Keep art and culture out of government control

While the political corridors in Maharashtra and elsewhere in India are busy in discussing and quarreling over political issues (or non-issues), in Maharashtra an annual literary extravaganza had become the centre of attraction because this bash is expected to discuss literary issues and thus, the matters those touch, physical and emotional lives of every person. It was expected that the arathi SahityaM Sammelan (a Marathi Literature Festival) that took place at Yavatmail at district headquarters in Vidarbha would be a ‘trouble-free’ event as the moot cause of the troubles, the election of the President was altered this time and instead of ‘election’, the practice of ‘selection’ was adapted.

Dr Aruna Dhere, an intellectual writer, thinker was nominated the Head of the Conclave. However, to everybody’s surprise the Sammelan this year was also marred by protests, boycotts and chaos. This was a pathetic show. The Conclave is supposed to be a platform to deliberate various literary and socio-cultural issues that affect writers on one hand and readers on the other. However, this purpose, like last many years, remained only on paper. A week before the Conclave, a controversy over a name of the proposed dignitary to inaugurate the Conclave erupted that finally took an ugly and uncivilised turn.

Renowned writer, thinker Nayantara Sehgal’s name was unanimously decided to inaugurate the meet and accordingly an invitation was sent out to her. She conveyed her consent and the news appeared all over. However, mere a week before the inauguration date, the host committee decided to withdraw the invitation, ostensibly at the instance of the BJP Government in the state.

The moment the organisers announced their decision to withdraw invitation already sent out to Sehgal, a hell broke out in media. Many participants who were invited by the organisers to grace various seminars announced their boycott to express their solidarity with Sehgal. To save their face, the organising committee decided to summon the widow of a farmer who had committed suicide a few years ago. However, this act did not do any redresser. Even four days after the culmination of the meet, echoes of the incident are still heard loud and clear.

Fall-out of ‘Award Wapasi?
Why so much hue and cry about Sehgal’s presence in the Conclave? It may be recalled that two years ago, there was a campaign of ‘Award Wapasi’ by people in the literary world to register protest against the atmosphere of communal hatred in the country. Hundreds of writers and poets returned awards given to them by the Central and State governments and their organisations run by them. This campaign was started by Sehgal by returning her Award and soon the campaign spread like a wild-fire. Obviously, the campaign was against the sitting BJP Government.

It assumed political significance as it erupted on the eve of Bihar Assembly elections. The BJP, thus, had to suffer and the power remained with Nitish Kumar of the JD (U). As the ruling BJP was severely hurt by the ‘Award Vapsi’ campaign and the outcome thereof, perhaps the local leadership of the party, particularly those from the Vidarbha region did not take invitation to Sehgal kindly. It is learnt that unofficial messages (or threats) were sent out to the organisers to ensure that Sehgal did not come on the same dais where Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis was scheduled to be on for the inaugural session. The organisers, finally, succumbed and the invitation was withdrawn.

This was a crass behaviour. Sehgal did not come but her presence was felt at every moment during the three-day literarily bash. The chairman of the reception committee, Dr Joshi, had to bow out and many speakers turned their back to Yavatmal. It actually means that Sehgal’s absence proved more damaging than perhaps her possible presence.

The question arises, should the game of politics be allowed to play such a vital and decisive part in the field of literature? Literature, painting, singing etc are considered to be out of the orbit of petty politics. Thus, the ruling party should have left the reception committee alone in taking decision about its functioning. But the fact that major chunk of the expenditure of such rich extravaganzas of literary festivals is done through the grant given by the government exchequer, has made the literary fest organisation a subject to the government. The result is that those who run the government, feel that they are the ‘masters’ of literature world also.

Unfortunate & avoidable
If this situation has to change and Sehgal-like unfortunate incidents have to be avoided, the organisers have to ensure that they do not go with the begging bowl to the doors of the government. If writers, poets, playwrights maintain their self-respect, the organisers would not have to invite ministers and chief ministers to grace their platforms. That situation would be mutually respectable.

Those in the field of power and those in the area of creative art, have to maintain a safe distance to retain mutual love and respect. The leaders of cultural India need to draw a line to decide how far would be too far! Else art and culture, literature and performances would soon become yet another ‘government function.’

Bharatkumar Raut is a political analyst and former Member of Parliament (RS).

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