|CURRENT ISSUE NOVEMBER 22, 2004|
|NATION: CULTURAL INSTITUTIONS|
|Not-So-New Order |
Cultural institutions in the country are finally subjected to a bout of spring cleaning, as the NDA's appointments are replaced by a new set of Congress-friendly and Left-approved intellectuals
|By Kaveree Bamzai|
I hear the bark and sense the bite. That is what L.M. Singhvi wrote to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Congress President Sonia Gandhi and Minister of Culture and I&B S. Jaipal Reddy in one of the three letters offering his resignation as president of the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA). Not a single one got a reply. So he was surprised when he read he was "retired" on Sunday-the two-page executive order was received by a peon at the IGNCA, he says.
Calling the action plainly unlawful, the jurist, who has artfully managed to stay on the right side of every government, says culture has become hostage to the animal farm of Indian politics. But the apex of politicisation was when he was made a trustee of IGNCA in 2000 after the NDA government amended the deed to remove Sonia as life president. It is an institution whose significance goes beyond the obvious association with the Nehru-Gandhi parivar: established on real estate said to be worth Rs 5,000 crore, it has one lakh manuscripts, a corpus of Rs 50 crore and also houses two new missions with budgets of Rs 100 crore each.
If the NDA government used autonomous institutions as a form of patronage, it is not vastly different now-only the number of professionals who wish to be associated with a liberal government is naturally higher. But they are also a handful, which explains why the one person-one post does not operate in the cultural arena. So there is a flurry of the usual suspects in this dispensation as well: Jnanpith Award-winning Kannada writer U.R. Ananthamurthy is a member of the Central Advisory Board of Education (CABE) under the hrd Ministry as also of the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library (NMML) society, which controls the nation's premier storehouse of modern history archival material and has over two lakh books. Filmmaker Shyam Benegal-who was awarded the Indira Gandhi Prize for National Integration last month-is a member of the Central Advisory Board for Culture (CABC), but sacked Censor Board chief Anupam Kher also made him a member of the screening committee which finally cleared the controversial Gujarat documentary, Final Solution. It did not help Kher.
It was an open secret that Reddy was finding it difficult to reconcile his liberal credentials with the ruthlessness required for a putsch. He seems to have found it now, no doubt because of H.S. Surjeet's very public denunciation in the CPI(M) mouthpiece People's Democracy. The Left has no intention of doing things by halves: on the anvil are changes in the advisory committee to the National Gallery of Modern Art (especially the purchase committee which buys art), a clean-up of the staff at the National Museum Institute, an inquiry into the affairs of the Sahitya Akademi, where Gopi Chand Narang is president, and even the possible transfer of a Ministry of Culture official. Not just that. The Standing Committee on the Archaeological Survey of India is revisiting the institution's role in the Ayodhya excavations as well as the Rs 70-crore Indo-Saraswati project, which seeks to redefine the Indus Valley Civilisation.
CPI(M) MP Nilotpal Basu says the Left wishes to "decommunalise" all institutions. "We do not dictate day-to-day policies," he says, "but in cases where appointments have been made in clear violation of rules and institutional finances have been misused to promote a particular ideology, we have alerted the Government."
The escalating battle has left the culturati bemused. Benegal, who like Adoor Gopalakrishnan has been chairman of the FTII under previous governments, says he will not implement any political party's agenda. Nor does he see any danger of being co-opted. "I am of a liberal disposition. And I do believe that in the past six years, culture was given a political dimension." As for Adoor, he says he would be a part of any attempt to change the nation's cultural agenda, regardless of which government invited him. "I don't see it as a reward for any services rendered," he says. If only politicians saw cultural bodies through such an impartial prism.
The purge has been painful. Seven other IGNCA trustees have exited with Singhvi, among them losing BJP candidate from Guwahati Bhupen Hazarika and BJP's favourite dancer Sonal Mansingh (whom the Left has no intention of sparing, though she has written a pre-emptive protest letter to President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam). In their place are Ratan Tata, Adoor, Mrinal Sen, artist A. Ramachandran, scientist Rodham Narasimhan and former foreign secretary Salman Haider.
The first sign of a change in culture was the constitution of the CABC, with Kapila Vatsyayan, the deposed custodian of the Congress' cultural agenda, as vice-chairman. The committee has been asked to evolve a cultural plan of action for the Government and take "an integrated view of the various shades of ideas and interests from different domains". Its membership indicates the direction it will take: Benegal and Adoor, former UGC chairman Yash Pal, scholars Mohammed Amin and Ramachandra Guha, Mrinal Miri, who was unceremoniously despatched from the Indian Institute of Advanced Studies by the NDA government, conservation architect Ranesh Ray and Malayalam poet Ayyappa Paniker.
The NMML has also been reconstituted. T.N. Chaturvedi, whom the NDA appointed as the governor of Karnataka and as member of the Indian Council for Social Science Research, has been removed as vice-president. The other new members are Sonia, External Affairs Minister Natwar Singh, Ananthamurthy, former chief election commissioner M.S. Gill, publisher Mammen Mathew, veteran journalist Dilip Padgaonkar, bureaucrat Gopal Gandhi, eternal presidential hopeful Karan Singh, and veteran Nehru scholar B.R. Nanda.
Will these intellectuals give up their independence for the perks of authority? Or has the UPA Government ushered in a different culture?