A few days ago, when I was interacting with a few students from a private university that has been in the news I was told that there is a strong undercurrent of the right-leaning crowd in private educational institutions.
It's another matter that these kids associate themselves more with Jordan Peterson than they do with Jaishankar, but the fact is that the modern non-left thought is becoming more mainstream by the day — and that's a sign of better things to come.
A few years ago, attending literature festivals or student debates, perhaps, were the only ways in which students could gain exposure to the political thought of the day. Many years later, they would eventually realise that there is a disproportionate representation in most of these intellectual gatherings. It was not fashionable to be right-leaning.
From the point of being totally isolated socially, modern political thought leaders leaning towards the right have only now begun to find platforms to express themselves without any fear or favour.
This is the story of the rise of the right — and the story behind the creation of one of India's first-ever platform to provide a stage for the same.
Partha Hariharan, Ajit Datta and Alo Pal, the founders of Pondy Lit Fest (PLF), began by organising seminars and discussions at a smaller scale before they were struck with the idea of curating something bigger — this is how PLF took shape for the very first time in 2018.
After organising the festival for four years now (with a brief break during the pandemic), the trio are gearing up to welcome people to Puducherry yet again.
People from all over the country make the journey to attend the festival. Puducherry (or Pondicherry) is famous for its tranquil beaches, meditative spaces like the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, chic cafes and white villas in White Town.
Pondicherry, while being sandwiched between ideologies and ideas, has carved a niche space for itself. Today, a platform like PLF stands as a strong testimony to the statement above. It has represented diverse thoughts and ideas, since half a decade now.
Alo Pal, one of the co-founder, says that they were inspired to adopt the prefix of 'Bharat Shakti' ever since they came across the phrase in one of Aurobindo's writing — 'The foundations of Indian culture'.
Being Relevant With Changing Times
People from all over the country make a journey to Pondicherry to attend the festival. Every year, the PLF team explores different themes and new speakers are added to the ever-growing list.
Their intention is to broaden the themes and the speakers, year after year.
For instance, last year, it was 'freedom at 75' and '150 years of Sri Aurobindo's birth anniversary'.
Instead of large panels, they had one-on-one conversations, they have a lecture format. When a senior academician visited Pondicherry, he suggested the idea of a literature festival in Pondicherry, the team tell Swarajya.
"He later proposed an event on our 'Shakti'. The concept was very clear. We did receive some sharp opinions against us. Our inspiration, the work we do, is driven by the ideas we believe in", says Partha Hariharan, the festival's managing director.
They have a south focus, since a lot of the problems plaguing our civilisation also exists in the south. Partha says that the PLA team has taken on issues like the Dravidian movement which has penetrated the psyche of the masses in states like Tamil Nadu.
"This is why we are unapologetic about our approach and our content. We faced a lot of opposition, but we stuck to our guns and successfully prevented multiple attempts to derail PLF. That's our genesis", Alo adds.
Creating History, Not Just Discussing It
When asked about the diversity of the panelists getting invited to speak at PLF, Ajit Datta says that getting two 'right-wingers' to agree on a same issue is almost impossible.
After a brief chuckle, he follows up by saying that the intellectual discourse in the country was dominated by the Left for a long period of time.
"We wanted to create a platform to create new solutions to help India move forward", Ajit adds.
PLF aims to bring a counter-balance to the intellectual discourse in India. They are positive that the audience who attend the festival return home with a different perspective, and many of them return to attend it again the following year.
"The point about there being diversity in the right (or the lack of it) is a point we keep coming across. It's a constant accusation against us. It needs to be refuted. It comes from a group of people who have no diversity among themselves - this is what Kushal (Mehra) and I were discussing yesterday on our podcast. They operate like an Abrahamic cult, almost. You get cancelled if you exhibit your disagreement. They have a diversity of faces, but not ideas", says Ajit, defending PLF, against accusations from the Left.
He further says that labeling is a sign of the political flocking that the Left engages in.
"The Communist-Congress nexus were ganging up against us. The government in PY is not NDA yet we pulled it off. That was a big victory to us. We have a south focus. It's not mere tokenism when we focus on the south. Many problems plague the south, and one is the dividing force that not only panders to the archaic, oft debunked theory like the Aryan invasion theory, but also to the point of extremely callous comments about Tamil secession from the country", says Alo, almost like a proud mother of the festival.
About PLF 2023:
Nearly half the speakers being featured in PLF 2023 are fresh faces, the founders tell Swarajya. Their intent — provide platform to new speakers consistently.
PLF '23 will feature panel discussions, conversations and lectures and is constituting two panel discussions specially focused on science and healthcare — which no other festival has done, they say.
The grand theme of 'Bharat Shakti' will remain immortal and ever-relevant for them, the founders inform us. It is particularly relevant this year because of the G20 meetings going on, they say.
PLF '23 is themed around strategic autonomy, since India is emerging on a global stage like never before, be it in diplomacy, science, sports or the economy.
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