Man does not live by bread alone. So West Bengal’s chief minister, Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, can rightly proclaim or pursue his love of films even in what definitely appears to be difficult times for him. His reputation as a film and poetry buff has long earned him a special place among the state’s politicians. In fact, the love of films — Indian and Western — is one thing the Marxist chief minister has in common with his ideological enemy and Union home minister, Mr L.K. Advani. But his offer of financial assistance to the film studies department of Jadavpur University is clearly out of sync with his cash-starved government’s move to cut down all wasteful expenses. State-aided film studies in the time of bankruptcy may not be an entertaining idea. If Mr Bhattacharjee has some money to spare, he would do well to spend it on some health or education project that may be faltering for lack of funds. Since his offer to the university department came a day after his finance minister, Mr Asim Dasgupta, announced a clutch of measures to trim government expenses, it would raise doubts in the public mind about the government’s sense of priorities.
There is, however, a more important reason why the government should not offer any funds towards the promotion of art and culture, whether or not it has the money to do so. The government’s job is to govern — as well as it can. Promoting the arts is not its job, just as running businesses is not its business. The government cannot play with public money in pursuing illegitimate and fruitless aims. Mr Bhattacharjee, who also holds the information and cultural affairs portfolio, seems to be harbouring the illusion that governments or official policy can make any difference to the climate of culture. He should have known the futility of an arts policy after his experiments with government largesse to some film-makers of his choice during the early years of the Left Front regime. Some of those beneficiaries bagged the funds by flaunting their leftist credentials, but never gave any credible account of how they spent the money. It is time he realized the absurdity of a public policy for the arts.