The art of the state

In his ad­dress, Amol Palekar was only shedding light on the state’s in­sid­i­ous takeover of in­sti­tu­tions of cul­ture

The Hindu - - OPED - Vaishna Roy The writer is an As­so­ciate Ed­i­tor at The Hindu

Con­sti­tu­tional val­ues are un­der­mined ev­ery time some­one who is in­vited to speak at a govern­ment or pub­lic event is cut off be­cause her opin­ion is un­palat­able. Yet this is the very nadir that free­dom of speech in In­dia has now reached. First, there was the un­seemly can­cel­la­tion of renowned writer Nayan­tara Sah­gal’s talk in Jan­uary. This week­end, ac­tor and di­rec­tor Amol Palekar’s ad­dress at the open­ing of an ex­hi­bi­tion in mem­ory of artist Prab­hakar Barwe at Mum­bai’s Na­tional Gallery of Mod­ern Art (NGMA) was in­ter­rupted.

As this govern­ment com­pletes its fifth year in power, the at­tempts to shut down crit­i­cism are getting stronger. The dif­fi­culty lies in rec­on­cil­ing this fear of pub­lic dis­ap­proval with the bar­rage of fac­toids that paint a rosy pic­ture of the achieve­ments of the last few years. If this were in­deed so, how easy it would be to say, “Speaker, do your worst. We can prove ev­ery one of your ac­cu­sa­tions wrong.”

Mr. Palekar in his speech quoted the artist Rene Magritte: “We must not fear day­light just be­cause it al­most al­ways il­lu­mi­nates a mis­er­able world.” But that’s ex­actly what the au­thor­i­ties seem to fear nowa­days: day­light. What else was Mr. Palekar do­ing but shedding light on the state’s in­sid­i­ous takeover of in­sti­tu­tions of cul­ture and learn­ing? He was ex­press­ing con­cern that the Cul­ture Min­istry, hav­ing dis­solved lo­cal com­mit­tees of ad­vi­sory artists, might now di­rectly de­cide which artists will be al­lowed to ex­hibit at the NGMAs, when he was rudely in­ter­rupted by cu­ra­tor Je­sal Thacker.

Any­one who imag­ines the govern­ment should be al­lowed to han­dle arts and cul­ture has not met the bu­reau­crats reg­u­larly posted as heads of art in­sti­tu­tions and mu­se­ums. For these of­fi­cials, from min­istries as var­ied as agri­cul­ture or health, these are pu­n­ish­ment post­ings. Still, the worst that the arts and cul­ture faced un­der the Congress was cor­rup­tion and in­dif­fer­ence. To that is now added a sys­tem of sur­veil­lance to vet ev­ery­thing for ide­o­log­i­cal com­pli­ance.

In 2015, the govern­ment took over the au­tonomous Lalit Kala Akademi (LKA), and it took three years for a non-bu­reau­crat chair­man to be care­fully placed, while most re­gional LKAs still don’t have full-time heads. De­ci­sions on ev­ery­thing from light bulbs to wall paints are fer­ried from Delhi. The two re­gional NGMAs in Bengaluru and Mum­bai scram­ble sim­i­larly for per­mis­sions from Delhi. Vague ac­cu­sa­tions are made in hushed tones, and ide­o­log­i­cal back­grounds dis­creetly checked.

There is a gen­eral feel­ing among the pop­u­lace, per­haps fu­elled by sig­nals from the high­est of­fices, that any crit­i­cism of the govern­ment is tan­ta­mount to crit­i­cis­ing the coun­try. In­ter­est­ingly, NGMA di­rec­tor Anita Ru­pa­vataram echoed this idea. When she took the mic af­ter Mr. Palekar was shut down, she said, “You should ap­pre­ci­ate that this is the NGMA, a govern­ment gallery.” In other words, the si­lenc­ing, if not crim­i­nal­is­ing, of crit­i­cism is now com­plete.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from India

© PressReader. All rights reserved.