Writers want to avoid acrimony in Sahitya Akademi poll

NEW DELHI JAN. 28. Their reluctance to speak out is rather telling. Faced with a straight fight between two colleagues from the writers' fraternity for the post of Sahitya Akademi president, authors who form part of its general council are reluctant to take sides openly; particularly as any acrimony in the electoral process could well give the Government the rationale to step in and strip the National Academy of Letters of its autonomy.

Though the Sahitya Akademi had, in the early 1990s, successfully turned down the Haksar Committee recommendation that its president and that of Lalit Kala Akademi and Sangeet Natak Akademi be nominated by the Government from a panel of names suggested by these institutions, the ongoing effort by the current dispensation to take over academic space has become a matter of concern for the writers.

Particularly so with the BJP president, Venkaiah Naidu, recently complaining to the Union Minister of Culture, Jagmohan, about the `leftists' dominating these academies. ``Given the systematic manner in which the BJP-led NDA Government has taken over academic institutions, this development is disturbing.''

In the process, Mr. Naidu has given an issue for the coming elections for president of the Sahitya Akademi.

With Lalit Kala Akademi and Sangeet Natak Akademi giving in to the Haksar Committee recommendation vis-a-vis the selection procedure of president, Sahitya Akademi, is the only institution with a democratic process and ``very little scope of Government intervention in day-to-day functioning''.

And, this is what the two contenders — the Bharatiya Jnanpith winner, Mahasveta Devi, and the outgoing vice-president of the Akademi, Gopi Chand Narang — promise to protect.

Of the 80 members in the general council, which elects the president, Mr. Narang claims to have the support of 42 members, with the Bengali writer, Sunil Gangopadhyay, as his running mate for the post of vice-president, and experience in administration owing to his stint as the Akademi's vice-president.

His detractors, however, insist that Ms. Devi stands head and shoulders above Mr. Narang, and that there is no comparison.

``Her achievements are no secret, and hers is a name that evokes immediate respect within and outside literary circles.''

As for her earlier reluctance to join the fray, Ms. Devi's supporters concede that while she had to be persuaded, her ability to champion a cause was unmatched.

``And, right now what the Sahitya Akademi needs most is to fiercely guard the democratic space the BJP has set its eyes on.''

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