An excerpt from Vikram Kapur’s article “When Society Failed the Artist” today at The Hindu, on the recent death of exiled Indian artist M.F. Husain in London:

What is interesting in the case of Husain is that the furore over his nude depiction of Hindu deities did not erupt when the paintings were created in the 1970s. It happened in the 1990s during the golden age of Hindutva. It was in the heady days of the headline-gathering rath yatras and the demolition of the Babri Mosque that elements of the Hindu right woke up to the fact that a Muslim painter had depicted Hindu deities in the nude. They may also have taken their cue from the Muslim right’s success in getting the government to ban Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses. In the years that followed they successfully utilised intimidation and the courts to hound Husain from the country and, ultimately, to Qatari citizenship.

That religion is used by various groups in India to further their agenda despite our secular constitution is a time-worn fact. That our political system is married to the mob is an undeniable truth. And that this mob mentality serves its masters well is a sad reality. Until recently, even dwelling on such issues was pointless. We were, for all intents and purposes, a banana republic and how else could a banana republic function if not like one. In the new millennium, however, we see ourselves as a potential world leader and have the world’s eyes on us. Hence the question: Do we want to continue to be seen behaving like a banana republic?