Noted historian Irfan Habib made a controversial comparison between the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the Islamic State.
Sharply criticising the government's description of their protest as a "manufactured rebellion" intellectuals and artists of different persuasions came together on one stage today.
The protest meet in Delhi - organised to highlight what the intellectuals called "a climate of fear" and "a culture of anti-intellectualism" - saw noted historian Irfan Habib making a controversial comparison between the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the Islamic State.
"The RSS and the Islamic State are similar as far as their intellect goes," the 84-year-old writer said.
Noted historian Romila Thapar said it was "bizarre" to call the protests a "manufactured rebellion". "A rebellion is against the state. We are not fighting against the state here," she said.
"Many of us are Leftists but many of us are not. What the protest is about, is the need for a liberal space and this is being emphasised again and again," Ms Thapar added.
Noted writer Ashok Vajpeyi, who was among the first to return his Sahitya Akademi Award to protest against "growing intolerance", accused "those in power" of "manufacturing the politics of violence and hatred".
The meeting of public intellectuals came today amid a pushback by the government against their protest which has seen dozens of writers, scientists and filmmakers return honours in the past weeks citing "growing intolerance" in the country.
The killing of three rationalist writers, a series of mob-killings allegedly over rumours of beef consumption and cow slaughter, and prominent appointments of people with links to the BJP have been mentioned by many of those raising the protests.
Dismissing them, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and Urban Development Minister Venkaiah Naidu had called it a "manufactured rebellion".
In a fresh blog, Mr Jaitley said that pro-Left and pro-Congress thinkers were trying to project India as an intolerant society through "structured and organised propaganda".
Mr Jaitley also appealed to "every well-wisher of India and the present government" not to make statements that could vitiate the atmosphere and obstruct growth.