Hunt on for culture boss

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  • Published 4.06.09

New Delhi, June 4: Wanted, a culture minister who can help weed out the ideological remnants of the NDA regime.

While former human resource development minister Arjun Singh might have been the appropriate candidate for the detoxification agenda, sources said Congress leaders didn’t want a career politician saddled with a baggage.

“We would like an expert who will appreciate and understand the Congress’s expectations from the ministry and deliver without entangling the party and the government in controversies like Arjun had,” a source said.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh now holds the culture portfolio and V. Narayanaswamy, the minister of state for planning and parliamentary affairs, has been asked to hold additional charge of the ministry, whose budgetary allocation for 2009-10 is Rs 1,226 crore.

But sources said this was a “temporary arrangement” and Sonia Gandhi and her political aides were looking at “CVs”.

The sources said Kapila Vatsyayan, a Rajya Sabha MP and an expert in education, culture and the arts, would have been the “natural choice” but for a minor point of order.

The 78-year-old, associated with three generations of the Gandhi family, is a nominated member. While nominated members enjoy most of the powers, privileges and immunities of MPs, so far none has been inducted into the council of ministers.

Under Article 99 of the Constitution, nominated members can join a political party within six months of assuming their seat in the House. If they don’t, they continue to remain unattached.

Although neither the Constitution nor rules of the House bar a nominated member from becoming a minister, Congress sources said they were in “two minds” on setting a precedent. “We would wish to play by the book,” said a source.

The sources said the party was looking at a mechanism to make Kapila an adviser with the rank of a minister.

Kapila, whom the BJP had privately dubbed the Congress’s “favourite cultural czarina”, was a prime target of the NDA regime’s cultural-cleansing drive.

She was forcibly retired as a member of the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts — the culture ministry’s premier autonomous trust set up in 1987 by Rajiv Gandhi.

In 2005, the UPA government quietly reinstated her. Kapila was also asked to head an advisory council for the culture ministry, which has several subordinate offices under it such as the Anthropological Survey of India, National Library, Calcutta, and the Archaeological Survey of India.

Autonomous bodies under it include the Lalit Kala Academy, Sahitya Akademi, Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, New Delhi, and Victoria Memorial, Calcutta.

Karan Singh’s name was also in circulation for the culture minister’s job, but sources said that in the past, he had evinced interest only in the foreign ministry.

The other name mentioned was that of Jyotindra Jain, who combined his knowledge of anthropology and history of art to document and analyse folk and tribal arts. Jain is a member secretary of the IGNCA and is said to be “highly regarded” by the Congress brass.

Sources said in its first tenure, the UPA government didn’t do anything “noteworthy” in the culture ministry except for embroiling it in an embarrassment over the Sethusamudram project. An affidavit filed in the Supreme Court by the ministry challenged the historicity of Ram.

Sources said with a renewed mandate, the UPA government was expected to look at the way NDA appointees to cultural institutions allegedly tweaked evidence to suit the RSS’s version of history.

For example, in 2000, the National Museum in its catalogue for a new Harappan gallery, had endorsed the Sangh’s claim that the Harappan and Vedic civilisations were one and the same. The idea, sources said, was to demonstrate the “indigenity” of Hinduism vis-à-vis Islam and Christianity.

The claim was based on a letter written by N.S. Rajaram who had co-authored a book, The Deciphered Indus Script. The book was debunked by well-known Indologist Michael Witzel and comparative historian Steve Farmer.