Artists are the conscience-keepers of every society. In their voices, words and work, are the views of the millions of those who are unable to express themselves, either by compulsion or circumstance. When an artist speaks, he or she is not merely speaking for an individual but also a wider community of people. Which is why, when artists speak, they must also speak with respect for facts.
I was a little troubled and surprised to see the brouhaha over T M Krishna’s concert being “scrapped” by the Airports Authority of India, which some people even extended to saying Krishna is unable to sing in our national capital! Let me begin with the factual inaccuracy of this narrative — it was not only Krishna’s concert that was cancelled, for reasons duly specified by the AAI but also a programme where other artists including me were to perform.
As an artist with over five decades of experience, one has to be prepared for any eventuality, including the cancellation of a programme. I am sure this was not the first or the last programme of Krishna’s that has been cancelled.
The other worrying aspect of this debate surrounding Krishna is the scary practice of seeing meanings and narratives that do not exist. Krishna’s political views are more than well known but that has never prevented him from performing anywhere across India. I am also confident that he will get many more forums to perform. It is intriguing why this one cancellation of a programme has only become about Krishna and the purported hand of the Narendra Modi government as well as the prime minister personally! Disagreeing, and in Krishna’s case, severely disliking the prime minister, is fine, but what is not is to make this about an assault on freedom of expression, where there is none.
The third and important part of my argument stems from the point I made about the conduct of artists. What we say and do must be in the realm of facts and logic. Of course, disagreements with those in power is natural for an artist — our minds are too free to be boxed into particular groups and parties.
However, what is disturbing is when such disagreements take a bitter personal tone. I was extremely disappointed when Krishna (since we are talking about him), called Prime Minister Modi’s Israel visit ill-advised and much worse, a “love fest”. Surely, such a phrase has no intellectual connotations attached with it. He has spared no opportunity to personally criticise the prime minister, his political background, equating him with other leaders and more. His views are not those of an artist but those of a political activist, which again is fine. But one only wishes he explicitly says so.
Artists can be activists but they cannot make it mandatory for everyone to support this love for activism. It is also high time that many people in our fraternity stop linking every problem in their life, starting from the cancellation of a concert to more, to Prime Minister Modi (who has, as a matter of fact, had a continued engagement with Spic Macay from his days as chief minister). This trend exposes a deep intellectual bankruptcy, something no artist ought to have.
Thankfully, the makers of our Constitution built robust systems that acted as bulwarks at times when our freedom was tested the most. The mind goes back to the horrific days of the Emergency, when artists bore the brunt of the brutality. In fact, if one wants to see how concerts got “cancelled” and patronage was distributed, one need look no further than the history of those days. That is what would accurately describe as “scrapping” of concerts. Traces of the same also happened after 2004 when the likes of Anupam Kher, Raveena Tandon and myself were rather unceremoniously removed from our various positions. Our only crime — we were appointed by an earlier regime.
Back in 2014, Krishna wrote, “Musicians, as citizens, have every right to have strong political positions and express them but how does one — can one — retain musical aesthetics while using music to advance one’s own socio-political positions?” Today, who is doing the same?
There is no moral superiority in either being an artist or a political activist. Both work in their own domains. However, it would be hypocritical to act as a vicious political activist and claim the privileges of an artist. It would also be immoral. If you are convinced about your political activism do it openly like thousands of others. Don’t use the garb of art to promote politics. And, do not see imaginary hands that do not exist.