Can culture and politics stay away from each other, pondered many at a recent discussion organised by Raza Foundation

Whether one talks about the culture of politics or the politics of culture, that culture and politics as separate disciplines are subtly and overtly interrelated at several levels cannot be denied. It has been so during the days of feudal India and it is so even today in what we like to think of as a democratic country. Raza Foundation’s culture and politics discussion at the IIC Annexe, with speakers representing different fields of the teaching fraternity, media, politics and art brought out some interesting aspects of the subject. Culture itself is a word with endless connotations even when understood to stand collectively for the arts and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement. Starting with the statement that while politics has as its end, the power to reign and rule, the ends of culture are obscure, Dileep Padgaonkar touched on how the two are constantly influencing each other. Culture is often used to display power, as even the architecture of Lutyen’s Delhi and the statues erected of our political leaders like Mayawati show. Even the military parade during the Republic Day celebrations with the many floats and varied expressions of culture and art, is actually making a statement of power. The vigilante brigade which sees to the banning of books, plays, certain celebrations like Valentine’s Day, the moral outrage expressed at the works of M.F. Husain who was forced to seek asylum abroad, not to speak of the Bengal Chief Minister’s tirade against a cartoonist — are all instances of political authority of varying shades, deciding on what forms creativity should take. The speaker felt that the IPTA movement and late Pandit Nehru’s pride in Indian arts which blended with a comfort with global culture were expressions of liberal India. The Rockefellers and Guggenheims with their largesse led to a homogenisation of mass culture.

With special reference to the Bhakti movement in India, where even political leaders were influenced by a force giving direction to the entire polity, D.P. Tripathi spoke of how the persons from the lower rung of the social scale in India like Surdas and Tulsidas rejecting the pelf and power of a hierarchical structure, were in many senses very modern. We could not have had Faiz in a climate of political choice between dictatorship and democracy.

For Apoorvanand, the word sSanskriti was confusing, for the very idea of one Bharat is a mirage. Why have we not been able to sense the simmering anger in the Adivasis? The Naxal problems and what happened at Muzaffarpur only recently or the struggle for Bodoland show that the very word ‘development’ that one has used, has by leaving out certain sections, created problems.

For painter Krishen Khanna who was called to work on a project built around the Salt March out of which nothing came, felt that painters and artists could not really make a great difference to political culture. One could not stay for the after-talk questions, but started thinking about dancers who, as a big group, rarely attend these discussions. But their subtle skills in using the political establishment for their own progress can be seen in simple acts like the lamp lighting for dance performances for which the political VIP – often disappearing immediately after — is a must. There are times when Prime Ministers and Presidents who dabble in poetry writing become suddenly important for the art world, with dancers interpreting their verses through their dance forms. With so much dispensation resting in government hands, one knows the kind of pressures brought to bear for procuring Padma awards and appointments to government bodies. If dance is soft power used by government and political bosses, then the dancer too is savvy to use the powers that be for her own ends. Culture and politics will never be far from each other.