The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Mahasweta loses Akademi election

New Delhi, Feb. 17: In a literary battle charged with political overtones, Urdu literary critic Gopichand Narang today beat Bengali author and Jnanpith Award-winner Mahasweta Devi to the post of president of the Sahitya Akademi.

Of the 94 votes polled, Narang, the Akademi’s outgoing vice-president, netted 56 votes. Mahasweta Devi got 34.

The contest, seen by many as a tug-of-war between the Right and the Left, led to a volley of charges and counter-charges. Leftist literary critics alleged that Narang had an ambivalent stand on communalism, while the Right-wing lobby said the Left had propped up Mahasweta Devi.

Rarely has the contest for the Sahitya Akademi top post generated such heat and frenzy. The last time such excitement accompanied the polling was a decade ago when U.R. Ananthamurthy defeated Gangadhar Gadgil, the outgoing president.

“I am an independent person, committed to writing for (the) marginalised sections and secularism,” said Narang soon after he was declared the winner. “I am committed to securing and preserving the freedom of authors and there is no threat to the basic character of the Akademi,” he added.

The southern votes in the Akademi seemed to have gone in favour of Mahasweta Devi but a split was suspected in the Bengal votes. The Bengal lobby was rooting for author Sunil Gangopadhyay as the next vice-president, if not president. The southern group had its own candidate in M.T. Vasudevan Nair.

Mahasweta Devi had said after her candidature that her writer-friends had pushed her to the contest. “They have been asking me for a long time. Finally I have relented,” she had said. Leftist academic Namwar Singh and bureaucrat-poet Ashok Vajpayee are believed to have been instrumental in persuading her.

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