THE DANCE OF CONTROVERSY
Noted dancer quits Kalakshetra after PIL questions continuance. Expect more trouble.
On April 30, dancer Leela Samson served her last day as director of the Kalakshetra Foundation. Started in 1936 by legendary artiste Rukmini Devi Arundale, the Chennai- based academy has served as a haven for students and patrons of Bharatanatyam and Natya Shastra. Today, allegations about irregularities in finances and appointments are dragging the pristine institution into controversy.
Trouble began when former Kalakshetra teacher C. S. Thomas filed a writ petition against Samson in 2011 for continuing to serve in her post even though she had turned 60. This is the age limit for institutions under the Government. However, Samson sought an extension and remained director. Her age came into question again at a recent board meeting chaired by Gopalkrishna Gandhi on April 10, after which she resigned on April 12. “Through a PIL, an ex- Kalakshetra teacher had challenged my continuance as director after I turned 60. If I do not have the support of the ministry, chairman and the board in this matter, I see no reason to stay on,” said Samson after news broke on April 27.
In 2005, Padma Shri awardee Samson, then 54, took over as director at the Kalakshetra Foundation, where she herself was once a student. Her salt and pepper hair and natural grace combined with the ability to showcase progressive dance styles and run a boardroom with equal aplomb won the Central Government over. Soon she was appointed chair- person of the Sangeet Natak Akademi and the Censor Board and dubbed the cultural czarina of the UPA.
Now, Samson is being questioned on facts far more serious than age. A CAG report from the office of the Principal Accountant General ( Civil Audit) of Tamil Nadu and Puducherry has emerged, hurling accusations ranging from financial irregularities to wastage of equipment. Thomas’s lawyer R. T. Shyamala told INDIA TODAY that they obtained the report in February through RTI. Citing account statements of the Kalakshetra Foundation for 2011, they raised objections to the awarding and upgrade of civil works, procuring of unused sound systems worth Rs 62 lakh and consulting an architect ( and not a competent third person) to analyse tenders for the Koothambalam auditorium’s renovation.
“All the renovations and spending meant Kalakshetra took Rs 8 crore from the consolidated fund. Where are the tenders?” asks Shyamala. Apart from renovation processes, the report showed irregularities in 16 appointments at the institution. An engineer was hired to teach theory and a costume designer at the academy used to be Samson’s cook, Shyamala alleges. While admittedly the document from the CAG is just a report and has not received final comments, it has strengthened the case against Samson.
While Samson has not commented on the allegations ( she did not respond to calls or emails from INDIA TODAY), the dance community around the world wants her back. Dancer Anita Ratnam has even started an online petition for the Government to reinstate her. The petition has 735 signatures so far— Ratnam plans on getting 1,000 before sending it to the board members. Apart from Ratnam, artistes like Alarmel Valli and T. M. Krishna have also shown their support. The dance is far from over.
ON APRIL 12