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Culture & state

A.G. Noorani 

The writer is an author and a lawyer based in Mumbai. The writer is an author and a lawyer based in Mumbai.

POLITICS is the art of the possible; economics is the science of the useful; culture is the essence of the worthwhile. The Spanish intellectual, Salvador de Madariaga’s summing is apt. There is a clear menace to the very soul of the citizen when culture, “the essence of the worthwhile”, becomes a tool in the hands of the regime of the day with which to mould the outlook of the citizen.

Addressing the University of Rochester in June 1936, Walter Lippmann said that one of the reasons why democracy “has worked in America is that outside the government and outside the party system, there have existed independent institutions and independent men ... notably the free churches, the free press, the free universities”.

In India, the state has amassed enormous power over the cultural and intellectual life of the nation. Universities and the literary and cul­tural academies in Delhi depend on the state. The Indian Council of World Affairs in New Delhi was a highly respected autonomous institution. It is now virtually a department of the Ministry of External Affairs by a statute of The Indian Council of World Affairs Act.

Many artists, writers and actors in India have returned awards. Artists, writers and actors have returned awards this year in large numbers. This unprecedented gesture was provoked by an unprecedented assault by the BJP government, headed by Narendra Modi, on institutions of learning and culture.

Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen was ousted from the chancellorship of the Nalanda University. He wrote: “Nothing on the scale of interference has happened before. Every institution where the government has a formal role is being converted into [one] where the government has a substantial role.”

He provides interesting details. “Often enough, the persons chosen for heading institutions of national importance have been exceptionally dedicated to promoting Hindutva priorities. For example, the newly appointed head of the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR), Yellapragada Sudershan Rao, may not be known for research in history, but his Hindutva-oriented opinions are well-known. For example, in his paper Indian Caste System: A Reappraisal, Rao gives his endorsement to the caste system, which we are told is often “misrepresented as an exploitative system”.

He has strong links with Akhil Bharatiya Itihas Sankalan Yojana (ABISY), the history wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). The record proves his charge to the hilt. The ICHR was entirely reconstituted in February with 18 fresh appointees including office bearers of the ABISY.

In May, the new council decided to dissolve the editorial board and advisory committee of its journal Historical Review. Among its distinguished members were Romila Thapar, Irfan Habib, Richard M. Eaton, Profs. Hermann Kulke, and William Kloss. The new head of the Indian Council of Cultural Relations (ICCR), Lokesh Chandra, appointed by the Modi government, told the Indian Express that “from a practical point of view [Mr Modi] supersedes Mahatma [Gandhi]”. Chandra said that Modi is, in fact, “a reincarnation of God”.

A businessman Zafar Sareshwala, the managing director and CEO of Parsoli Motors, the only dealer in BMW cars in Gujarat, was appointed chancellor of the Maulana Azad National Urdu University at Hyderabad. He is a confidant of Modi.

Baldev Sharma who was removed as editor of the RSS organ Panchjanya only two years earlier was made chairman of the National Book Trust in March. The Central Advisory Board of Education, India’s highest policymaking body on education, was reconstituted in June. Yoga teachers, Sanskrit scholars, actors were appointed.

Other institutions received the same treatment. Mahesh Ran­ga­rajan was pressurised to resign from the inter­nationally famous Nehru Mem­o­rial Museum & Library in New Delhi which houses private pap­ers of two generations of public figures for scholars to consult. The ousted director is a res­pected scholar. Stu­dents and alumni of the Film and Tele­vision Institute of India at Pune angrily agitated against the appointment of Gajendra Chauhan as president of its governing council. He is a member of the BJP.

Scandalous is the only word people use for characterising Pahlaj Nihalani’s appointment as chairman of the Central Board of Film Certification. He censured the James Bond movie Spectre without seeing it. He had made promotional films on Modi. The courts strike down as invalid any executive action on state funds or property which is not for a “public purpose”. This principle should surely apply to appointments to public posts which are made manifestly, demonstrably for the political ends of the ruling party. The appointments constitute an organised purge and bear the imprints of orders from the RSS.

Its constitution says that it “has no politics and is devoted purely to cultural work”. In its lexicon, however, culture is synonymous with the ideology of Hindutva. The cultural cleansing at work is part of a move to cast India in the Hindutva mode. The writer is an author and a lawyer based in Mumbai. Published in Dawn, December 5th, 2015

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