Mumbai: Renowned academic and Marathi litterateur Shripal Sabnis, who had criticised Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Lahore trip, says he lives in the shadow of fear over "intolerance" to what he claims were "unbiased, objective observations".
Some right-wing activists have threatened to "break his limbs" and "kill him" for daring to speak against Modi.
"Intolerance? I know what it is. My family and I are cowering in it. We live in sheer fear with death staring at us. There is no help from the police or government - barring an assurance by (Minister of State for Home) Ram Shinde. The family members are weeping," Sabnis told IANS over phone, practically under a self-imposed exile in Pune.
Noted for his bold views, Sabnis, 64, lives in Pune with wife and two children even as the family comes under increasing siege from right-wing elements. They hae sought his resignation, burnt his effigies and issued threats.
Sabnis reportedly said at a college event last Thursday in Pune that "had Modi had been attacked in Pakistan, we would have been compelled to pay tributes to him before (eminent Marathi poet) Mangesh Padgaonkar (who died on Dec. 30)." He also said that "Modi is tainted by Godhra".
Later, while on a lecture tour in Marathwada on Saturday, enraged BJP activists protested against him forcing him to rush to Osmanabad's Umarga Police Station and lodge a complaint against two persons before returning to Pune.
"My comments have been selectively twisted and highlighted out of context by some vested elements within the BJP-RSS, without going into their totality," Sabnis said in his interview.
According to the writer -- now elected president of the prestigious four-day 89th All India Marathi Literary Conference (AIMLC) scheduled to open in Pimpri-Chinchwad on January 15 -- he had lavished "conditional praise" on Modi, which was not appreciated by the hardliners in the BJP-RSS.
"I had expressed pride that our prime minister had showed the courage to go to Pakistan with his heart in his hands, since there could be treachery and his life could be at risk. What is wrong with that statement?" he said.
Talking about the Godhra incident, which was the starting point of 2002 riots in Gujarat, Sabnis said that "the whole country knows what is the truth about Modi when he was the chief minister of Gujarat."
"I have actually praised the prime minister for his good work. However, if Modi feels I have said something objectionable, let him say so and I shall immediately apologise to the entire nation," Sabnis declared.
He said it was regretful how certain elements in the BJP and the RSS selectively used his statement to attack him (verbally) and issue death threats, asking for an unconditional apology. However, he said he was in no mood to oblige "the goons" who failed to understand his statements.
Dwelling on the freedom of speech enshrined in the Indian constitution, Sabnis asserted out that "nobody has the right to take it away from me".
He said he would speak against "what is wrong and in favour of what is right. That's what I have done all these years even through my books and articles," he pointed out.
Nevertheless, adopting a conciliatory tone, he said there are many good and sane elements within the BJP-RSS and he was ready to hammer out any differences with them.
"Let these good people in the BJP-RSS call me for a debate or discussion and the matter can be sorted out in a 'chai pe charcha' amicably and peacefully without resorting to threats or violence," Sabnis said, hoping to reach out.
Defending his statements, the author of 29 Marathi books - including "Sanskruti Samikshechi - Tisri Bhoomika", "Secularism Prabhodhanacha Mandand" and "Bharatiya Prabhodhan Ani Nav Ambedkar-vad" - said he is not connected with any political party in the country and merely spoke from his heart.
"In the current atmosphere, some people don't want a balanced viewpoint on any issue - they want you to view and speak as they see everything. Otherwise, after (slain rationalists) Narendra Dabholkar, Govind Pansare and M.M. Kalburgi, they will lay down Shripal Sabnis' (dead) body," he said in a pained voice.
Sabnis appealed for adequate security for himself and his family - a demand supported by the ruling BJP-ally Shiv Sena on Monday - so that he could get down to preparing for the mega-literary event that is expected to attract over 25,000 delegates from all over the country.