Writers played into Congress' hands by returning awards: Mahesh Sharma (Interview: Two years of government)

Updated on : May 26,2016   6:08 pm

New Delhi, May 26 (IANS) As the Narendra Modi government completes two years in office, Mahesh Sharma, Minister for Culture and Tourism said that the 'award return' movement, one of the major controversies that rocked the government last year, was politically motivated to taint the nation and accused writers of colluding with the Congress party.

Sharma charged writers of "committing a crime" by declaring India as intolerant, fuelling a worldwide debate, joined by scientists and people from other countries. "It's unfortunate that writers became political and played into the hands of Congress party. They have tainted the image of the nation," the minister said in an interview to IANS at his Rajaji Marg residence here.

The minister said the movement was orchestrated for the Bihar elections. "It started with Bihar elections and ended after the elections," he said. Over 41 writers had returned Sahitya Akademi awards last year protesting the killing of writers and rising intolerance in the country.

"The murders happened in two states, which are not ruled by BJP. A group of literary people headed by poet Ashok Vajpayee initiated the movement, who were against Modi becoming the PM," Sharma said.

Taking stock of the two years of his ministry, the minister said that he had initiated a major revamp in 42 institutions under his ministry including Nehru Memorial Museum and Library (NMML) and Indira Gandhi National Centre For the Arts ( IGNCA). "We have 42 organisations and most of them were in bad shape. Especially the Asiatic Society, which was ruined by labour issues. We set the ball rolling everywhere,".

The ministry drew criticism last year after the resignation of Mahesh Rangarajan, director of NMML, as the opposition and intellectuals alleged that he had been made to quit under pressure from the BJP government. The post is still lying vacant.

"In the case of Rangarajan, it was an illegal appointment. The new head will be decided soon," said Sharma adding that changing the heads of institutions was a "routine process" by the government.

Similarly, the Director-General post of National Museum is still open after Venu Vasudevan was removed last May, without citing any reason.

"The process of appointment is going on," the minister said. According to reports, over 50 positions are to be filled in 15 organisations under the ministry.

The ministry's recent move to rejig the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA) has raised many eyebrows as the move was seen to be aimed at filling posts with BJP loyalists. Opposition parties have criticised the government for "saffronising" the IGNCA. The government had appointed journalist Ram Bahadur Rai, a former national president of the Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad, as its head.

Sharma, however, defended the decision.

"Earlier, IGNCA constituted of people like Sonia Gandhi, Narasimha Rao and all. The new list has no political people and its mostly artists," he said.

The minister also chose to bypass the issue of renaming Akbar road as Maharana Pratap road, as suggested by his colleague V K Singh, the minister of state for external affairs.

"I have not suggested any name change. It's the government's call and my ministry has no role in it," he said.

The Culture Ministry's stand on bringing back the Kohinoor diamond to India from the United Kingdom had created a stir last month when it told the Supreme Court that the diamond was a gift to Britain and it was not taken away forcefully.

However, in an about turn after protests from many quarters, the ministry changed its stand.

"It was the Solicitor General who made the statement in the court. They took some information from the Culture Ministry. However, the government's stand is that we are committed to bring it back at any cost," he said..

Asked if he had run into trouble by calling the lynching of a 50-year-old man allegedly over cooking beef in Dadri as 'an accident', he denied saying so.

"I didn't make any statements on beef. People asked me whether it was a conspiracy by RSS. I never had to withdraw my statements and I was never arrogant," he insisted.

Asked if he was expected to play a bigger role in the Uttar Pradesh elections next year, the minister said " I am content in what I am doing. However, as a party worker, I will follow whatever the party wants me to do".

He also said that the world cultural festival held by his ministry recently showcased Indian heritage to the world through institutions.

According to him, the agenda for the third year was to strengthen the institutions. "I am satisfied about the last two years of the ministry. We fulfilled the promise of releasing Subhas Chandra Bose files and we will do more," he said.

(Preetha Nair can be reached at preetha.n@ians.in)