May 17, 2014
India has decided. Historic mandates, sweeping victories for the Narendra Modi led BJP party and 100 million young new registered voters have helped transform the electoral visage of Indian democracy. Even though half a million citizens exercised their NOTA (none of the above), it was a wave for one man and a total rout for one family that has held control for most of India's 67 year old history as an independent nation. While AMMA (Jayalalitha) has returned with imperious dominance in my homestate of Tamilnadu, we, who work in the CREATIVE INDUSTRIES need to contemplate deeply and vigorously about how this COULD and SHOULD affect our cultural policy.
First, does India have a cultural policy? Many have asked me when I travel and I have not been able to answer articulately. Having served on several national level committees on culture over the past 18 years, I can say that Delhi seems to be very far away from the rest of India. Watching power and resources concentrated in one city and many in positions of power clueless about what is emerging in the visual and performing arts in the South, West and Eastern parts of India, these elections signal a change for a reality check.
Online and social media managers for the winning party were all under age 40, many moving to India 18 months ago from UK and the USA to trigger the youth wave for the saffron party. Today, young India does not care who has been educated in Oxford, Harvard or Yale. India wants and demands change and good governance. A 'chaiwallah' has marched to the capital city and already world leaders who stood on their own moral high ground about denying a visa or refusing to meet with this "tea-maker" have all sent messages, phone calls and open invitations to visit.
Letís not get too optimistic. Remember the seminal novel THE ICARUS AGENDA, a 1988 political thriller novel by Robert Ludlum. It tells of the morbid and cynical web that surrounds all global leaders. They are but puppets in the hands of larger business interests. That, all results are engineered, managed and staged. The American hit TV series SCANDAL and HOUSE OF CARDS are reminders that all is never what it seems.
What we artistes need to do is ENGAGE. Engage in discourse, dialogue with maturity and rigour. There is no point in standing aloof, feigning boredom and distance. This is the time to acknowledge that we live in fluid times... "We live multiply and fluidly" (articulated by cultural theorist Anjana Raghavan). To ignore that will be at our own peril. The hegemony of the classical arts may well intensify if the artistes in that world allow themselves and their art to be co-opted by political interests. India's 'soft power' is in a chatterati mode. It does not sing with the power and vigour of an art form that has stunned the world for so many centuries. It stutters, mutters and whispers in the corridors of power.
Will we see a decrease of cronyism in the corridors of Culture Ministries? Will undeserving people continue to get awards? Will the gifting of saris and expensive gifts to wives, husbands and significant others of ministers and their offspring continue? Letís not be naive... Those deeds may well continue and increase.
Will Hema Malini, Sonal Mansingh and Pratibha Prahlad - all three dancers who have been aligned with the BJP party be given prominent posts in Culture? All these are questions up in the air. The larger question for Culture is - WHAT IS THE WAY AHEAD? Will Modi and his party really care about India's cultural fabric?
Engaging with politics is very necessary for cultural workers more than ever. Our work is cut out before us. Sanjana Kapoor of PRITHVI THEATRE / JUNOON has written a very important and must-read paper about the future of India's cultural policies. (As I write this, I have requested a copy from Sanjana and will share it with readers soon.)
Meanwhile, as India celebrates, I join my citizens and those around the world who have watched an amazing democratic moment play itself out.
India- you continue to inspire, amaze and delight!
Dr Anita R Ratnam
Facebook: Anita R Ratnam
Blog: THE A LIST / anita-ratnam.blogspot.in