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Campus controversy not on poll map

The vandalism that followed an in-house painting exhibition in May revealed an unsavory quality of Indian politics, reports Sutirtho Patranobis.

india Updated: Dec 13, 2007 00:15 IST
Sutirtho Patranobis

The Dean of the Fine Arts faculty at MS University, professor Deepak Kannal, sounded relieved. “Surprisingly and fortunately, the issue does not seem to be on the radar of political parties anymore. I was concerned that political parties would rake it up during campaigning. But no such sign till now,” he said over telephone.

For parties, not raising the issue might be a matter of convenience, but to the students as well as faculty members, the vandalism that followed an in-house painting exhibition in May revealed an unsavory quality of Indian politics.

Chandra Mohan Srilamantula, a final year post-graduate student in Graphics at the Fine Arts department, was suspended after Bajrang Dal activists vandalised the premises over two of his paintings with religious motifs. Saffron leader Neeraj Jain allegedly led the mob.

Then acting dean Shivaji Panikkar who refused to close the exhibition continues to be suspended and talked about the repeated but futile efforts to get support from parties.

“We met political leaders in Delhi, including HRD Minister Arjun Singh and CPM leader Sitaram Yechury, to take up the issue. We wanted them to come out in the open and support the cause of artistic freedom but the response was lukewarm.”

He was the dean of the Art History and Aesthetics department and had been associated with the university for more than 25 years. Since the controversy, he has not been allowed to enter the premises.

A former Congress MP from Baroda said it was difficult for the party to come out in support of the student because of the nature of the paintings. “Artistic freedom is one aspect but if an artist depicts religious icons in a controversial manner, it could easily hurt religious sentiments of communities. Even though it was an in-house exhibition, there was no necessity to be vulgar.”

Not surprising, freedom of expression is not quite on the agenda of parties in the city.

A faculty member said that paintings were part of the evaluation process for final year students like Chandra Mohan.

“External examiners were slated to evaluate the paintings. Outsiders were not invited. We only expected that some family members would come to see the paintings.”