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Haksar revisited: overhaul the Akademis
- Lada Guruden Singh, Delhi

May 22, 2005

Fifteen years after the High Powered Committee chaired by P N Haksar submitted its path breaking report on the working of the three National Akademis, the Sahitya Akademi, the Sangeet Natak Akademi and the Lalit Kala Akademi, and the National School of Drama, we are witnessing the biggest ever crisis in the SNA, that has not only taken a political turn but has also polarized the artiste community like never before.

While, it would be a little na´ve to lay the blame on one person, one gets the feeling after reading the entire Haksar Committee Report that there are more grey areas that exist beyond personality clashes and need to be addressed.

It must be noted that unlike previous committees, which relied on statistical data and questionnaire responses to arrive at certain conclusions, the Haksar Committee interviewed nearly 1200 people from the fields of performing and visual arts and literature, in over eighteen cities. Here, we look at some broad issues raised by the committee with special reference to the SNA.

Impact and Interaction
The most common accusation levelled against the Akademis has been that they are Delhi- centric. Moreover, the committee had reported that there was little evidence of the presence of the State Akademis in the border areas of the country which were ( and are) known to be functioning as the "limbs of the State Governments" often serving the interests of the political personalities. How far have we come in granting full autonomy to the State Akademis? If one looks at the recent brawl in the SNA, then the first lot of artistes who raised their banner of revolt belonged to Chennai. Chennai has a strong sabha culture that sustains a number of dancers and musicians, unlike in North, East or West where most artistes expressed their anger only in private and refused to come out in public for fear of losing the patronage of the SNA, by aligning themselves in groups. Does that not mean that we still lack a cohesive infrastructure to promote, project and protect the regional interests of the artistes? With Zonal Cultural Centres coming into the picture, how are we ensuring that the work conducted by them is in keeping with the demands and aspirations of the State Akademis, and not overlapping with those of the national Akademis?

Need for Cultural Policy and Central Intervention
Though Haksar Committee had firmly turned down the idea of India having a cultural policy and had also shown little respect towards an idea of having greater Governmental control over the Akademis, the recent SNA controversy has for the first time brought the Government into the picture, with both sides making representations before the ministers and seeking their intervention. Interestingly, nearly three decades ago, Prof. Noor Ul Hasan, the then Minister for Education, had sought to bring a central legislation for a graded system of governmental powers to regulate the functioning of centrally funded societies like the Akademis. The Central Societies Regulation Bill was introduced in the Parliament and public evidence was also recorded by a committee set up for the purpose. However, before anything could happen, the Parliament was dissolved and the bill lapsed. The bill could have provided the government with various powers to regulate the working of the Akademis. One does not know if that would have served the purpose of having these institutions in the first place. Surely, from the inaugural speeches made by leaders like Jawaharlal Nehru, Maulana Azad and S Radhakrishnan, the Akademis were to be the highest bodies for promoting artistic excellence!

Cultural Infrastructure
On the lines of the National Endowment Funds for Arts in the USA, the Haksar Committee had expressed confidence in the Indian government running on the same formula to provide rich patronage to arts and culture, by ensuring a more balanced corporate and state sponsorship to the arts. The committee had written to a number of corporate houses who expressed willingness to participate in this endeavor. Today individual artistes claim to have the support of the corporates, which proves to benefit a particular individual. The creation of Indian NEFA can check this trend and ensure a cohesive approach towards not only all arts but also artistes across the board, keeping in mind not only their seniority and influence but also talent. If we can flaunt our 'exquisite' knowledge of American Culture and ape them, why can't we, like them, create a national fund by roping in industry tycoons? More NEFA can also be used to create basic infrastructure in big and small cities, which may include creating more performance and rehearsal spaces on one hand, to creating art galleries and better libraries on the other, all of which is desperately required within the country.

Media, Education and Akademis
The Haksar Committee had suggested that the heads of the Doordarshan television and the AIR (All India Radio) must be made members of the General Council and a greater co-ordination should be effected to promote dance, music, theatre and literature. Going by the reach of Cable TV, efforts have to be made to even talk to the private media owners because of their impact, on how to ensure that the coverage is not relegated to canning Page 3 butterflies of art. The committee believed that it was a long-term process and could not be addressed unless a demand was created among the masses. For this, it suggested an aggressive training and teaching of the arts at the school and college level. This was in keeping with the National Policy of Education formulated by the Government in 1986. One feels that it should be compulsory for every student to take up the study of one branch of arts at least up to eighth standard. It could be dance, music, theatre, painting etc. This will automatically generate a need to create jobs for specialized teachers, and further enable the youth of the country to take up the study of the arts, because it will then become a paying profession. However, for this dream to become a reality, there has to be willpower and patience.

Lastly, the Haksar Committee had suggested a uniform method of selecting the Chairpersons of the three Akademis - creating selection committees for each of the three Akademis consisting of three members- one member, nominated by the General council, one member, being the ex chairperson/president of the Akademi and one person nominated by the President. Each selection committee could send a list of three names to the President, who could make the most eligible person from the list, the next chairperson of the Akademi. In the case of SNA where the current chairperson's appointment has been termed political, one feels that even if we follow strict rules of selection there will still be doubts about the genuineness of the selection. So, despite its inherent errors, election may be the best process to appoint the chairperson. While there will be hectic lobbying for the post, one can be assured that there will not be a mid term crisis, if the chairperson is a popular /majority choice!

Personally speaking, an intensive study on the working of the three Akademis must take place after each decade. The Haksar Committee came out with its findings eighteen years after the Khosla Committee report on the Akademis. A decade old study by the Government may be tagged with special grants to the Akademi that performs the best or makes the most vital contribution in that decade. As M V Ramakrishnan, Member secretary of the Haksar Committee says, "This report will stand the test of time and it is the final word on the workings of the Akademis." Even after fifteen years, he is confident of the significance of the report and its conclusions. And he is not far from the truth!

Lada Singh is a Bharatanatyam dancer, journalist, poet, writer and a regular contributor to

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