A day after celebrated linguist and activist Noam Chomsky and journalist Vijay Prashad expressed regret at the "abrupt cancellation" of their discussion at the online Tata Literature Live, its founder and festival director Anil Dharker on Sunday said the decision was "necessary to protect the integrity of the festival".
A session to discuss 91-year-old Chomsky's new book "Internationalism or Extinction" was scheduled to be held at 9 pm on Friday. However, at 1 pm, Chomsky and Prashad reportedly received an email informing them about the cancellation of the virtual event. The duo have questioned the organisers if the move was a result of censorship.
In his statement today, Dharker said, on the morning of the session, fest organisers came across correspondence present in public domain, between Chomsky, Prashad and a group of activists, which allegedly mentioned that the duo will use the session to make a statement regarding "how they feel about corporates, and the Tatas in particular, including airing views of these activists, which was never the intended purpose of the session".
The Tata group, one of India's leading multinational conglomerates, is the main sponsor of Tata Literature Live festival.
"I do not wish to comment on their reasons for accepting an invitation to participate in an event and using the platform to air adverse views about the main sponsor. What I do want to state as strongly as possible is that the festival which I founded and run with a dedicated team, owes its success to a free expression of ideas, not a free expression of someone's specific agenda. The expression of such an agenda -- whether against a specific organisation, a corporation or an individual -- is therefore misplaced in the discussions at our festival," Dharker said.
Dharker said the cancellation of the session is a considered decision he has taken in his capacity as festival director.
"Much as I deeply respect and admire the work of Prof. Noam Chomsky, this decision was necessary to protect the integrity of the festival," he added.
The founder-festival director said the success of the festival is due to the literary talent it has been able to consistently attract from all five continents.
"Another important reason is the wide range of ideas the festival has featured from writers across the political, economic and social spectrum... The diversity of thought and subjects featured every year is another reason for the festival's success," Dharker noted.
In a statement issued on People's Dispatch, Chomsky and Prashad on Saturday said the panel discussion was meant to talk about many broad issues that threaten the planet, and to also talk about the specific role of countries such as India and corporations such as the Tatas.
The issues about the Citizenship Amendment Act, Adivasi (tribal) killing, the industrialisation of indigenous lands and environmental degradation were also meant to be discussed during the session, it said.
"We wanted to talk about how governments such as those led by the Bharatiya Janata Party and corporations such as the Tatas are hastening humanity towards a deeper and deeper crisis," the statement said.
"We wanted to appear at this platform in the spirit of open discussion to hold our dialogue about extinction and internationalism, about the darkest part of our human story and the brightest sparks of hope that shine in our world," it said.