THE uncertainty that surrounded the Sangeet Natak Akademi, which witnessed much squabbling and acrimony, has been finally laid to rest with the removal of its Chairperson Sonal Mansingh. Her ouster was considered only a matter of time, but the appointment of a `politician' in her place has raised a few eyebrows.
Former Union Minister and veteran Congress leader Ram Niwas Mirdha will now be at the helm of affairs at the Akademi for the next five years.
Mirdha has handled diverse portfolios in the past and he is not entirely new to cultural administration. He was Chairman of the Lalit Kala Akademi and a member of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation's (UNESCO) executive board.
While Sonal Mansingh's sacking is part of the United Progressive Alliance's `desaffronisation' programme, the dancer herself was mired in controversy. There was a revolt against her in the Akademi. Twelve leading artists had resigned to protest against what they called her "autocratic" and "undemocratic" style of functioning. About 60 artists had also complained to President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam. Those who resigned included three of the five government nominees - Vice-Chairman Kavalam Narayana Panicker, M. Balamurali Krishna and Savitri Heisnam. Other personalities who were opposed to her are Raja Reddy, Radha Reddy, M.K. Raina, Nadira Babbar, G.S. Channy and Dolly Ahluwalia.
Union Culture Minister S. Jaipal Reddy had refused to accept these resignations and finally his Ministry decided to oust Sonal Mansingh instead.
Amongst other complaints - the list was six pages long - her detractors cited the ending of the golden jubilee programme a full 11 months ahead of schedule. Her appointment by the previous Bharatiya Janata Party-led government was also questioned.
There were also complaints about self-promotion. She had allegedly used official visits to further her own dancing career. She had allegedly produced a CD-Rom for the Akademi, which begins with her own speech and ends with excerpts from her dance recitals. The CD-Rom also included remarks by former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
This is cited as further proof of her `saffron' affiliation, which was the prime reason for former Communist Party of India (Marxist) general secretary Harkishan Singh Surjeet's repeated demands for her removal. Mansingh had put herself in a difficult situation - she had indirectly campaigned for Vajpayee and Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi signing some of the `India Shining' campaign advertisements.
In an earlier interview with Frontline (May 20, 2005), Mansingh denied having any political affiliations and denied campaigning for Modi. She explained away the members' protests as a result of "unfulfilled personal ambitions and gender bias" and financial irregularities.
She made some last-ditch efforts for a compromise by writing to her critics. In the letter, she mentioned that she believed in "consensus and transparency" and expressed "bewilderment'' since she had learnt of the en masse resignations only from the newspapers. However, it was all to no avail.
Immediately after her ouster, Sonal Mansingh left for Gujarat. She reportedly said that this was an expected move and that she hoped Mirdha would curb the "corruption" in the Akademi.
As a result of the brouhaha, the Culture Ministry has had to postpone the ceremony for the annual awards of the Sangeet Natak Akademi, which had been scheduled for May 13.Annie Zaidi