In a display of shoddy and yellow journalism, many new and some old media houses termed a suggestion by the ministry of culture "absurd".
The suggestion has been to grade artists and writers on the basis of which they will be sent to various events and festivals, and as part of delegations to represent the nation.
The online outrage is rather expected and patterned. The government is being nitpicked by a section of eternally biased and lazy media community.
Though my efforts to find the "policy" on the ministry's website failed and so did my endeavours to find out the policy brief from telephonic conversations with the ministry officials (I was tossed from one table to the other), I want to argue on the merits of the alleged "policy" on certain fundamental points.
1. In a country of a billion-plus population, awards, scholarships, prizes and sponsorships are cherished goals or tools to hone one's art. How do you decide on who deserves these accolades than by choosing a matrix?
|Union culture minister Mahesh Sharma.|
More so, how should a government, now under constant surveillance by citizen-empowering tools like the RTI, maintain a repository of various documents at each stage of decision-making on such a crucial question, than by resorting to some form of grading or assessment?
Is it wrong to refer to best industry practices within traditions of the Nobel Prize, Booker Prize, Jnanpith Award, Sahitya Akademi Award in order to streamline an annual "job" of identifying best fits by the government from a billion-plus talent pool?
2. Till date, the question on greatness of artists, writers, opinion makers, journalists, singers, dancers and sculptors has been nurtured in India under a system of nepotistic patronage.
The by and large Left-dominated lectures in art and humanities schools and departments of prestigious universities - claiming to produce the most liberal minds of the country - try hard to bust the myth of greatness as a concept.
But nothing concrete has emerged out of these classrooms of rebellion in terms of systemic and systematic change within the "ideological State apparatus" of academic curricula.
Systematic study, or critique, or challenge to the greatness of artists, writers, or poets of the centuries past has never led to change in syllabi or introduction to new talent or voices in the canon - literary or political.
In a way that justifies their revolutionary lectures. For instance, one may want to question here why the syllabus of Delhi University's English department only emphasises on north Indian greatness in Indian literature.
Why has the department still not broken away from the tradition that defines the grand canon of Indian writing? It is time that we ask ourselves, in the defence of liberalism: do we need a matrix to define greatness or even to bust the myth of greatness?
3. In the long dialogue in academic-intellectual discourse on greatness and ordinariness of art, many theories have been written, discussed and canonised within the systematic study of art and literary criticism.
Plato, Aristotle, Valmiki, Al Jahiz, Abdullah ibn al-Mu'tazz, Lodovico Castelvetro, Horace, Longinus, Shakespeare, Sidney, Donne, Matthew Arnold, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Anandvardhan, Ram Chandra Shukla, Ram Vilas Sharma and many other theorists across the colonial, post-colonial, foreign and indigenous spectrum have left sheaves of literary and art criticism to be cherished over time. What must stop us from allowing the essence of these theories to stipulate, theorise and follow a set of criteria in order to judge good art?
4. In the post-capitalism mixed economy like ours, where art is as much a commodity for some artists as an impassioned discipline for others, how must a government choose relevant, representative art and literary pieces that are better than the existing lot? How should it choose the determinants of artistic honour and decide on who gets those coveted awards which are worthy to be returned later?
5. In a country of billion-plus population - buzzing with ideas, sounds, music and art of all kinds - where everyone is proving his/her relevance in an overtly competitive world, why must artists and writers be away from an artistic call to improve their form, cadence and performance? Why must there be no criteria to judge them?
6. The Indian art industry is dominated by a status-quoist, West-dominated, leftist expression of monolithic rant sans logic and rationale but is an interspersed poetry of pure propaganda.
How does a government, as a custodian of free expression, ensure a balance in the narrative than by arriving at an inward-looking critique of its own cultural environment but by striving to reach a certain consensus on good art?
The art and literature stalwarts, in the spirit of democracy, must get down on their study tables, re-learn their art criticism theories and come up with unique proposals to be sent to the ministry.
These proposals will surely help the government - accused unfairly of propagating unilateral and monolithic ideas - craft a robust and democratic system of assessing the right talent in a specialised field like art and literature.
Since there is an intention of grading in the otherwise opaque, patronising and unilateral system of artistic excellence, not only will the artists and writers come under the ambit of RTI, their achievements too will be a part of public scrutiny.
The absence of alacrity to accept this movement towards transparency and betterment is telling, worrying and baffling.