It is just unfortunate and a game of politics. It can also be counterproductive as the left wing academia might be playing all its cards too early. That group is going all-in and staking all its credibility on an issue in which the central government has very little role to play. And most importantly, it is the nation that provides them the award. I feel they are insulting the nation for very little fault of them.
For the first time since independence, the left wing academia has very little hold over the government and its only playing hand is when Modi is visiting abroad – especially the US and UK. The protests thus started to time with Modi’s visit to the US and is peaking just before Modi’s visit to the UK. Such protests gets attention of media in US & UK, and bad publicity for India at a crucial diplomatic visit could make the Indian government listen to them.
Match a group that feels ignored and a government that puts marketing at the top of its game, and you get such weird protests. The accusation is not even one of government committing a crime or a scandal or even being negligent, but a government doesn’t condemn publicly every crime that happens in India. This can tarnish some of India’s reputation.
Was India a more tolerant place in the past when schools were vandalized and professors attacked, maimed for remotely “insulting” a religion? How was the academia able to hold its conscience all this long when we have past so much bloodshed from every religious group ? If we stop our hypocrisy there will be a better fight against actual intolerance. If not, the award returning will have no impact on India.
In the domestic politics, the award returning is actually counterproductive. The extremists in the right wing want to portray the academia as clueless marxists and by returning the academia is falling right into the trap. You can already hear some right wingers gloating. What this also does is it weakens the moderates within the right wing who want to respect those academics no matter what political opinion they have.
On the whole, it might not have that much impact on India. None of the artists who returned those awards have any bit of following in the general public. General public has little recognition of the names of those returning the awards and some even accuse those who return as attention seekers [intelligent artists who are long past their prime].
Most importantly, the actions just tarnish the name of the nation. If you have a beef with the BJP or Modi, go and fight them, but don’t belittle your nation as none of the awards were given by the present government. I have very little respect for anyone who takes domestic politics to tarnish India’s image abroad. Even if they were returning the awards to protest the Congress government, I would hate them for the same. Because, they are insulting the nation for the perceived faults of a political party.