The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Sonal in full swing, VIPs walk
- Dancer furious after Rajnath & Co leave midway

Bhopal, May 10: Sonal Mansingh was in sublime form, but it takes more than Bharatnatyam to transfix a politician in election time.

Rajnath Singh, though, may have thought twice about leaving midway with a couple of colleagues had he guessed the fury his act would unleash onstage last evening.

Mansingh couldn’t believe her eyes. “Look at them! This is not the way….”

The feet that were gliding effortlessly from Odissi to Bharatnatyam to Chhau a moment ago seemed nailed to the dais.

Her voice rose: “How can they leave in the middle of my performance'”

“They” referred to the BJP president, Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan and culture minister Laxmikant Sharma, all of whom had just disappeared through the auditorium’s exit door.

Mansingh announced she would return the prize money of the Kalidas Samman she had just been handed by Rajnath. “If art is not respected, what is the point in accepting such an award'” she said at the top of her voice.

But Rajnath and Chauhan were already out of earshot. State BJP general secretary Makhan Singh and finance minister Raghavji were on their feet in a jiffy.

Before a stunned Rabindra Bhavan audience, they pleaded with the dancer, believed to be close to the BJP, to resume her performance. The lady was unmoved.

“There has to be a limit. In Delhi, the Prime Minister and President do not leave in the middle of my performance. How can they be so insensitive'”

More persuasion followed. Someone in the audience urged the artiste to “ignore” politicians.

“It’s once in a lifetime that we get to see your performance live, madam,” a man shouted. A voice vote endorsed it.

Finally, the adulation worked. Mansingh took up from where she had left off and within minutes, had the audience enthralled again. “I have forgiven them,” she said curtly before leaving.

India’s politicians are used to inaugurating cultural programmes and walking out midway, with Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee among the few exceptions who make an effort to stay back till the end and congratulate the artistes.

Rajnath would have felt he had done his duty by handing Mansingh the Kalidas Samman a few minutes earlier. With the Uttar Pradesh results to be out tomorrow, he obviously believed he had more pressing matters at hand.

The Congress couldn’t hide its glee at the “shameful” incident that “showed the true face of the BJP”.

“Imagine,” state Congress spokesman Brijmohan Srivastva was wonder-struck, “this happened to a person who has been a BJP sympathiser all along!”

Mansingh was appointed Sangeet Natak Akademi chairperson by the National Democratic Alliance government in December 2003. She was removed in 2005 after 60 artists together petitioned President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam to dismiss their “autocratic” boss.

The complaint said her appointment had come under “dramatic and very curious” circumstances and accused her of having campaigned for the Narendra Modi and A.B. Vajpayee governments.

Mansingh, in turn, accused the “comrades” of trying to create a “cultural Gulag in the country”.

“Is knowing and speaking Sanskrit and being rooted to the culture of one’s existence being saffron'” she had asked, adding she hadn’t been asked before her name was used in the India Shining campaign.

A source close to Rajnath said the BJP president had left because he had to attend a dinner hosted by Chauhan where other ministers were waiting for him. He had then to catch a flight to Delhi.

Rajnath may feel especially aggrieved. Chauhan had earlier in the evening increased the prize money for the Kalidas Samman on the spot, from Rs 1 lakh to Rs 2 lakh, saying the party chief “desired” this.

After presenting the National Kabir award to A.A. Namboodiri of Kerala, and the Kalidas Samman to Mansingh, Puttaraj Kavi Gavai (for classical music), Shanti Dave (for sculpture) and Vimal Lath (for theatre), Rajnath had praised Chauhan for doubling the cash. He said promotion of culture kept society “lively”.

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