Husain’s hounding ‘blow to the idea of India’: Indo-Canadian leader

By Gurmukh Singh, IANS,

Toronto : Ujjal Dosanjh, former Canadian health minister, has called painter M.F. Husain’s decision to give up his Indian citizenship “a blow to the idea of India.” The Indian government should not allow fundamentalists to dictate and persuade Husain to retake his Indian citizenship, Dosanjh, a leader of the influential Indian Canadian community, said.

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“What has happened is not about Husain, it is about the idea of India… about the India of Gandhi’s and Nehru’s dreams. For Husain to take up citizenship of another country is a blow to the idea of India,” Dosanjh told IANS in an interview.

Husain went into self-imposed exile in 2006 after being hounded by radical Hindu organisations for his nude paintings of Hindu goddesses and got Qatari citizenship last month.

The great artist must be persuaded to return to India and given full protection by the Indian state, Dosanjh urged.

Dosanjh, who in 2000 created history by becoming the first non-white premier of a Canadian province (British Columbia), said the hounding of artists and thinkers was “against the very idea of India.”

India should not allow fundamentalists to silence artists and thinkers, said Dosanjh. Described as ‘Canadian Gandhi’ by the media during his fight against Khalistani militants here in the 1980s, Dosanjh had also felt offended when Gandhi’s artefacts were put on auction in New York last year. He had shot off a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to stop the auction by buying the artefacts. Ultimately, the artefacts were acquired by India.

Giving example of Britain’s protection to Salman Rushdie, Dosanjh said, “He wanted to write something and Britain supported him though it cost them (hostility of many Muslim nations). Countries are tested at such times. So this (Husain’s hounding) is the test of the idea of India.”

Supporting full artistic freedom, he said, “If you don’t offend, you can’t change anything… it is mostly the controversial people who end up changing the world.”

He said India has a history of thousands of years of co-existence of different views and it should uphold its hoary heritage of diversity and tolerance.

Blasting fundamentalist forces, he said, “Fundamentalism is a scourge that rises in different shapes in different countries. But no artist can be told what to write or paint. Nobody should be silenced because they think differently, or paint differently. The moment you silent them, you will have a totalitarian state… I am not willing to live in that kind of state.”

(Gurmukh Singh can be contacted at [email protected])