An artist spends a lifetime in becoming an artist, then an artist of repute and finally a legendary artist. “We become famous only after we are 60 years,” said veteran Hindustani musician Pt Bhimsen Joshi while Balamurali Krishna said, “a lifetime is insufficient to know about music and its mysterious qualities.” So, to take it up as a profession, it’s imperative to dedicate one’s whole life to just being in the arts and practicing.

The promotion and propagation of our arts were, in the pre-independence days, taken up by those who could spend hours appreciating and indulging in the genre — whether it was music or dance or theatre. Post-independence, institutional organising by sabhas, samajes etc came up when some like-minded people, who had a passion for the arts, came together, gathered finances from their own resources and from friends and small-time businessmen. In the past five decades, we have seen a sea-change in the promotion and propagation of arts — classical and folk, visual and performing, etc.

The crux of presenting, promoting or organising culture has always been that people with the know-how must be given the responsibility for the job. A similar thought process was extended when some of the autonomous institutions for culture were established by the Government of India in the early 1950s with chairmen and a council of members from the fields of arts and administration or judiciary etc. However, we have seen that most of the former chairmen had legendary statures with a keen interest in the arts. The ministry that housed these art academies or organisations allowed the organisations to function independently and kept the dignity and mandates intact or untouched. Culture is an area that requires fundamental or basic interest and knowledge of the arts and forms of India. Often, we have seen and experienced that officials at the mid-level or even lower rungs are not sufficiently equipped to deal with this sensitive and extremely esoteric area of arts.

Sonal Mansingh

“Indian civilisation is perennial because of the strong fragrant breath of diverse and rich cultural traditions. Unless we have experts to look after, protect and present them, they will disappear without a trace leaving the society that much poorer. India’s culture is still vibrant but is showing signs of diminishing depth, negligence and avoidable governmental apathy. It is not given to government officials who sit on different chairs in disparate ministries to nourish and sustain ‘culture’. Experts and stakeholders must be brought in to guide and aid these endeavours,” says Sonal Mansingh.

Every high-power committee instituted to analyse and present the picture and how to better the functioning have been left to gather dust, including the most recent ones of PN Haksar and Abhijit Dasgupta have been ignored by the Union government. Every HPC, if read, has extensively reiterated the need for officials with domain knowledge and an inclination towards the arts.

These are the reports of the

  • The Bhabha Committee: set up by Order dated 3 March 1964; Report submitted on 22 October 1964
  • The Khosla Committee: set up by Resolution dated 19 February 1970; Report submitted on 31 July 1972
  • The Haksar Committee: set up by Resolution dated 24 March 1988; Report submitted in July 1990 and
  • The most recent Abhijit Dasgupta Committee report submitted in May 2014

The essence of the reports is presented below in the wake of the Union government’s announcement of lateral appointments in some ministries at the level of joint secretary. The Ministry of Culture must be persuaded to — not dissuaded from — bring about a change through the Department of Personnel and the Department of Expenditure, without which nothing significant can be achieved in this regard. This possible change has been viewed with a sense of the imperative. There is indeed a need for political and administrative will to bring about this change; the sustenance of the hearts and minds of the people must go beyond politics into the realm of statesmanship and good governance.

Often, we see and experience that officials of the Ministry of Culture at the mid-level or lower rungs are not sufficiently equipped to deal with the sensitive and extremely esoteric area of arts

Why do we need a ministry to oversee the administration of culture? We need it for three fundamental reasons:

  1. It has to work as a point of coordination for cultural expression, and a catalyst for the dissemination of that expression through the encouragement and sponsorship of the multifarious artistic activity
  2. It has to guide the people towards higher expressions of the arts, and enable us to differentiate between mediocrity and excellence
  3. It has to protect our heritage, both tangible and intangible, through research and documentation, and at the same time prepare us for new pursuits in the creative world.

