Kannada writer and Jnanpith awardee Chandrashekhara Kambara was on Monday elected president of Sahitya Akademi, defeating his nearest rival, Odiya novelist and another Jnanpith recipient Pratibha Ray, by 27 votes. Ray secured 29 votes as against Kambara’s 56, while the third candidate, Marathi writer Bhalchandra Nemade, got four votes.
Kambara, 81, is a prominent poet, playwright, folklorist and film director in Kannada language, and founder-vice-chancellor of Kannada University in Hampi. He has served as a member of Sahitya Akademi’s executive board for more than 10 years and has been its vice-president since 2013. “Traditionally, the vice-president of the Akademi gets elected as president,” said an office-bearer of the Akademi.
The Akademi’s general council, with 99 members, elects its president and vice-president for a term of five years.
Hindi poet Madhav Koushik was elected vice-president. He told The Indian Express, “The organisation has a long commitment to literary values and ideals, established by Jawaharlal Nehru. It publishes Indian literature in 24 languages, our focus will now be on tribal languages and dialect, and also to document oral traditions of India.” He said his focus will also be to establish Indian literature internationally, and involving the younger generation towards that goal. “Our real aim is to establish unity of thought in the country even as the languages may be diverse,” he said.
Chander Tirkha, outgoing member of the Akademi’s general council, said, “Of all the cultural institutions in the country, Sahitya Akademi is considered the most independent and prestigious body since it has representatives from all 28 states and more than two dozen universities.”
Kambara is the third Kannada author, after Vinayaka Krishna Gokak and U R Ananthamurthy, to head the institution. In his plays, Kambara interlinks folklore and mythology with issues such as crisis of feudalism, native identities, colonialism, sex and the loss of faith.
He has been conferred with the Padma Shri, Kabir Samman and Kalidas Samman, besides being a nominated member of the Karnataka Legislative Council.