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  OPINION  
     
 
   
  Price of pusillanimity
     
  Losing Husain to hate politics  
     
  ON August 1, 2009, in these very columns, we asked: "Will we ever welcome Husain back home again -- and banish intolerance instead?" Seven months later, we are receiving a most shameful answer. Not only have we not brought Maqbool Fida Husain back, but we may have lost our proud claim over him as an Indian artist. According to confirmed reports, Qatar has conferred its nationality upon him, and he may settle for the status of an Overseas Indian Citizen (OIC) with severely limited rights.

If this happens, it will only send out a message that should make us all hang our heads in shame. It will mean that the democratic and secular republic of India has no place for creative persons whom the far right cannot countenance.

The last time he figured here, we were protesting against Husain's canvases being kept out of India's second Art Summit in New Delhi for fear of offending the hordes of "Hindutva". It was also an occasion to protest again against the pioneering painter being kept out of the country, which he loved and to which he had brought laurels in the field of his labour. The 95-year-old master, facing persecution for well over a decade, has been forced into a four-year-long exile (in Dubai and London, for the most part), with philistine fascists posing a mortal threat to his life and work and permitting him no respite from frivolous litigation.

They alone are not to blame, however. It would be idle to expect the foes of freedom of expression to behave any differently. If the "moral" and "cultural" police of the camp of majority communalism have had their way, it is because the guardians of law, order and civil liberties have relinquished their responsibility. Political authorities and forces swearing by secularism have done it no service by adopting the line of least resistance to street-level censorship.

Leaders of the Central Government have only made a laughing stock of themselves by offering "security" for Husain so late in the day if "he asks for it". They should be red-faced really at the outrageous statement from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) that it has no objection to his return.

It is probably too late to make amends in Husain's case: Wikipedia already talks of him as "a Qatari artist of Indian origin". It, however, is not too late -- for all those who agree that Qatar's gain is India's national loss in more than one sense -- to draw lessons from the sad story. No more should our artists need no-objection certificates from the far right to live and work in their own land.
 
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