012 Karnataka Sahitya Akademy Awards is Literary critic and scholar KS Bhagwan, who recently received a death threat.
The Sahitya Akademy has chosen Bhagwan for the Honorary Awards for Lifetime Achievement along with B.N. Sumitra Bai, Mogalli Ganesh, Rajendra Chenni and Rahamat Tarikere for the year 2013. The awards are to be presented on November 7 in Dharwad.
BJP state secretary and Chikmaglur MLA CT Ravi and spokesperson and MLC Ashwathanarayana have released a statement urging Chief Minister Siddaramaiah to withdraw Bhagwan’s name from the list.
They said: “A bad tradition has been started by awarding this time’s Sahitya Akademy awards completely to communists and Naxal-supporters. It is condemnable that a person who has announced that he is against tradition and who has made it his profession to insult the sentiments and beliefs of Hindus has been given the award.”
“That the government has chosen to give an award to his work, despite finding no literary merit in his work and which insults and harshly criticizes others… is a testimony to the government’s priorities,” the statement said.
In February, Bhagwan was in the news when he called the Bhagwad Gita an “unholy” book and offered to burn copies of the book at a public event. In the days following Kannada writer MM Kalburgi’s murder on August 30, Bhagwan received threats saying that he was “next”. He has since been given protection by the police.
Speaking to The News Minute, Bhagwan said that those who were questioning his selection for the award had not read his work. "Writers such as Kuvempu, Chandrashekar Patil, and others have liked my work," Bhagwan told The News Minute.
“If they had read my work, they would have been convinced (of my views). A (jury of) literary experts and writers have evaluated my work and chosen me. No political party has the moral right, or the authority to demand that the award (to be given) to me be withdrawn. If fellow writers challenge (my award) that’s all right, but political leaders have no right,” Bhagwan said.
Bhagwan’s literary repertoire includes translations of eight plays of Shakespeare, of which his translation of Julius Caesar is now in its 15th print run. Although other Kannada writers too have translated Shakespeare, most have only worked on one or two plays.
One of his most well-known works is Shankaracharya Matthu Pratigamitana (Shankaracharya and Reactionary Philosophy), which argues that the 12th century religious leader was not the progressive reformer he was made out to be. Rather, Shankaracharya was a staunch advocate of the caste system and was also against Dalit and women’s emancipation.
“After I wrote that, Kuvempu too changed his stance on Shankaracharya,” Bhagwan claims.
Bhagwan’s application of de-construction theory to Kannada literature, especially U R Ananthamurthy’s acclaimed novel Samskara, has “never been challenged”. He says that Samskara was a “worthless” novel with many errors, and which had neither “literary merit” nor “values”.
Asked to explain, Bhagwan says that Narayanappa’s character in the novel was created in such a way that it upheld Brahminical values. “The novel shows a Brahmin man in a sexual relationship with Shudra women. My question is that if you were truly radical, then could you (Ananthamurthy) not have shown a Brahmin woman with a Dalit man? Ananthamurthy is a conservative writer.”
The essay critiquing Samsara was originally published in the publication Sankramana after which it was published in an anthology of his essays titled “Aantarya”.
Bhagwan says that despite these differences, he had a “normal” relationship with the deceased writer. “I never let anything turn personal,” he says. Ananthamurthy died on August 22, 2014.
Academy president Malati Pattanshetty has said that Bhagwan fit the criteria for selection of the awardees. The Hindu quoted her as saying: “All honorary awardees are creative researchers in literature, culture and history. Our criteria for selection were based on their literary achievements that mirrored a new wave in the world of literature and social justice.”