A video available on social media purportedly showed Palekar criticising the ministry at the opening of an exhibition in memory of artist Prabhakar Barwe on February 8 for reportedly scrapping the advisory panel. While his speech remained incomplete due to interruptions, the full text has been circulating on social media for the last two days.
When contacted, National Gallery of Modern Art Director General Adwaita Gadanayak said the advisory committees of NGMA Mumbai, Bengaluru and Delhi have not been dissolved.
“Their terms have ended recently and they are in the process of being reconstituted. For artists whose works were being showcased it was not less than a wedding. It is a big event in their lives. It was not the right platform for him (Palekar) to raise such issues,” Gadanayak told PTI.
Asked if any action will be taken against those who interrupted Palekar’s speech, he said, “We will do something.”
At the opening of the exhibition “Inside The Empty Box” in Mumbai on Friday, Palekar said, “Many of you may not know that this retrospective will be the last show decided by the advisory committee of local artists and not by some bureaucrat or an agent of the government with an agenda of either moral policing or proliferation of certain art commensurate with an ideological incline.”
Despite being asked to stop, Palekar went on to mention that writer Nayantara Sahgal was invited to speak at the Marathi literary convention recently but at the last minute the invitation was withdrawn because what she was going to say “was slightly critical of the situation around us. Are we creating the same situation here?”
Hitting out at the government, Congress leader Kapil Sibal said this was the “acchhe din” that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had promised and alleged that the government had “taken away the right of the common man to speak”.
“There are many things happening in this country which have never happened before. Amol Palekar was not allowed to speak. In cases where big people are accused, in those cases CBI does not appeal. Institutions like CBI and ED are being destroyed. Anyone, who they feel, are against them, are slapped with NSA, sedition cases, served ED notices. I have never seen this kind of environment… we will all suffer the consequences,” he said.
His party colleague Abhishek Manu Singhvi in a tweet termed it an effort to silence dissent. “Is India being redefined? Are institutional pillars of democracy trying to silent the dissent of people (sic)?” he wrote on the mircoblogging site.
Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav said, “Why does the BJP want to police people’s thoughts and opinions and control what they eat, wear, say and do? They want to make India monochrome and colourless. Telling Mr Palekar to stop speaking shows the nervousness of the government.”
CPM General Secretary Sitaram Yechury, wrote on Twitter, “The whole essence of our democracy, our constitutional rights, is the freedom to criticise the government and its leaders. No one is above criticism. This behaviour with Amol Palekar is undemocratic and highly condemnable.”
Industrialist Anand Mahindra tweeted, “However inappropriate Palekar’s comments were for the occasion, he wasn’t a heckler, he was an invited speaker. The best way to prevent a controversy is for the Ministry of Culture to clarify that it welcomes constructive criticism and that Indian Culture celebrates free speech.”