The infamous public thinker and linguist, Noam Chomsky, 91, was all set to speak about his latest book “Internationalism or Extinction” at the Mumbai (Tata) Literature Live 2020 on November 20, alongside journalist Vijay Prashad when the organisers cancelled the discussion citing “unforeseen circumstances”.
In a joint statement issued on People’s Dispatch, the Academic-activists duo has expressed regret about the abrupt cancellation of the dialogue that was scheduled to be held at 9 p.m. on Friday on Zoom and was to be live-streamed on various social media platforms.
“The last communication came in at 9 am Indian Standard Time on November 20 to remind us of the zoom link and other details. Then, out of nowhere, near 1 pm Indian Standard Time, we received an email which said, cryptically, ‘I am sorry to inform you that due to unforeseen circumstances, we have to cancel your talk today’,” the statement read.
Approached in September, both of them agreed to participate as they believed that the themes in the book- the dangers of nuclear war, climate catastrophe, erosion of democracy – require the widest circulation and debate.
Although having reservations with the sponsors (Tata), the duo was pleased to join the event. “What were the themes that we were going to develop in the panel? We were going to talk about the broad issues that threaten the planet, but then also talk about the specific role of countries such as India and corporations such as the Tatas. 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 expressed their regret of not being able to discuss at the festival which it said, was “now owned and operated by the Tata Corporation.” However, they will shortly schedule a date and venue to discuss the “pressing issues of our time”.
Following the announcement of the cancellation, Bengaluru-based writer, Roshan Ali tweeted to inform that he has withdrawn from a session at the festival.
In a statement, late Saturday expressing admiration for Noam Chomsky, the Festival Director Anil Dharker said that the decision to cancel the dialogue “was necessary to protect the integrity of the festival”. The discussion would have been the many “high points” of the event but after members from the organising committee came across a public correspondence notifying that alongside dangers posed by climate change and nuclear proliferation, the panellists will also speak on corporations “such as the Tatas, and the Tatas in particular, including airing the views of these activists, which was never the intended purpose of the session”.
It should be noted that Tatas are the main sponsors of the Festival which is planned to continue till Sunday, hosting prominent anti-establishment speakers like Ramchandra Guha, Shashi Tharoor and Javed Akhtar. “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.
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