No saffronisation: Mahesh Sharma

 The Union Minister of State for Culture (Independent Charge), Tourism (Independent Charge) and Civil Aviation, Dr. Mahesh Sharma
The Union Minister of State for Culture (Independent Charge), Tourism (Independent Charge) and Civil Aviation, Dr. Mahesh Sharma

By Preetha Nair 

 The controversial changes at the helm of the National Museum and Lalit Kala Akademi are the government’s attempt to bring in new talent and there is no attempt at “saffronisation”, Minister of State for Culture Mahesh Sharma has assserted.

“We took the decision to change the heads of institutions in the interest of the organisations, not individuals,” Sharma said in an interview, adding that his ministry worked in the interest of organisations rather than individuals.

Denying allegations of imposing a “cultural cadre” of the government’s choice, Sharma said the “so called intellectuals”, who lacked faith in the democratic system were behind such baseless charges.

“The intellectuals who have gone to court against the government have no faith in the democratic system. We took the decision to change the heads of institutions in the interest of the organisations, not individuals. Where is the question of saffronisation? In the Akademi, we have given charge to an additional secretary. If he is saffronised, every bureaucrat in the government is saffronised,” Sharma maintained in response to charges that the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi was trying to bring in Hindu nationalists to head key cultural bodies at the behest of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS).

Reacting to allegations that the government was meddling in the affairs of some premier cultural institutions, Sharma said that his ministry was not going to “blindly follow” the previous government and was looking to induct the best possible talent.

“We don’t follow blindly what the previous government was doing. We are here to challenge the status quo. We are always looking for the best,” he added.

The ministry has been in the eye of a storm over the abrupt transfers of National Museum head Venu Vasudevan and Lalit Kala Akademi chief Kalyan Kumar Chakravarty.

Defending the government’s taking over Lalit Kala Akademi, an autonomous body under the culture ministry, Sharma said this was based on complaints about its mismanagement.

“There is a process of upgrading and addressing issues of the Akademi. We have received many complaints of mismanagement, embezzlement of funds and misappropriation from a section of artists and we acted upon it,” Sharma.

A group of artists has moved the Delhi High Court accusing the government of “trying to change the character” of the Akademi. Sharma said that he would not give importance to the complaint.

“I am not going to give importance to people like Ashok Vajpeyi who officially called (Prime Minister Narendra) Modi the Godhra murderer,” said Sharma. Vajpeyi, a noted Hindi poet, was the Akademi’s chairman from 2008 to 2011.

Vasudevan’s overnight transfer also invited scathing attacks from many quarters. Vasudevan, who revived the National Museum with many innovative and ambitious plans, was transferred to the sports ministry in April.

Sharma maintained that the transfer was a routine administrative process. “We have nothing against Venu Vasudevan. He was appointed as an administrator and was doing good work. However, we were always on the lookout for better people who have more technical experience related to museums,” said Sharma.

Vasudevan, whose tenure was to expire in December 2016, was shunted without being given any specific reason. While the advertisement for Vasudevan’s replacement was issued only his transfer, Sharma said the “right person” had already been identified.

“Yes, we have advertised for the position and have identified the right person with more technical experience and expertise of museums,” said Sharma.

However, the future of many ambitious projects that were in the pipeline is in a limbo after Vasudevan’s exit. Protesting his transfer, Ashok Vajpeyi, historian Romila Thapar and art critic Ranjit Hoskote have initiated an online petition that is likely to be submitted to President Pranab Mukherjee.

Eyebrows were also raised when Dipali Khanna did not get a second term as the Member Secretary of the Indira Gandhi National Centre of Arts (IGNCA).

Khanna had given IGNCA a new lease of life by initiating many successful programmes and exhibitions. “This decision is also a part of the government’s plan to introduce changes. We are looking to fill the position and will soon find one,” said Sharma.

Earlier this year, noted danseuse Leela Sampson had quit as the censor board chief after its decision against a film was overturned by an appealate tribunal. The censor board comes under the information and broadcasting ministry.