By the Right, for the Right: A day at the DU Literature Festival

The list of panelists at the first edition of the Delhi University Literature Festival, according to the website of the event. The festival was held in the premises of Ramjas College, from 17 to 19 March 2023.
22 March, 2023

The first stall on the front lawns of the Ramjas College was of Ritam Digital, a news-aggregating app launched four years earlier by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh chief Mohan Bhagwat. To its left was a stall of a private Sonipat-based institute Rishihood University, whose chancellor is the Bharatiya Janata Party leader Suresh Prabhu. The university’s resolution paper states that its objectives include fulfilling Swami Vivekanand’s aim of “civilizational renewal,” and quotes a verse from the Rig Veda: “May our intentions and aspirations be alike, so that a common objective unifies us.” 

The quote appears to be equally applicable to the first edition of the Delhi University Literature Festival, held from 17 to 19 March. The event had all the trappings of an ordinary college festival—stalls that sold earrings and offered tarot-card readings, music performances, jam sessions and quizzes, and audience members who made Snapchats of the event. While there were no overt symbols of right-wing sympathies, like saffron flags, the festival seemed designed to promote and defend the main talking points of the RSS and the BJP, especially on caste and history, among the youth.

This was not surprising given the people behind the event. The director of the festival was Swapan Dasgupta, a Rajya Sabha member from the BJP, and the festival patron was Sanjeev Sanyal, a member of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s economic advisory council. Sanyal’s attempts to rewrite India’s past were documented by the historian Meera Visvanathan in a 2021 essay for The Caravan, in which she wrote that “his ignorance of the protocols of historical research means that many of his narratives are highly flawed.” Republic TV was one of the festival partners.  

In a short introductory speech, the host, a student, threw in references to India assuming the presidency of G20 and “Azadi ka Amrit Mohatsav,” the celebration of 75 years of Independence. Dasgupta, Manoj Khanna—Ramjas College’s principal—and Oleg Osipov, the head of the cultural division at the Russian embassy, then spoke a few words.