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Funds hurdle for Vivekananda bash

Swami Vivekananda

New Delhi, Nov. 27: The culture ministry’s plans for the 150-year celebrations of Swami Vivekananda have hit a hurdle, with the finance ministry tightening the purse strings after Pranab Mukherjee’s departure for Rashtrapati Bhavan.

The belated 150-year commemoration of Motilal Nehru — great-grandfather-in-law of Sonia Gandhi — is similarly hobbled despite a far more modest plan. The finance ministry has so far released just Rs 50 lakh of the Rs 20-crore budget sanctioned.

Culture ministry officials admit they had gone a little overboard with their plans for the Vivekananda celebrations because of Mukherjee’s generosity with money for the purpose.

“As long as Pranab Mukherjee was finance minister, we had no problem getting funds because of his interest in the Ramakrishna Mission and other related institutions. The culture ministry too went beyond its brief since the funds were easy to come,” a senior official said.

The culture ministry has already committed more than Rs 75 crore to various organisations for the year-long celebrations but P. Chidambaram’s ministry has given it just Rs 20 crore. The monk’s 150th birth anniversary falls in January next year.

During Mukherjee’s tenure as finance minister, the culture ministry had established a “Swami Vivekananda Indian Ministry of Culture Chair” in the University of Chicago by granting an endowment of around Rs 8 crore.

A sum of Rs 100 crore — to be given over five years — was sanctioned to the Ramakrishna Mission, Belur Math. A budget of Rs 12 crore was cleared for the renovation of four historical monuments by the Archaeological Survey of India.

Mukherjee chaired the national implementation committee formed for the Vivekananda celebrations.

Motilal Nehru was born in May 1861, the same month and year as Rabindranath Tagore, but the culture ministry decided to honour him only in September 2011 after a nudge from its then minister, Kumari Selja.

By then, his 150th birth anniversary had already passed. Ideally, the ministry should have started preparations a year in advance.

A national committee, with Sonia as a member, was formed for the purpose and decided to keep the budget frugal. The ministry officials hastily began preparations and the first function was held in September this year.