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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2610

Now Music Comes with Political Colours

By Tushar Charan - Syndicate Features

Delhi responded heartily to a concert by the renowned Carnatic singer and ‘social activist’ T.M. Krishnan at the Garden of Five Senses--a very apt name for the occasion-- after a programme featuring him and a few other artists was cancelled by the sponsors, SPIC-MACAY and Govt owned - Airports Authority of India (AAI), following protests by alleged right wingers.

The AAI advanced some ridiculous reasons like ‘exigencies of work’ and ‘urgent engagements’ for the sudden withdrawal of support for the concert. Its decision came even as newspapers advertisements were still announcing the programme.

It was a curtailed version of ‘Dance and Music’ that the original sponsors had advertised; there was no dance and music came from only one performer. An obviously elated Krishnan called it ‘celebration of democracy’. The sponsors may have buckled under threat from some bigoted people who apparently enjoyed indirect support of authorities, but not the people of Delhi who came in large numbers to his open air concert on a mildly chilly evening.

Cynics might say that the storm that preceded the cancellation had assured a full house attendance and drew many who probably knew very little about Krishnan or his music, or even his views. If it was an audience of ‘anti-nationals’ what prevented the ‘nationalists’ from marking their raucous and perhaps rowdy presence?

Those who had opposed a cultural programme in Delhi because it was to be attended by Krishnan as well as the original sponsors of the programme ought to do some introspection for adverse publicity they invited. The protestors had found objectionable Krishnan’s views on a range of subjects which clash with the views of the right extremists. Many in Delhi thought it did not matter.

In the eyes of the right extremists who term secular liberal views as ‘anti-national’, his singing of Christian hymns and Muslim prayers, advocating human rights and opposing the ‘caste system’ in Carnatic music make him a dangerous ‘sickular’ and an ‘urban Naxal’. Do all musicians, dancers and other artists have to conform to the views of the right extremists?

One of the classical dancers invited to the doomed ‘Dance and Music’ programme lent her support to the critics of Krishnan in a newspaper article. Her piece appeared to be a eulogy for the prime minister. As an artist she might have done well to clarify her stand on the freedom of expression by fellow artists and their bullying by those deemed close to the ruling dispensation.

But there is not much point in berating the dancer. India has a long tradition of artists enjoying patronage of the people in power, be they kings, politicians or rich industrialists. It is a recent development when artists have not hesitated to speak out against authorities and express contrary views.

It may not have occurred to those who opposed Krishnan’s performing on a Delhi stage that their thoughtless act actually resulted in the Opposition Aam Admi Party gaining unexpected political mileage. When the sponsors said ‘no’ to Krishnan, the AAP quickly invited him to Delhi. The large crowd that greeted the Krishnan performance did not appear to mind when speeches in political tones were interspersed with the concert.

The Opposition party leaders at the venue must have been pleased. The politically loaded message against the short-sightedness of the ruling dispensation was heard loud and clear. AAP must have been greatly relieved to find an occasion where it had scored a clear victory over its tormentors.

The traditional freedom of the practitioners of liberal arts has come under assault in an atmosphere of rapid growth of majoritarianism in the country. To be fair to the BJP-led ruling dispensation, attack on the so-called freedom’ of artists began many years ago with a ban on a series of books because they had allegedly ‘offended’ one section or the other. Liberals cried in the wilderness that such bans did not go down well in a democracy that respected differences in opinions.

One of India’s most famous painters was hounded out of the country when he was nearly 90. The right wing was incensed with him mainly because he had painted ‘scantily clothed’ or nude women, including Hindu goddesses. It made no difference to his detractors that ‘scantily clad’ women have been portrayed in many ancient Indian monuments, including temples. Many believe that the religion of the painter was a factor that worked against him.

Intolerance of dissent has spread far and wide and the extent of freedom enjoyed by artists has shrunk considerably and at a faster rate under the present regime than in any previous rule with the possible exception of less than two years of the Emergency of the 1970s.

The right wing claims to draw its inspiration from ‘Indian culture’ and centuries old ‘sanskars’ (traditions), as defined by its ideologues. It has led to a sudden surfacing of the ‘sanskaris’ in Bollywood, once thought to be free of traditional shackles. Veteran thespians are merrily singing praises of the present rulers, unhesitatingly calling themselves sycophants and unleashing their hate on fellow artists and colleagues who hold contrary views.

When some cine artists expressed a view that was critical of the rulers today they were made to retract their statement or eat their words in the wake of all kinds of threats. Perhaps it may be uncharitable to say that the lure of the money does not allow expression of dissent in the multi-billion film industry of India.

Like Opposition politicians and critical journalists, artists (musicians, dancers etc), cannot open their mouths without being heavily ‘trolled’ or abused on the social media if they disagree with the ways of the ruling dispensation. But what good does it do the country and its image?

- Asian Tribune –

Carnatic music vocalist TM Krishna during the concert," Awam ki Awaz" at the Garden of Five Senses, Saket in New Delhi.
Now Music Comes with Political Colours
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