DISTORTING A CULTURAL LEGACY

By not tossing Leela Samson, the Government of India has, in fact, displayed a spirit of fair-play. And she, by accusing it of interfering and obstructing her work, has only taken recourse to falsehood in order to perpetuate a hollow impression of victimhood

The founding ideal of the Kalakshetra, was the regeneration of the Indian arts. Articulating her founding ideal, the legendary, Rukmini Devi Arundale noted that the institution was founded “with the sole purpose of resuscitating in modern India recognition of the priceless artistic traditions of our country and of imparting to the young the true spirit of art.”

A vibrant dimension of the nationalist movement in India was the advocacy and effort to regenerate her arts. Some of the leading minds of the nationalist movement, noted how education in India owed no responsibility to carry forward her cultural ideals, allowing these to wither away before the juggernaut of an alien education.

Ananda Coomaraswamy pointed at this cultural challenge when he complained how education in India “destroys, in the great majority of those upon whom it is inflicted, all capacity for the appreciation of Indian culture.” Thus, in the call for national awakening was included a determined call to work for the regeneration of Indian arts.

The Swadeshi movement in Bengal, for example, had, as one of its sustaining stream, the Swadeshi art movement that attracted some of the youngest and best artistic minds of the era. Abanindranath Tagore, Nandalal Bose, supported by the likes of Sister Nivedita and Rabindranath Tagore, were some of the most dynamic proponents of this movement. The Bengal school of art, which they eventually shaped through their art activism, did leave a deep impression on the quest for cultural regeneration and autonomy over the entire land.

Like the national education movement, the nationalist art and cultural movement became a crucial pillar of the political movement in India. The founding of Visva-Bharati, of the Kalakshetra, among others, were manifestations of that cultural quest seeking to express and unshackle the cultural spirit of India.

Unfortunately, these founding ideals faced dilution in an independent India allowing the concerned cultural or education institutions to wallow in acrise d’identité that gradually, led to its diversion from the original vision.  The Kalakshetra, so assiduously created and nurtured by Rukmini Devi, fell on evil days when one of its directors, herself trained under its founder, decided to de-identify and de-culturalise it. Wherever she has undertaken some directional responsibility, Leela Samson, danseuse and disciple of Rukmini Devi, has always tampered with the founding ideal or vision of the institution either by altering its original identity or allowing a degree of anarchy or inefficiency to creep in. It would thus, be useful to look at some of the exploits of this accomplished wrecker of institutions.

Ms Samson’s handling of affairs at Kalakshetra has been amply documented. It was soon after she took over in 2005, that the institution’s de-culturisation began. While Rukmini Devi celebrated the abundance of Hindu deities and Hindu origin of Indian dance forms seeing this, as essential to the regeneration of Indian arts, Ms Samson, worked to eradicate these from the daily activities of the institutions. While Rukmini Devi saw as intrinsic and organic the Hindu identity of Kalakshetra, Ms Samson, in her tenure, strove to de-Hinduise the institution, laughing-off Hindu deities as so many comic characters that needed to be erased if serious art was to thrive.

Her tenure as a Director thus, emerged to be a tumultuous one, posing a serious existential and identity crisis before the institution itself. This was the period which also saw the sidelining of a number of old inmates and associates, who had actually worked with its founder to enable the institution to strike deep cultural roots. Apart from diluting its core identity, the institution also saw administrative irregularities during her tenure, allowing the shadow of maladministration to fall upon that hallowed body.

The office of the Principal Accountant-General (Civil Audit), Tamil Nadu and Puducherry, in a report in 2011, for example, pointed out how Ms Samson, in her capacity as Director, followed an irregular policy of awarding civil construction contracts bypassing the tender route and allowing a select group to monopolise construction activities in the institution. The CAG report also pointed out how work worth Rs32 lakh, Rs62 lakh and even Rs3.9 crore was sanctioned bypassing “established procedures of tendering.” The litany continues, despite crossing the age of superannuation, Ms Samson continued to stick to the chair of this premier cultural body till the Madras High Court, hearing a Public Interest Litigation, forced her to relinquish it.

Due to her proximity to some leading political masters in the previous Government, Ms Samson was showered with posts, not only was she director of Kalakshetra, she headed the Sangeet Natak Akademi and eventually the Central Board of Film Certification.

Even here, as the Chairperson of the CBFC, Ms Samson’s record was not unblemished. True to her nature, she lowered its ethical standards. Her action of accepting to continue, under the present dispensation — which, by the way, showed remarkable magnanimity by asking her to stay on till alternate arrangements were made and did not act in the way her actual political patrons always do, that is by throwing out political appointees of opposing parties — displayed her sense of opportunism and her habit of being unable to stay without a defining post.

Ms Samson’s reputation of patronising irregularities followed her when her selection, Rakesh Kumar, the CBFC Chief Executive Officer, was arrested by the Central Bureau of Investigation last August for taking bribes and running a commission racket in order to certify films. But Ms Samson did not resign then, preferring to remain silent. Under her tenure the CBFC saw the least activity, with meetings not being regularly convened and funds allocated for its functioning lapsing due to inaction.

By not tossing her out, the present  Government of India, has, in fact, displayed a spirit of fair-play and Ms Samson, by accusing it of interfering and obstructing her work, has only taken recourse, as she has always done in the past, to falsehood in order to perpetuate a hollow impression of victimhood. It is time Ms Samson’s false leela and that of her ilk be exposed for the benefit of our national cultural health, enabling us to achieve our larger cultural goals.

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