New Delhi: If public intellectuals are ostracized or vilified from speaking their minds, India risks becoming a "cultural dictatorship", world famous music conductor Zubin Mehta has said, calling the protest by writers, filmmakers and scientists returning honours "brave".
"Our writers, our filmmakers do have a chance to speak their minds. Otherwise we will become a dictatorship, a cultural dictatorship and that is inadmissible," the 79-year-old India-born musician told NDTV in an exclusive interview.
An increasing number of intellectuals have returned awards and resigned from positions in recent weeks, speaking out against the government at the Centre and protesting what they call "growing intolerance".
"I respect them for this. I wish these brave people who are giving up their awards would sit down with the government and may be they would influence them too," Mr Mehta said.
He said that artists "shouldn't be ostracised by the government" for their opinion and that there should be "complete freedom of expression".
The government has dismissed the protests by dozens of authors, scientists, filmmakers and historians with Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley slamming those speaking out for a "manufactured paper rebellion".
The Mumbai-born composer said that incidents of ink attacks in his city on events involving visiting Pakistanis are "absolutely terrible" and "shameful." He went one step further and said "Pakistani cricketers should be allowed to play in the IPL," revealing that except when India was playing, he always backed Pakistan against other countries like Australia or England. .
Mr Mehta also compared the cancellation of Pakistani ghazal singer Ghulam Ali's concert in Mumbai earlier this month after threats by Shiv Sena to the protests by separatists in Jammu and Kashmir against his own concert in Srinagar in 2013.
Speaking about incidents that have strained communal ties across India, Mr Mehta said, "There are 150 million Muslims in India. Minorities must be made to feel a sense of security."