In Indira Centre for Arts, vision for ‘cultural reform’

IGNCA head says it is guided by tenure of former PM, denies thrust on single line of thought

Written by Seema Chishti | New Delhi | Published:June 1, 2017 3:52 am
IGNCA, Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, india news Ram Bahadur Rai, IGNCA president, says that in the 1980s Indira ‘moved towards politics of Hindutva’. Anil Sharma

A YEAR after it was reconstituted, the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA) Trust has come up with a ‘Vision Document’ outlining its approach under the NDA, and as per the IGNCA head, it is guided by the former prime minister’s tenure.

“Indira Gandhi, when she returned in 1980 (to power), whatever she thought, that is being pushed forth by this government. Punjab, J&K… when events took shape there, Indira Gandhi moved towards the politics of Hindutva. Not just that, the Ayodhya question was pushed by her, before Rajiv Gandhi. Read P V Narasimha Rao. So Indira Gandhi did other things in 1971, but the 1980s Indira Gandhi was a completely changed person and that is why the Golden Temple case (Operation Blue Star) happened and terror flourished in J&K,” IGNCA president Ram Bahadur Rai told The Indian Express.

As part of the reconstitution, a Vision Committee had been appointed, which has now come out with the document. It talks of a seven-point ‘Vision’, a seven-point ‘Mission’ and some ‘Recommendations’, underlined by “cultural rejuvenation” and “cultural reform”. The document also talks of an “urgent need for internal changes to make it (IGNCA) a vibrant national institution for art and culture”.

The IGNCA was established as an autonomous trust on March 19, 1987, “to promote the preservation and integrated development” of the arts.

Rai denied that the thrust at the new IGNCA was to prioritise only one slice of thought about India. “We started the Cultural Dialogue Series with Namvar Singh late last year. He is the most well-respected Hindi writer at the moment, he has contested elections on a CPI ticket and is a JNU professor. When we wanted to honour him, it was with a view to saying how we wanted all to come to this forum and debate ideas. But several authors dissuaded him from coming. We got hit from both sides. The RSS and ABVP opposed Namvar coming, and those who bear the flag for the Communist Party opposed [it] too. We were in a quandary, that if the groom disappears, what would happen to the baraat?”

Rai said they plan next to call B B Lal, the archaeologist most relied upon by votaries of the Ayodhya Ram temple, to honour him. “We have also called author Rajiv Malhotra (a Hindutva ideologue) for a seminar.”

In the ‘Recommendations’ section, the vision document talks of how the IGNCA can play a “key role” in cultural reforms. It says “the process of redefining India has begun, the IGNCA can become a crusader of this message in and around the country”. In ‘Research’, emphasis is on “taking up the study of the spread of Indian art and culture in various countries of South-East Asia, [beginning] with Bali island, where more than 90 per cent of the population calls itself Hindu and has preserved its Indianness for about 1,500 years”.

In five ‘general suggestions’, the Vision Document underlines the need for the IGNCA to act as “a premier agency for art and culture as carriers of Sanatana Dharma”.

‘Mission’ speaks of promoting “Indology studies from Indian perspective”. Rai said, “Till 1857, the British thought India was superior, and called it Bharat Varsha. But after that, it was treated as a conquest, they started to rule. Especially in their Census and the history they wrote. The Census was meant to divide us into religions, make castes fight. Indology must correct this now. I have not studied the RSS’s Indology, but Prabhash Joshi’s. We need to fix the historical wrongs brought by the British view of India. Indology in Hindi is Bharat Vidya, it contains history. Bharat ki bhoomi pe jo vidya paida hui, uski parampara kya hai (what is the tradition of knowledge that was born in India), and how to take this forward. Those people who accept British version as the root will clash with that view, yes.”

Further on Indira, Rai talked of the Meenakshipuram conversions in Tamil Nadu in 1981, when Dalits en masse adopted Islam against discrimination. “On Indira Gandhi’s urging, an all-party delegation went there and, unlike in any other conversion, there was a long discussion in Parliament on this.”

Denying that the Centre named after Indira is going against her principles, he said there was no denying the contribution of all religions to India’s development. “Hamare maanane ya na maanane se kuchch nahin hota (It is not a question of whether we agree to this or not). The contribution of all, is a fact… India is not two-three years old, isme sab shaamil hain. But what to call this (phenomenon) that is another matter.”

Rai lamented the lack of “the right temperament for research” in India. “There are very few people focusing on one issue as a mission and immersing themselves and producing it, for example how Ram Bilas Sharma focused on one issue and proved that the Aryan civilisation did not come from outside. He disproved that old theory. That is research. Or consider Ujjain-based Hari Babu Wakankar, who through diggings established that the river Saraswati flowed. He used to sit amongst stones, I have visited him there,” he said. “We need to break away from vote politics and create a research environment. We must try and ensure that all things do not become a matter of political debate. This will take time but it will happen.” A veteran Hindi journalist, he said, “A major part of our efforts is to get some work done in Hindi. Out of 80 books published for instance by the IGNCA, only two-three are in Hindi.”

He asked why the Centre, “knowingly or unknowingly [has] remained an elite institution” for the 30 years of its existence. “The library has nearly 2.5 lakh books, but only 125 members.” The first thing they did upon taking charge, he said, was to “approach 400 universities, so that this library could be used”.

On the controversy over IGNCA co-founder Kapila Vatsayayan’s collection being moved to the basement, Rai said, “Kapilaji pareshaan hain, but let me tell you what we have decided… We have many collections here. We want to place all the collections in one place. Her collection was by mistake lifted and kept at some other place. Kapilaji was told by her friends here. So we have decided that she will be brought here, and wherever she wants, we will keep her collection there. We wish to keep all the collections in a particular place in the library, and we will urge her to choose a place in that part of the library.”

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