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Modi government's culture wars will blow in its face

Ashok K Singh
Ashok K SinghApr 16, 2016 | 18:52

Modi government's culture wars will blow in its face

BJP’s culture warriors are at it again. The Hindutva culture apparatchiks have taken over the elite Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA).

The dissolution of IGNCA’s board and the appointment of a new chairman and board members are yet another example of how the Modi government is pushing its Hindutva project to saffronise the culture sphere.

The IGNCA’s rejig is part of the assault on institutions, which the BJP has always viewed as instruments used by those who want to advance Left and liberal ideologies to the detriment of the party’s majoritarian interests.

After having announced his appointees, Union culture and tourism minister Mahesh Sharma remarked nonchalantly, "It should not come as a surprise to anyone. Change is inevitable. The new members will take the organisation to new height."

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Union culture and tourism minister Mahesh Sharma.

There is indeed no surprise in the manner the government has gone about to rejig educational and cultural organisations. There is nothing surprising about the government packing education, art and culture institutions with individuals short on scholarship but high on their commitment to propagate the RSS’s worldview.

The new chairman of IGNCA is Ram Bahadur Rai, a former journalist known for his links to the RSS. He has been a competent journalist but does that make him a competent and suitable person to head an elite art and culture organisation?

The stated objectives of IGNCA are to "serve as a major resource centre for arts, written, oral and visual source materials," and to "foster dialogue between arts and current ideas in philosophy, science and technology," among other such things.

Suffice it to say that the person heading IGNCA should have a proven record in art and culture, or he/she should have administrative experience.

Chinmaya Gharekhan, a former diplomat, who has been given the boot, is a man of erudition and vast international exposure. The term of the board was set to expire. So what was the hurry to dissolve it?  

The history of IGNCA during its not so long existence - it was set up during the Rajiv Gandhi government in 1987- is an example of how governments mess with art and culture.

Both Congress and BJP governments are guilty of using art and culture as a handmaiden of politics. The IGNCA boards have been sacked and the incumbent governments have foisted their nominees to boards at their whims and fancies.

Had governments not treated IGNCA as their political playgrounds, this autonomous institution, which has 25 acres of prime land close to India Gate and huge resources at its disposal, would have evolved into an enviable centre of arts. But the reality is that this institution has done precious little by way of work in the spheres of art and culture.

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The Nehru-Gandhi family always treated IGNCA as personal fiefdom.

One of the main reasons IGNCA has not fulfilled its mandate is because its very foundation was based on the premises of client-patron relationship. Its founder trustees were: Rajiv Gandhi (prime minister), R Venkataraman (president), PV Narasimha Rao (HRD minister), HY Sharda Prasad, Kapila Vatsyayan and Pupul Jayakar.

Leave aside the first three - ex-officio members - the other three were for life-long closely related to the Congress’s first family.

Kapila Vatsyayan and Pupul Jayakar were looked upon as czarinas of culture. Whatever their contributions to culture, they were also courtiers of the Nehru-Gandhi family. They rose to pre-eminent position owing to their proximity to Indira Gandhi, continued to enjoy the patronage during Rajiv Gandhi’s days that continued during Sonia Gandhi’s time.

The Nehru-Gandhi family always treated IGNCA as personal fiefdom. The institution was set up in memory of Indira Gandhi by the government, but the idea was to turn it into a family borough. 

To legitimise the family ownership, Madhavrao Scindia as HRD minister appointed Sonia Gandhi as life president and Vatsyayan as life trustee in 1995. Before that Sonia had already been nominated IGNCA president after Rajiv Gandhi's assassination.

The Vajpayee government removed them from their positions but Sonia Gandhi remained a life trustee. The Congress’s return to power in 2004 brought back Vatsyayan to her favourite pasture.

If the Congress governments treated IGNCA as a pocket borough of its first family, the Modi government’s intention is to convert it into an institution to promote Hindutva through art and culture.

It’s not just that the government is packing institutions with individuals wedded to Hindutva ideology. More disconcerting is the quality of the people who have been chosen to head apex education, history and culture bodies.

The appointments to head such premier institutions as ICHR (Indian Council Of Historical Research), ICCR (Indian Council for Cultural Relations), FTII (Film and Television Institute of India), IIAS (Indian Institute of Advanced Study) and IGCNA show either the Modi government has nothing but contempt for erudition and scholarship, or it’s working on a plan to oversimplify and trivialise history and culture. The long-term plan is to blunt critical faculty and to dissuade people from asking questions.

In a nutshell, the Modi government’s agenda is to dumb down history and culture and present them with as little critical evaluation as possible.

Didn’t Lokesh Chandra, the ICCR chairman, describe Modi as an incarnation of god after his appointment? Gajendra Chauhan at FTII, Pahlaj Nihalani at Central Board of Film Certification, Y Sudershan Rao at ICHR, Chandrakala Padia replacing Gopal Krishna Gandhi at Indian Institute of Advanced Studies, Shimla - it’s a long list of individuals with questionable academic credentials heading top institutions.

The Hindutva forces know that art and culture are always the first frontier to be won but the last to be lost. Culture leaves traces of footsteps long after political power is lost.

What they forget is a history lesson that reactionaries always lose the war to liberals.

Last updated: April 17, 2016 | 13:50
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