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`Urdu has been communalised'

Professor Gopi Chand Narang is now at the helm of affairs at New Delhi's Sahitya Akademi. DIWAN SINGH BAJELI speaks to the Urdu scholar who promises to keep up the secular tradition of his illustrious predecessors... .

Prof. Gopi Chand Narang.

`FALSE ALARMS were rung about the danger of Sahitya Akademi's autonomy in case I win the post of the president of the Akademi by a group of literary mafia who wanted to use Mahasweta Devi as a proxy president to serve their vested interests,' comments Professor Gopi Chand Narang who was elected recently as the president of the Akademi by the general council in a keenly contested election in the 47-year old history of the Akademi. "How one can destroy Akademi's autonomy which is imbued in its constitution drafted by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Dr. Radhakrishnan and Maulana Abdul Kalam Azad. It is a sacred document with us. It is based on the model of the Academy of Letters of France adapted to the requirements of the plurality and diversity of Indian culture. It gives the Akademi fullest autonomy.''

To what extent can the Government interfere through its nominee and through its funds attached with strings? He replies that Government is duty-bound to fund it and as far as Government nominee are concerned they are only three in the general council consisting of 90 members. It is the general council, which elects the president and vice-president, and is the guiding force of the Akademi, he adds.

He admits that in the past efforts were made by the Government to interfere with the functioning of the Akademi. Asked to elaborate this point, he says, "When Ashok Vajpai was the joint secretary of culture 10 years ago such efforts were made. It was done in the Congress regime to subvert the autonomy through the infamous Haksar Committee,'' adding, "I would like to remind those who have forgotten that I was one of the 80 members of the then general council who vehemently opposed such a move of the Government. Let me assure you that the present Government has no such move to endanger the autonomy of the Akademi. I have been assured on this score.''

Sahitya Akademi is perhaps the biggest literary body in the world but it has not done much to raise the status of writers of Indian languages compared with those Indians writing in English. It is very difficult for writers of Indian languages to make both ends meet by doing full-time writing. The Akademi seems to be bogged down in the morass of observing its annual events in a ritualistic manner. What does Dr Narang intend to do to give it vitality and direction?

"This may be because of the hold of a particular mafia group over the Akademi. I will not allow any injustice to prevail either in the awards or in the execution of the work to enable the Akademi to achieve its objective. I am a great believer in team work, hopefully all will cooperate with me in purging the Akademi of such elements who have a hidden agenda.''

Talking about his priorities, he says, "The Akademi will attempt to work on tribal and unlisted traditions. Very soon we are opening a centre of tribal and oral literature in Shillong where anthology in the folklore, folk songs will be prepared and translated into many languages. Committees of specialists will have to be constituted to launch major research projects such as history of Ideas in the Indian context, Encyclopaedia of Indian Katha Sahitya and Encyclopaedia of Indian Poetics. I have already restarted the project of comprehensive integrated history of Indian literature under the chief editorship of great Bengali scholar Sisir Das Kumar. Updating the National Bibliography of Indian Literature from 1954 to 2000 has already been undertaken."

He is eager to revamp the publication and sale department of the Akademi. Though he expresses satisfaction at the prevailing situation of this department which publishes 300 books with annual sale of about Rs. one crore. But he accepts that keeping in view the population and the size of the country this is not enough."

There is a great scope for reaching the larger readership for which I will call specialists from publication industry to deliberate on the question of opening franchise for Akademi books in metros and book corners in far-flung small towns.''

As a scholar of Urdu does he propose special programmes for this neglected language? "Unfortunately Urdu has been communalised and marginalized in the land of its birth. It is the part of our national heritage, a symbol of our composite culture, a bridge between different communities. My thrust will be not only to save Urdu but also to create conditions for its growth. My ideal has been Mahatma Gandhi who always worked for the unity of Hindi, Urdu and Hindustani. It is already reaching to millions of readers through Devanagri script. Over the centuries, Urdu has gone through a process of Indianisation, linking us with many neighbouring countries as well as with Iran and Arab world. The Akademi will see to it that it occupies its rightful place in India which will definitely add to our cultural reach and power.''

Has he some programme for the young promising writers?

"Since literary recognition comes after substantial contribution over a period of time. My efforts will be to find avenues for the encouragement to the young talent such as liberal travel grants for writers less than 35 years and more grants for publication for their works.''

An outstanding Urdu scholar who has authored a number of research books and has command over four languages - Urdu, Hindi, English and Persian - is a recipient of several awards including Padma Shri and Pakistan's Special Gold Medal. He describes his victory in the election as the victory of genuine secularism over pseudo secularism, promising to democratise and enlarge the autonomy of the Akademi to serve the cause of Indian languages and writers. "As the Vice-President of the Akademi I have fulfilled my duty with dignity and now as the President I will enrich the glorious legacy of my illustrious predecessors.''

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