Eyebrows creased up when veteran author-journalist Ram Bahadur Rai, who was part of Jai Prakash Narayan’s anti-Indira Gandhi movement in the 70s, was made head of an organisation launched in memory of the late Congress Prime Minister.
The Congress naturally took affront, alleging that the BJP-led NDA government was trying to undermine institutions formed to preserve art and culture.
But the new chief of the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA), who is known for his pro-RSS moorings, dismissed the allegations on Friday and promised to be neutral.
“I have earned the reputation of being politically neutral in my years in journalism and I will ensure that it remains intact,” he told Hindustan Times. “So far, my interests were limited to reading and writing. The IGNCA is a national body. I will have to understand how it functions to comment on it.”
Former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi launched the IGNCA as an autonomous organisation on November 19, 1985, and named it after mother Indira.
Rai is a native of Ghazipur in Uttar Pradesh and cut his teeth in student politics in the 70s during the JP movement that was launched to oust then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. He was part of an 11-member coordination committee of the movement.
“Former Bihar chief minister Lalu Prasad Yadav, former Bihar deputy chief minister Sushil Kumar Modi and telecom minister Ravi Shankar Prasad were together with me in the coordination committee that had representatives from all student organisations and unions,” Rai said.
But his brush with politics happened when the Lal Bahadur Shastri-led Congress government in 1965 tried to drop the middle word from Banaras Hindu University.
“The government had to drop the plan because of protests, especially from students. My association with the Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarhti Parishad began then and it continued till 1979.”
The ABVP is the student wing of the RSS.
Rai shifted to journalism in 1979 and joined Hindi daily Jansatta when it was launched in 1983.
He came to know about his new appointment — as IGNCA chief, when a senior government official rang up about 10 days ago.
“I know Prime Minister Narendra Modi from 1970-71 and used to meet when he came to Delhi. But I didn’t meet him when he went to Gujarat and later returned as the PM,” said Rai, who was awarded the Padma Shri in 2015.
The author has three books to his credit — Rahbari Ke Sawal (an account of 35 years of politics of former Prime Minister Chandrasekhar), Manjil se Jyada Safar (on former Prime Minister VP Singh) and a biography on freedom fighter JB Kriplani.