When Imphal-based ‘protest musician’ Akhu Chingangbam first heard about the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) approaching his band Imphal Talkies for a concert last month, to celebrate India’s 70th year of Independence and 75 years of the Quit India Movement, he found it “rather funny”.
With songs such as ‘India, I see blood in your hands’ and others against AFSPA, Chingangbam wondered how his band was expected to follow the directive of “at least two patriotic songs” in the set list. “Of course, I said no… there are ideological differences. This is not the kind of music we play,” he said.
A letter by the MHRD to “vice chancellors/directors/heads of the 75 higher education institutions” dated August 21, 2017, dictates the arrangements that colleges need to make for ‘Yeh India ka Time Hai’. The letter states that “considering the band playing patriotic tunes, suitable decorum should be maintained”. The letter mentions 75 bands from across the country — a list prepared by National Film Development Corporation of India (NFDC) — and was revised when several bands refused to participate in the event.
A letter sent to a Mumbai-based band by NFDC was accessed by The Indian Express. It reads, “This event is an extension of ‘Sankalp se Siddhi’ campaign. The campaign showcased Prime Minister’s vision to create a better India which will help in bringing forth a corruption-free country by 2022… Bands have to sing their own songs and patriotic songs.”
The concerts, titled ‘Yeh India ka Time Hai’, will continue till the end of September. Bands such as Guwahati-based metal act Lucid Recess, Delhi-based contemporary-pop-jazz act Shadow and Light, and Mumbai’s world music outfit Manish J Tipu’s Neo Gharana have already performed in IITs across the country.
“We wrote one patriotic song years ago but it’s in English, so when we had our performance at IIT Guwahati on September 3, we got a friend on board to do the two patriotic songs in Hindi — Vande Mataram and Bharat Humko Jaan Se Pyaara Hai. We don’t mind this only because there is a theme in place,” said Amitabh Barooa of Lucid Recess.
Like Chingangbam’s, some other bands that were approached in August for the series of concerts also refused. “We don’t do patriotic music… we will not compromise, no matter where we play,” said Arsh Sharma of Delhi-based band FuzzCulture.
Another band, on condition of anonymity, said, “While we don’t make protest music, we do oppose the actions of this government… it would be hypocritical of us to fall for their definition of ‘patriotic’. This is why we refused.”
Mumbai-based musician Anant Donn Bhatt said he was willing at first. “They never mentioned the bit about playing patriotic music… but the person who spoke to me mentioned they would send me a set list. That’s when I refused,” he said.
According to Subir Malik, who manages a plethora of bands in and around Delhi, “a number of bands would have refused anyway… since budgets don’t fit. I couldn’t provide Hari Sukhmani because of date problems… we were asked to participate a week before the concert, this should have been done six months ago.”
According to government sources, the idea to have bands play patriotic songs at educational institutions was mooted by the Information and Broadcasting Ministry headed by Smriti Irani. The I&B Ministry then requested MHRD to ask educational institutions to arrange for performances by bands shortlisted by NFDC.
A senior MHRD official said, “It was NFDC’s job to shortlist and approach the bands. We are not aware if some (bands) have refused to play. As far as we (MHRD) are concerned, all educational institutions have held the said performances and the campaign has been very successful, as you will be able to see from the social media posts.”