Opposition leaders have thrown their weight behind protests against the Centre’s plan to move the art collection at the soon-to-be-sold Air India building in Mumbai to Delhi’s National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA). Congress leader Manish Tiwari tweeted Wednesday, “Why should Air India give its valuable artworks free even to the National Gallery of Modern Art? Why should they not be auctioned? If the iconic Air India building can be sold why not paintings? Why free?”.
Soon, TMC leader Derek O’Brien joined in. “Why should Air India be gifting away artworks worth millions of rupees for free. Be assured, we will investigate. We will act. We are keeping a close watch. Watch this space,” he tweeted. The Maharaja collection, as the collection is called, has over 4,000 works.
The Ministry of Culture clarified Wednesday that the Centre zeroed in on NGMA to transfer the collection by way of donation by Air India since it is the only national institution with a mandate to collect and display Modern art. Culture Secretary Raghavendra Singh told the reporters, “The Ministry of Civil Aviation approached us with the proposal and we are glad to take it on.”
A group of Air India unions has opposed the move. “Crores worth of taxpayer-owned art to be given away for free! @sureshpprabhu @jayantsinha we are watching your looting and pillaging of our national carrier. You are modern day Mahmud of Ghazni,” tweeted Air India Joint Forum Against Crony Capture on Wednesday.
The Culture Ministry said that if the artwork is auctioned, it will end up in private drawing rooms. “We would rather put it up for public display than allow it to land in private drawing rooms,” said the Culture secretary.