Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan paid a visit to the 83rd All-India Marathi Literary Meet under way in Pune on Saturday, a day ahead of schedule, ostensibly to avoid sharing the stage with Hindi film actor Amitabh Bachchan on Sunday.
The Congress high command had recently objected to Mr. Chavan being seen with Mr. Bachchan at the inauguration of the remaining four lanes of the eight-lane Bandra-Worli Sea Link in Mumbai. The actor has been a close friend of former Samajwadi Party leader Amar Singh and has lately become the brand ambassador of Gujarat, ruled by Bharatiya Janata Party's Narendra Modi.
Mr. Chavan's change of programme with respect to the literary meet is being seen as his attempt to pacify the party leadership.
However, it is not clear if Mr. Chavan will attend the closing ceremony on Sunday, when the actor is scheduled to be present on an invitation he had accepted close to a month ago.
Refusing to interact with the media, the Chief Minister briefly said, “I have not been directed by anyone not to attend the function tomorrow [Sunday]. There are still 24 hours to go. We'll see.”
One organiser of the meet, Satish Desai, said, “I got a call from the Chief Minister's Office around 1.30 p.m., informing me that he would arrive at the meet by 3 p.m. before going on to Baramati for another programme. He has not yet said if he is going to be present tomorrow [Sunday].”
Participating in a discussion on ‘Artistic freedom and social pressure,' Mr. Chavan expressed gratitude to the people of Mumbai and the rest of Maharashtra for defying the Shiv Sena's diktat and flocking to theatres to watch My Name Is Khan recently.
“There was never an atmosphere in Maharashtra in which filmmakers had to run to any authority other than the Censor Board to get their films approved. This has started to happen only in the last three to four years.”
He said his stand was that films should not need the approval of any body other than the Censor Board. While Mr. Chavan said he never discriminated between Hindi and Marathi films, director Avdhut Gupte, whose Marathi film Jhenda (Flag) was opposed by Congress' Narayan Rane, expressed disappointment that members of the Congress made no attempt to request Mr. Rane not to oppose the film.
Mr. Chavan blamed the media for overplaying the My Name is Khan incident. “During that time, I requested some news channel owners not to give it more airtime than necessary. However, they admitted to me in private that if they did so, their TRPs [Television Rating Points] would drop.”
Hinting at the struggle for a separate State of Vidarbha, he said that people may belong to different schools of thought but they ought not to work towards breaking Maharashtra. “If that happened,” he said, “it would be an unfortunate thing to happen in the State's golden jubilee year.”
In the course of the discussion, there were demands for a University to safeguard Marathi, literary legacy and culture on the lines of those in the southern States. Mr. Chavan said Maharashtra's new cultural policy would be declared on May 1, when the State turns 50. He also spoke of the non-resident Indian Maharashtrian, who had an earnest desire to pass on his mother-tongue to his next generation despite the lack of government policy.
Jnanpith awardee poet Vinda Karandikar was to inaugurate the meet but he died earlier this month. Mr. Chavan remembered him and requested the organisers to award a Vinda Karandikar Jeevan Gaurav Puraskar (lifetime achievement prize) next year onwards for an eminent literary figure with a cash prize of Rs. 1 lakh.