But does it have the capacity to do so? The MOC, as it is set up today can perhaps cater to the first of the three responsibilities mentioned above, but not the other two. Even in the first task, it tends to be a controller rather than a facilitator. The difficulties that the Ministry faces can be broadly defined, again in three ways:

  1. The MOC is not like most other Ministries which pursue social and economic development. It deals, very directly, with the intelligentsia, with creative talent at its best, and looks after very ‘non-bureaucratic’ activities. Its role is to help realise the true potential of all citizens, to push them towards a “better-furnished mind”. It must itself be equipped to do this.
  2. The Ministry handles a far larger number of activities than it apparently needs to. We believe it finds it difficult to provide quality decision making, both because of the sheer number of institutions it ‘controls’ and because its work involves, as we have just said rather intangible matters.
  3. There is a lack of flexibility in financial and administrative matters that we have noticed in the functioning of many institutions under the MOC. Since the ‘value’ of cultural expression cannot be judged in Governmental financial terms, there is a need to find a certain flexibility in their functioning, without compromising the basic norms of financial propriety

It relates to the nature of the staff which looks after the cultural administration of our country one believes that, by and large, the clerical workforce is not attuned to look at their work in the ministry as anything but files and papers, with no creative ideas and little artistic or aesthetic sensitivity. The quality of staff is no different in the MOC than, to take examples at random, the Ministries of Home Affairs, Agriculture or Commerce.

But most Ministries are actually well equipped with a support system of experts. The MHA has senior police officers in the Ministry and have the constant support of intelligence agencies. The Ministry of Agriculture uses the services of agricultural experts as Advisors and Commissioners in the Ministry. The Ministry of Commerce has the services of officers of the Indian Trade Service. The Ministry of Culture has none of these.

It was not always this way. Significant support was available to the Ministry in the not too distant past from Advisors who aided the very process of setting up institutions. The concept of hiring technocrats exists but the fact that they are not allowed to perform and survive is a matter of worry. The powers that may be, rest in the hands of the ‘regular’ employees and not in the hands of the ‘contractual’ or technocrat. Unbelievable as it may sound its is true that many of the professionals who leave lucrative jobs only to be of use to the country eventually retract their steps back to their earlier corporate avatars with a deep sense of frustration, inefficacy and powerlessness.

Late Balamuralikrishna

Advisors have no responsibility and are not answerable. They offer their valuable advice or suggestions and the execution is taken care of by officials. As said the UPSC passed officials or bureaucrats do not have the basic knowledge or understanding of the manner in which arts and art management must be dealt with. We need expertise today in the Ministry. Till very recently, the formal study of cultural administration, of the performing arts and the professional choice of managing the arts was very rare among young people; today there are many bright people who have put aside lucrative professions to work in a world of cultural action, out of their love for the arts. Their knowledge and passion is second to none, and their numbers are growing. Private institutions are training young professionals in art management or event management, presenting of artistic events etc.

Sometimes, officers who are posted to the Ministry are novices at the management of culture. It is different from what they have ever handled before. At times, they have the experience, perhaps at the State level, but they might come without a national perspective. For any newcomer to the Ministry, a brief should be made available about the work of the Ministry, including fundamentals of cultural theory and appreciation of the arts. What is expected of a catalyst and not a controller must be explained to the newcomer. But wouldn’t it be appropriate to engage well equipped, experienced persons with adequate domain knowledge above the age of 45 years to work as officials in the ministry and contribute their best to the betterment of culture.

All the staff of the Ministry should undergo at least a one week programme designed by experts to make them alive to our cultural milieu. The programme should include a brief introduction to art and aesthetics, to the performing arts, to the variety in our cultural ethos, and to the requirements of cultural administration. The trainees must understand the expectations that creative artistes would have of the Ministry, appreciate our own tangible and intangible heritage, and be introduced to global cultural trends. Such a course should cover all officials of the MOC, including officers.

Will the lateral appointment exercise to the Culture ministry be the answer to well thought of conceptual and thematic events, professionally organised world-class events that have state of the art technology, include the YOUTH with a vengeance, involve and hire persons with a passion for the arts who value the arts more than the just passing time in a cabin in a government office, create a warm and nourishing atmosphere of culture.