The nation has lost an iconic artist: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh
President Pratibha Patil and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh led the nation in paying tributes to artist M.F. Husain on Thursday, even as several political leaders regretted the fact that such a famous son of India had died "in exile" because of some "narrow-minded" people.
Condoling his death, the President said he was a world renowned artist whose extraordinary style made him a celebrity in the arena of contemporary art. "A man of multi-dimensional talent, his death would create a deep void in the world of art and creativity," she said. "He also brought glory to the house as a Parliamentarian." Husain had been nominated to the Rajya Sabha in 1986.
Noting that Husain had dominated the Indian art firmament for almost seventy years, the Prime Minister said the nation had lost an iconic artist and the art world, one of its most colourful personalities. "He made an immense contribution to popularising Indian art both within the country and abroad. He captivated art lovers with his deep appreciation of the human condition and his bold and imaginative strokes," he said.
Calling Husain a "legend of art of our times", Vice President Hamid Ansari said he was "a keen observer of our national evolution" who captured the public imagination with his portrayal of important personalities and events. "To most Indians, he came to represent modern Indian art," said the Vice President.
Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar said that while Husain’s death would "leave a vacuum in the world of art", his creative legacy would continue to inspire future artists.
Culture Minister Kumari Selja lauded Husain’s role as an ambassador for Indian art. "As a true citizen of the world and as a restless creative soul and an eternal traveler, M.F. Hussain was among the pioneers who spread the message of India’s art across the globe," she said.
Food Minister K.V. Thomas added a personal touch to his condolences, reminiscing about Husain’s three-month visit to Kerala while he had been Tourism Minister there. "I fondly recall that he made a painting of 'Kalyanikutti Logam' and also presented a few paintings to me and my family, which even today, I preserve as the most valuable piece of treasure," he said.
While official condolences restricted themselves to praising Husain’s legacy, some political leaders also commented on the controversies surrounding the painter.
"It's very unfortunate that narrow minded people look at art and creativity with the same perspective, but the majority of Indian people have never supported their views," said Information and Broadcasting Minister Ambika Soni, when asked about the protests by Hindutva activists that made Husain leave India in 2006. He ultimately accepted Qatari citizenship in 2010. "As far as change in citizenship is concerned, I myself listened to one of his interviews where he cited work and lifestyle as reasons for changing citizenship. I don't think he stopped loving his country," said Ms. Soni.
She was echoed by Congress spokesperson Jayanthi Natarajan. "No one could have stopped him from coming back to the country and he was staying abroad for his work. He had moved beyond his physicality," she said in response to questions from journalists. "It was not government that was an obstacle to his coming home, but communal forces like the Shiv Sena and Bajrang Dal."
Left leaders joined in the criticism of right-wing opposition to Husain. "Even though he faced several threats to his life from the fundamentalists and sectarian forces, which ultimately drove him away from the country, Husain stood firm on his convictions and commitments and never compromised his freedom of expression as an artist," said a statement from the Communist Party of India.
Regretting the "relentless campaign of villification and calumny against him by bigotted Hindu fundamentalist groups since 1996", the Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust urged that a proper monument be created to honour Husain for posterity.
However, groups such as the Shiv Sena and Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, which had fiercely protested Husain’s paintings of nude Hindu goddesses made mellowed statements, saying that the controversies should be laid to rest with his death.
The Bharatiya Janata Party did not issue any statement on Husain’s passing, and when asked for a response by journalists, general secretary Anant Kumar made the terse comment that "we condole his death".
All help for burial in India
The Government of India has said it is ready to extend all help for the burial of Husain in India in case his family wanted to do so. “The government has offered all facilitation to the family of M.F. Husain in case they want to bury him in India,” sources in the Prime Minister's Office said.