The ‘left’ and ‘right’ of literary-cultural bodies

The ‘left’ and ‘right’ of literary-cultural bodies & the elusive middle ground

Karnataka, seen as the BJP’s gateway to the south, will face elections in a little over a year from now

Mahesh Joshi, elected as the Kannada Sahitya Parishat president earlier this week, is said to have had the RSS' backing. Credit: DH File Photo

A photograph showing Kannada Janapada Academy president Manjamma Jogati seated next to the portrait of K B Hedgewar, the founding sarsanghchalak of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), was widely shared earlier this year.

This was when Jogati, the first transperson to head a state-run academy in Karnataka, visited the RSS headquarters in Bengaluru, just days after the Centre announced that she had been picked for the Padmashri award.

At Keshava Krupa, the fortified RSS office, Jogati’s audience was small, but included veteran pracharaks such as K S Nagaraj.

This was seen as the RSS accumulating more cultural capital, an exercise that appears to have gained momentum under the ruling BJP, whose ideological parent is the RSS.

Some would argue that the RSS’ outreach to Jogathi may be an attempt towards “appropriation” of such cultural icons.

“It’s true I’ve taken part in several conferences and events organised by the RSS,” Jogathi says.

“Whether it is the BJP, RSS or any other political party is immaterial to me. Artistes belong to the society at large and cannot be seen as affiliated to any political party.”

Karnataka, seen as the BJP’s gateway to the south, will face elections in a little over a year from now.

The BJP is widely expected to use the Hindutva plank to cross the finish line. And, it is crucial for the Sangh Parivar to ensure wider acceptance to its ideology.

The election of Mahesh Joshi as the Kannada Sahitya Parishat president earlier this week may be another step in this direction as he is said to have had the RSS’ backing.

While it is commonplace for the party in power to appoint its people to key positions, writers are concerned over the ‘politicisation’ of Karnataka’s cultural bodies.

Many of these bodies - Karnataka Sahitya Academy, Karnataka Lalithakala Akademi, Kannada Pustaka Pradhikara, Karnataka Nataka Academy among others - function under the Kannada & Culture department that is now headed by minister V Sunil Kumar, an RSS product. 

The ‘left’ dominated these bodies so far and “their criticism is stemming from the anxiety that they are no longer in power,” says Karnataka Sahitya Academy president B V Vasantkumar, who was with the ABVP during his student days. 

He argues that looking at appointments to state-run bodies from a political lens is skewed.

“Once a party comes to power, it becomes the government. These appointments become government appointments and not party decisions.”

When it first came to power in 2008, the BJP was accused of ‘saffronising’ school textbooks through a panel headed by educationist G S Mudambadithaya, who had RSS links.

Last year, the BJP government faced flak for changing the list of Nataka Academy awardees the previous government had prepared. Notably, former Congress minister and actor Umashree was dropped from the list. 

Author S G Siddaramaiah says the trend of ‘politicisation’ is visible in almost all state-run cultural bodies.

“Be it the members or those heading these organisations, they are filled with BJP loyalists or those in the RSS ecosystem,” he says, citing the recent Sahitya Prashat election.

Writer Baraguru Ramachandrappa concurs thus: “Those serving in positions of power in these cultural bodies must maintain a healthy distance from the ruling dispensation so that when the government makes a mistake, they can call it out.”

Author-publisher Hema Pattanshetti blames all political parties.

“We’re anxious about the future of Karnataka’s cultural bodies,” she says.

“Over the last 10-15 years, every political party in power has appointed its loyalists to head these bodies. When the government changes, the members are replaced,” she says, warning about the ramifications of this trend. 

But the fact is that no one is neutral, says Kannada Pustaka Pradhikara chief Nandeesh Hanche, who is believed to have been Yediyurappa’s pick.

“Everyone has a leaning. And, that doesn’t mean they’ll say yes to everything a party does.”    

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