When it comes to protest through art, Iqbal Bano's act of defiance is the absolute gold standard for the subcontinent.
In 1985, defying Zia ul Haq's ban on Faiz Ahmed Faiz's works, Bano appeared on the stage in a saree " outlawed by the Pakistani dictator as part of his Islamisation drive " and started singing Hum Dekhenge, the poet's famous najm with a revolutionary theme. As her voice reached a crescendo, the packed auditorium in Lahore started reverberating with chants of "Inquilab Zindabad" and thunderous applause. The lights were switched off, the microphone was disconnected, but Bano continued to sing in the dark night. Her act of defiance became a defining moment in Pakistan's history; the najm's recording achieved cult status not just in Pakistan, but across the subcontinent and became the anthem of protesters.
On Saturday, when TM Krishna performed at the Garden of Five Senses, Delhi had its tryst with what could have been India's Hum Dekhenge moment. But, what we witnessed was just a tepid response, a token show of defiance bereft of passion and revolutionary zeal. Krishna's concert underlined Delhi's reluctance to stand up for a cause, its lack of revolutionary spirit.
As The Indian Express pointed out, just around a thousand people turned up for the event. Just one thousand, including politicians, activists and AAP workers " that is all a city of 10 million could spare for a concert that was meant to be an act of defiance, a message to Hindutva hardliners that India belongs to all. Guess how many people sang with Iqbal Bano in Lahore that night in a country in fear of a ruthless dictator? Fifty thousand.
Forget the numbers for a moment, even the response was muted. As many newspapers pointed out, most of the audience at the concert comprised curious onlookers and lovers of Carnatic music. None of them had the intention of sending out a message, leave alone the desire to be rebellious or subversive. They came, he sang and they left.
In theory, Krishna's concert had the potential of showcasing Delhi's anger against what SA Aiyar calls 'cultural barbarism' in his weekly column for The Times of India. Krishna's concert was cancelled because the sponsors, Airport Authority of India, backed down under pressure from Hindutva trolls who dislike Krishna for his political views, criticism of the BJP government and the message of inclusiveness in his art. Ironically, even Krishna refused to speak at the event, letting just music be his voice.
Participating in a concert meant to be a rebuke to hardliners and hooligans is the safest form of protest. All it requires is attendance, especially if entry is free. But, the paltry numbers show Delhi no longer has the appetite to stand up for a cause, rise against an ideological adversary.
Just a few years ago, Delhi was the epicentre of every movement that started in India. Not so long ago, its people gathered in large numbers, of their own volition, to seek justice for Jyoti Singh, to demand a Lokpal and show solidarity with Anna Hazare and his cohorts. For the right cause, Delhi used to pour into Jantar Mantar, India Gate and Ramleela Maidan, undeterred by water cannons, tear gas shells or police batons, making the land reverberate, as Faiz wrote, under the feet of the oppressed. Its people tossed around every taj (crown) and toppled every takht (seat of power). Where has that spirit gone?
The spirit surrenders only when it loses hope. And one of the reasons behind the reluctance to embrace a cause could be the disillusionment with the man who once represented hope " Arvind Kejriwal.
Five years ago, he was seen as a symbol of change, the leader of a revolution for changing the status quo that ails our polity and society. But, Kejriwal turned out to be just another politician surrounded by a self-serving coterie hungry for power. The unmasking of Kejriwal as a fake revolutionary has been a fatal blow to civil society movements. He has done immense harm to the cause of Inquilab, by misusing the slogan for personal and political gains.
The other inference that could be drawn from the lacklustre response to the event is what could be seen in the current plight of the Congress " the party's embrace of soft Hindutva, the shifting of the political pendulum to the Right of Centre (Notice how the Congress remained silent on the controversy and didn't show any interest in Krishna's concert). Perhaps the propaganda of Hindutva hardliners is gaining some amount of legitimacy among the masses. Maybe they do not get outraged by assaults on art if it is seen as embracing the ideals of inclusiveness and the principles of multi-culturalism and secularism. If that's the undercurrent in Delhi's society, opponents of the 'cultural barbarians' have a lot to think about.