Art of a partisan

Art of a partisan

TM Krishna’s music is beautiful. But he exploits it for divisive politics.

An artist doesn’t seek a platform of a political party. An artist’s responsibility is “to create a mood” against social evils or for social causes. That’s the difference between a Javed Akhtar and a T M Krishna.

Of the editorials in recent times that exaggerate one point of view as truth to an intelligent ignorance of another is “Show must go on” (IE, November 16) on the controversy associated with T M Krishna. The editorial is an extraordinary obfuscation of facts and Krishna’s holier-than-thou beliefs on art and activism. It disguises Krishna’s unprovoked diatribe as the championing of freedom of art, and must be responded to by decoding Krishna’s ideological mooring.

“The moment you ask difficult questions, and continue asking questions, you are reduced into binaries… We need to politicise art,” said Krishna in his speech at the NCPA in Mumbai. Indeed a thoughtful statement on the relationship between art and politics. All artists are expected to ask questions that dismantle binaries of “them” and “us,” to dismantle ideologies that seek to dominate and oppress. But what if an artist chooses one ideology over the other, pits one community against another, and hides his divisive politics under the mask of the universality of art?

Krishna’s statements over the last few years are entrenched within the binaries of political camps. His artistic expressions and political statements come from two different persons: Krishna the activist is a far cry from Krishna the artist. In art, he expresses beautiful expressions of harmony, in politics, he exploits a sense of prejudice against the Hindus.

One need not be a connoisseur of Carnatic music to appreciate Krishna’s absolute mastery of notes and vocal rhythm. What is there in his music to affront any point of view? Absolutely nothing. His art is useless in the sense Oscar Wilde talked about it: “Art is useless because its aim is simply to create a mood. It is not meant to instruct or influence action in any way.” No art is apolitical, as all art originates from society and every society is politically conscious. But the sculptor’s stone is not the stone thrown in rabblement. Krishna’s choice, as an artist, to sing praises to Jesus or Allah would hardly make his music politically provocative. For a Hindu, it would resonate Krishna, Allah and Jesus in one composite experience of bhavas and rasas. But his assertion that it is a social act beyond the form of the classical and against the Hindu-dominated Indian society is deeply problematic.


In the Indian tradition of art and music, there has never been any restriction on the modification of classical forms to include new elements. The Natyashashtra, the source text for Indian art, theatre, music and performance promotes such variations as “pravritti”. So, the abuse that Krishna faced on social media for introducing new themes is ill-founded.

But over the last few years, Krishna, the artist has been overshadowed by Krishna the activist. In Delhi on November 17, on an AAP platform, it was not Krishna the musician that sought an audience for Krishna the activist but it was a bitter and arrogant activist who sullied the great artist.

The politics of art and the political activism of the artist speak a universal language of dissent. An artist doesn’t seek a platform of a political party. An artist’s responsibility is “to create a mood” against social evils or for social causes. That’s the difference between a Javed Akhtar and a T M Krishna.

At the literature festival in Mumbai, Krishna said, “art is never apolitical. I do not understand how one can be alive and not be an activist”. Fair enough. But what makes his art political? Singing songs of Jesus makes his art spiritual, but his view that this choice is a point to be proven against Hindus makes it political in a destructive way. It only evokes bigotry — not communal and musical harmony. One might argue why his choice is limited to Jesus and Allah, and not the Buddha or Nanak.

Krishna the activist is separate from Krishna the vocalist and seems to exploit the latter for ulterior political intentions. His politics, represented in tweets and interviews, reveals an unreasonable hatred for the prime minister. It is only the sophistry reinforced by his artistic identity that distinguishes him from the trolls who irrationally abuse him.

The recent controversy is about the alleged cancellation of his concert, which was to be held on November 17, hosted by the Airport Authority of India and Spic Macay. AAI’s statement said that the event had to be postponed due to “some exigencies of work”. It featured apart from Krishna other artists, including Sonal Mansingh, Priyadarshni Govind and Shahid Parvez Khan. While none of the other artists had any problem with the postponement, Krishna rushed to the conclusion that the event was cancelled due to his political views . Mansingh is known to have views contrary to Krishna. How is the postponement an attack on Krishna’s freedom and not her’s? His eagerness to embrace the stage offered by the AAP, and supported by political and social activists of the left, contradicts his claim that art should not be reduced to binaries. His activism dabbles in identity and power politics, and consolidates the binaries of left and right.