AHMEDABAD: Gujarat Sahitya Academy chairman Vishnu Pandya has criticised a poem by Gujarati poetess Parul Khakhar on bodies floating in the Ganga river that criticised the Centre's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, saying that the work is being misused by "liberals, communists and literary Naxals" to spread "anarchy" in the country.
While several writers have extended their support to Khakhar and criticised Pandya for his stand, the chief of the Academy, a state government-controlled body, remained firm on his views, saying the poem targets Prime Minister Narendra Modi and "defames" Indian people, democracy and society.
Khakhar's poem "Shab-Vahini Ganga" (corpse-carrying Ganga) criticises the Centre over its handling of the pandemic by making a reference about the bodies of COVID-19 victims floating in the river Ganga in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar at the peak of the second wave.
The poem became an instant hit and was translated into different languages and shared widely on social media platforms.
In an editorial in the June edition of the Academy's official publication "Shabdashrushti", Pandya has criticised the poem without specifically naming it.
The article was titled "No, this is not a poem, it is a misuse of a poem for anarchy".
"Many have praised this poem. But this piece cannot be considered a poem at all. That was just pointless anger, a jugglery of words, defaming Indian people, democracy and society. How can you call this a poem?" Pandya wrote.
He further pointed out that the poem has been misused by people who are anti-Centre and are against its nationalist ideologies.
The poem has been used as a "shoulder to fire from" by those elements, he said.
"Communists and those so-called liberals want to create anarchy in the country. They are active in all fields and also jumped into literature with malicious intentions. These literary Naxals want to influence those unsuspecting people who would relate their personal grief with this poem," Pandya stated.
He further said the Academy can never agree with what has been written in the poem, and said some elements had turned the work into a "weapon to tear apart the social fabric".
While Khakhar was not available for comment, over 100 Gujarati writers, led by Manishi Jani of Gujarati Lekhak Mandal, came out in support of the poetess, who is also being targeted through social media.
In a statement, Jani said Gujarati writers "condemn the attempts to muzzle the voice of a writer and stand firmly in support of a Parul Khakhar".
In his defence, Pandya said he was never against Khakhar and the Academy even supported her financially in the past for her literary works.
"Parul is a good poetess. But this poem does not fit in the literary standards. Her piece only reflects prejudice against Prime Minister Narendra Modi. One must refrain from using derogatory words like 'naked king' in a poem," Pandya said.
"I can never agree with the idea of misusing a poem to create anarchy in the country. Criticism of the establishment must be there. Even we used to criticise governments. But there must be a balance in it," he added.