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Shivaji Panikkar’s Open Letter to Jayaram Poduval and others in the Faculty of Fine Arts, MSU Baroda regarding VadFest

Shivaji Panikkar, Professor, School of Culture & Creative Expressions, Ambedkar University, Delhi

I am writing this mail because despite my repeated attempts to get responses through social media (Facebook), I am not able to get any response from the organizing committee members of VadFest. I may be a bit late & the Faculty is fast getting ready for VadFest 2015: In my recent visit to Faculty of Fine Arts (FFA) it struck me that the campus was being turned to assuming an all-new corporate look, with very neatly laid out pathways and urgently being laid-out lawns etc. I couldn’t guess the reasons behind all these changes. But I realized that although the spaces are being given this thoroughly worked-out new rational facade, the students and faculty were upset about the highly lowering quality of educational levels since the right wing takeover, and the “normalizing” thereafter. So, grim is the situation.

Later on, through a mail from Madhusree Dutta & followed by Pushpamala I am informed that Fine Arts Faculty is hosting several art shows in the context of VadFest, while several artist friends in the staff are curating them. Of course like most of you, I too do feel my deep connect with the institution and with the cultural scene in the country and that is the reason for me to write this mail. It is quite ironic that only 7 years back, in May 2007, the students & faculty formed the most formidable resistance against the attack on the institution by the members of the party in power in Gujarat. Today the same party/government, more powerful than ever, plays the gracious host to an art show!!! And the masterstroke is that they have chosen Fine Arts Faculty to showcase this.

From the 1st step of “normalizing” the faculty after the May 2007 events, it pains me to realize that all at the Faculty have only complied with the dictates of the right-wing, which is an absolute shame to art community. I am sure that joining this event is not a naiveté, BUT it is surely displaying the opportunism from the part of Faculty of Fine Arts and of the artists & the curators. To me this brings more shame to FFA than any prestige. Compromise makes us compromise more until we loose our souls.

Events such as this may be interpreted as a corrective means to reinstall the lost reputation of the institution. All the same, the institution negotiates with the dominant political will that celebrates global capital and tries to survive in the changing circumstances. A bit of hindsight proves as to how much FFA & Baroda has changed from the events starting on 9 May 2007, and it is perhaps time to reflect on the events retrospectively, with a historical perspective. We can’t also take this as an independent, standalone, and unrelated event to what had been happening in the country – in the case of MF Husain, to the film Fire to what they did to FFA in 2007. How can we accept a right wing instituted sensor board to art shows in FFA? If the right wing want to accept and rectify their wrong doings, then let them 1st come out with an apology of what all wrong they have done before, then we possibly can accept their credibility. But, I wonder how artists can have such short term memories, and take no political position as such in relation to right wing, perhaps that is because they want to be opportunists, simply use the situation for their best personal benefits. That is a shame.

I am an academic and I stand for basic human rights. Thus my independent position is that it was BJP and its Hindutva brigade that was united against and attacked FFA in May 2007. They put an art student in jail, there is still a pending criminal case against him, he was not allowed to complete his studies, nor has he been given a degree. None of his own teachers showed any responsibility to him or to FFA since then. I was suspended on severe conditions, and I remained without anything to do for 4 years – in suspension without even permission to enter the MSU premises. My salary has been cut to just less than 10 percent. I am still not been paid the arrears of those years. I was compelled to resign by the University agents, because they couldn’t prove any of their charges against me. I am rejected my pension & gratuity. I lost all my work that was being done. Dept. of Art History lost so much funds and future possibilities. And have they been able to take care of the educational standards? It had been going from bad to worse. Haven’t the Hindutva brigades since then not exercising their full power on FFA and the faculty, though their censorship and other power games? Where is freedom of expression or institutional autonomy that we fought for during those months? Resistance to communal, destructive forces we have done even before, and always. Please think who made GM Sheikh to take voluntary retirement? Think, why PD Dhumal and D.Kannal didn’t come out in support of Chandramohan or me? Who had stopped the services of Rekha Rodwittiya? And why? I don’t want to say anything more of their reactionary involvements here. I just want to say that I feel terribly pained and sorry that the contributions, sacrifices some of our friends, colleagues have made for FFA is going waste NOW in a big way; when I see many artists whom I love and respect is forgetting the history and merely becoming opportunists. Hence, I am requesting, even pleading herewith to all my friends to boycott this event. FIRST let the Hindutva brigade give us JUSTICE and then only we should accept any of their celebrations. It is they who have played politics on FFA, and I as a free thinking academic with no party affiliations whatsoever, is only asking for what due to us. PLEASE DON’T ALLOW THE RIGHT WING TO TAKE OVER THE CREATIVE FIELD.

I hear that several major artists have already declined from the show. I request artist friends to think carefully about their participation.

Best Wises
(9th Jan. 2015)

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