Wanted: Culture minister with arts background

June 7th, 2009 - 4:19 pm ICT by IANS  

Manmohan Singh By Madhusree Chatterjee
New Delhi, June 7 (IANS) As the new government looks for a culture minister, the cultural fraternity is keen that it should be a person who is well grounded in the arts.

The minister should be given independent charge at the earliest, is the chorus across the fraternity.

The culture ministry may remain with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh till Congress president Sonia Gandhi picks someone of her choice, given her interest in the subject. She has done courses in art restoration and conservation and has served on various institutions such as the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts.

Several names such as art historian Kapila Vatsayan and historian Jatindra Jain are doing the rounds for the post.

The government might hire the services of an expert for the job instead of a politician or appoint a cultural adviser, sources in the ruling coalition said.

“The country needs a culture minister whose background is education. Someone like (former president) A.P.J Abdul Kalam can do justice to the post because he is sensitive and knows the country and its culture. Even filmmaker Shyam Benegal, a Rajya Sabha member, will be a good choice because he is a filmmaker and a scholar,” Bollywood actor and National Film Development Corp chairman Om Puri told IANS.

“We want someone who will understand the dynamic plurality of Indian culture, give it meaningful shape and carry it to the world,” Lalit Kala Akademi chairperson Ashok Vajpeyi told IANS from Venice. Vajpeyi, a veteran civil servant, is a poet, critic, writer, historian and cultural administrator. He has won the Sahitya Akademi Award for poetry.

The culture department at the moment has an ad hoc head. Minister of State for Planning V. Narayanaswamy holds the additional charge of the ministry.

The post of a culture minister, ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) sources said, was “intentionally left vacant” when the list of ministers was prepared.

“But the government is keen to get a person to head the department soon because major arts and culture promotion plans are on the cards this year,” a senior ministry official told IANS.

The government is also contemplating bestowing more powers on the Central Advisory Board for Culture to implement the national culture policy and coordinate functioning of various cultural institutions.

Vatsayan, a co-founder and head of the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA), was removed by the National Democratic Alliance government. She was rehabilitated when the UPA came to power in 2004 and is now a member of the IGNCA’s advisory board.

She is also vice-chairperson of the 11-member of the culture ministry’s advisory board. Vatsayan is a nominated Rajya Sabha member.

“I think Vatsayan will make a fantastic culture minister. The person to head the department should be well-rounded in the fine arts and have a certain amount of sensitivity. Had Pupul Jayakar been alive, she would have made an excellent culture minister,” Bollywood-based writer, activist and former journalist Nandita Puri said.

The opposition does not favour the culture ministry remaining headless for long.

“Going by past record, I think it’s important to have a culture minister to do justice to the multiplicity of Indian culture as soon as possible. Culture is an important ministry,” Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) politburo member Brinda Karat told IANS.

(Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at madhu.c@ians.in)

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