The government on Thursday said eminent artist M.F. Husain - who has been conferred Qatar nationality - was welcome to return home whenever he chose.
The “welcome home” came with a promise of security from Union Home Secretary G.K. Pillai.
The Home Secretary said he was free to return whenever he wanted. “If he is willing to return and feels the need for security, we will provide it.”
Describing the nonagenarian artist as the “pride of India,” Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao said: “I would like him to feel safe and secure in India.”
While there was no clarity on whether the government would try and persuade Mr. Husain to return, there was an acknowledgment within that the conferment of Qatar nationality on India’s most celebrated artist reflected poorly on the country.
“The controversy over Mr. Husain staying away from India for so many years was not just a law and order issue; it called for a political response and that did not come from the government.”
The Congress said it was the government’s responsibility to provide Mr. Husain full security if he wanted to return to India. Asked whether the party would invite Mr. Husain to return, party spokesman Manish Tewari said: “I don’t think we need to invite an Indian national back home.”
Maintaining that the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and its affiliates were responsible for Mr. Husain’s self-imposed exile, Mr. Tewari’s response to questions on the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government’s failure to secure even his exhibitions was: “How do you combat intolerance?” Blaming the Sangh Parivar for its cultural policing, he said civil society needs to stand up and ostracise the forces of intolerance.
The fear of these forces creating mayhem had resulted in his exclusion from the first India Art Summit mounted in the capital in 2008 by leading art galleries with Union Culture Ministry support. In December 2007, an exhibition of his recent paintings at the India International Centre was closed for a day following threats from ‘Hindu organisations.’ Both these instances took place under Congress dispensations at the Centre and in the capital.
While the RSS opted not to comment officially - maintaining that this was not a big national issue that required an immediate reaction and Mr. Husain should face the Indian legal system just like all other Indians - the Bharatiya Janata Party said every individual was free to acquire citizenship of any country.
Reacting to Mr. Husain being conferred Qatar nationality, BJP deputy leader in the Rajya Sabha, S.S. Ahluwalia, said the fact remained that no one had the right to hurt the sentiments of any community in the name of freedom of expression.
Holding the Sangh Parivar responsible for hounding Mr. Husain out of the country, Communist Party of India (Marxist) Polit Bureau member Brinda Karat said the UPA government cannot absolve itself of blame either. Neither did the government intervene in the slew of cases filed against Mr. Husain by the Sangh Parivar in district courts across the country, nor did its assurances of providing the artist security inspire confidence.
Though some of these cases had been clubbed together and disposed of, last year the government had indicated that it would approach the Supreme Court for speedy disposal of all cases pending against Mr. Husain and his paintings as part of a strategy to ensure his return.
“It is a shame and does make every Indian sad that we have a situation where one of our best artists has to face such an ordeal,” Ms. Karat said, adding that the government should speak to Mr. Husain and find out what can be done to facilitate his return.