NEW DELHI: Protests have cast a shadow of controversy over the Jaipur Literary Festival that has become an annual event attracting the literary elite from Delhi and other parts of the country. A 100 writers, academics and others have called upon all writers to pull out of the event that is being sponsored by Vedanta, infamous for ruthlessly expanding its mining projects by displacing local people and destroying their ecological environment.

The Jaipur Literary Festival, directed by writers Namita Gokhale and William Dalrymple is billed as the largest free literary festival in the world in the world.

Vedanta’s activities have according to rights groups have ruined the livelihood of thousands of people in Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Tamil Nadu, Punjab, Karnataka, and Rajasthan for Bauxite and iron ore mining. Anti Vedanta activists disrupted a JLF event at Southbank, London with placards and speeches as they felt that the event would give credibility to a company reportedly guilty for what they said was the death of thousands.

Activists and writers questioned Vedanta’s claim of promoting Indian literature and culture when it doesn’t even respect the environment, and the basic human rights of Adivasis. They are of the view that there is no way any self respecting writer, intellectual or critic should participate in a festival infected by Vedanta’s amoral actions.

Despite the efforts of the managing team of the event to prove that their content is completely independent of the sponsorship, the protests are escalating. The writers and intellectuals have urged the JLF organisers to replace Zee TV as a title sponsor as it they see it to be biased and partisan in its coverage. Justice and democracy and free speech, the writers point out, does not go with sponsorship from a media channel that has telecast fake videos in the past, has insulted well known writers like Gauhar Raza, and has spread “miseading information” that support “fascist trends” in India.

In the view of the writers events like the JLF cannot remain oblivious toe the “proven offences of companies who have invaded the areas of art, conscience, ideas and freedom of expression via title sponsorships. Empathy and conscience are the soul of art and if these very elements are distorted to due self seeking extrinsic forces, the legitimacy and even the relevance of such art becomes questionable.”

With only a few weeks to go before the inauguration of JLF 2017, questions are already being raised over the controversy of sponsorship that took hundreds of academics, authors and students by storm. In the light of the events last year, corresponding to the call for boycotting the festival because of Vedanta’s sponsorship, JLF has decided to disassociate itself from Vedanta. Zee however remains a primary sponsor which could be the reason the festival is now identifying itself as ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival.

According to a report, some of the eminent writers of the “award wapsi” campaign that took place around the intolerance debate, like Ashok Vajpayee, Uday Prakash and K satchidanand have not been invited this year. In her defence, Gokhale said "It is absurd to imply that speakers were invited on the basis of their 'award wapsi' status”. She points out that poet and writer Keki N. Daruwalla who too, had returned his Sahitya Akedemi Award last year, when several prominent writers and intellectuals, including Nayantara Sahgal, Krishna Sobti and Sara Joseph, had followed suit to protest against rising intolerance of freedom of speech and expression in the country. Rajasthani poet, Ambika Dutt who also returned his Sahitya Akademi award last year, has been invited to this Zee JLF too.