The auspicious occasion of Lord Jagannath’s Rath Yatra marked a turnaround for the legendary 74-year old classical dancer Sonal Mansingh even as she learnt of her nomination to the Rajya Sabha. She has been nominated to the Rajya Sabha by President Ram Nath Kovind along with three others that include BJP MP Ram Shakal, Rakesh Sinha and well-known sculptor Raghunath Mohapatra. The legendary dancer expressed gratitude towards the President, the Prime Minister and all other well wishers who had been silently praying for this day. Mansingh, who was pleasantly surprised upon learning this news said, “It is a momentous day and a symbol of respect for the culture and arts of India.”
The eminent dancer stated that she was looking forward to lively debates in the Parliament as she has been an active orator and social activist. She elaborated that “Dance is not just entertainment. It isn’t just naach-gaana. It’s all about what people take home when they leave the auditorium.”
Mansingh, who seems elated at being nominated to the Upper House of the Parliament, did not always share a very good rapport with those in charge of affairs. In fact, the Congress had almost always targeted her for political reasons. Her bitter relationship with the Congress dates back to the days of emergency. At that time, Mansingh had stood steadfastly against a Congress leadership with dictatorial motives trying to usurp absolute power. It seems that the Congress never forgot that scuffle and vowed to avenge an artist for standing against its dictatorial ambitions. A punitive Congress, therefore, sacked her as the chairperson of the prestigious Sangeet Natak Akademi in 2005 after it came to power in 2004. In order to defend its vengeful measure, the Congress charged Mansingh with having authoritarian and tempestuous manners. Sonal Mansingh refers to that incident as the “first big example of political interference in the arts”. Interestingly, all others who had been appointed before her to the coveted position had completed their terms. No other government in the past had acted in such a hostile manner towards the artists. It was the Congress which went on to set this obnoxious precedent.
The Congress having undermined an artist of Mansingh’s stature for purely political reasons does not come as much of a surprise. The fact remains that the Congress has been used to hounding artists for political reasons and punishes them if they refuse to toe its line. Today, Rahul Gandhi and his minions try to portray the BJP as antagonistic to artistic freedom and Congress as some sort of virtuous organisation which never interferes with artists.
However, a small glance at our history goes on to show that the Congress has been frequently bogging down artists who refuse to toe its line. From banning legendary singer Kishore Kumar’s songs, to compelling Manoj Kumar into making a pro-emergency movie and hounding iconic actor of the past, Dev Anand, Congress has been time and again been guilty of not only interfering with artists but also bogging them down with their political demands. Even as we remember Congress’ irresistible urge to interfere with independent artists, a Congress leader has only recently filed a frivolous police complaint against a Netflix show, Sacred Games, because it allegedly undermined a ‘failed’ former Congress prime minister, Rajiv Gandhi.
It is welcome how the BJP is now washing the sins of the Congress and is trying its level best to free artists of unnecessary government pressure. Even Sonal Mansingh acknowledged this and stated that a lot of water has flown under the bridge between 2004 and 2018. She added that “It (the nomination) is a validation of art, culture and Indian tradition.” This shows that the artists no longer have to be worried about those in power corridors getting “offended” over petty reasons. Without much fanfare, the Modi government has ended the era of hounding anti-government artists.
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