Kapila Vatsyayan and the IGNCA

Published : December 23, 2020 15:59 IST

Kapila Vatsyayan. A 2014 photograph. Photo: Meeta Ahlawat

When Dr Kapila Vatsyayan, the cultural studies scholar and institution builder, passed away in September this year, Frontline had carried a tribute by Suhas Borker in the issue dated October 23 (the tribute can be accessed here).

Sachchidanand Joshi, Member Secretary of the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA), took issue with certain aspects of the tribute. He wrote:

It is indeed a matter of satisfaction that the Frontline magazine in its issue of October 23, 2020 has remembered the great scholar and cultural thinker ever produced by our country, Dr Kapila Vatsyayan. Shri Suhas Borker has written quite extensively about her contribution in the field of art and culture.

However, we would like to bring to your notice some facts about this on page 70 under the sub-heading: ‘Long Stint at IGNCA’. The statement “In May 2014, when the NDA returned to power, Kapila Vatsyayan was a prime target and she was soon removed from the trusteeship of the IGNCA” is incorrect. The fact is that Dr Kapila Vatsyayan was a trustee of the IGNCA until 2015 and she attended the last the meeting of the Board of Trustees of IGNCA on December 15, 2015. She was not removed from the trusteeship of the IGNCA, but the entire Board of Trustees was reconstituted by the Government of India on April 13, 2016.

In the article, it is stated that “In April 2017, it was reported that 6,000 books donated by her to the IGNCA were removed from the galleries and dumped in a godown”. It is true that Dr Kapila Vatsyayan donated 6,000 books to the IGNCA which were kept in boxes and not opened as these were to be accessioned and displayed in a proper way. The President of the IGNCA Trust, Shri Ram Bahadur Rai, and I informed her that her collection was being properly displayed in a specially created section of the IGNCA Library and invited her for its inauguration. Dr Vatsyayan came for its inauguration on  November 7, 2017. It is appropriate to mention here that after her death, and as per her wish, more books and artefacts have come to the IGNCA which will be accessioned and properly displayed in her collection in the IGNCA library soon.

The IGNCA has always sought the blessings of Dr Kapila Vatsyayan and in this connection  Shri Ram Bahadur Rai and I have met her on several occasions.


Suhas Borker responds:

This refers to the letter of the  Member Secretary, IGNCA, apropos my obituary of Dr Kapila Vatsyayan published in the Frontline of October 23.  

The Member Secretary, IGNCA, writes that it is “incorrect” to say that Dr Kapila Vatsyayan was “removed from the trusteeship of the IGNCA”. He asserts that “She was not removed from the trusteeship of the IGNCA but the entire Board of Trustees was reconstituted by Government of India.”. His letter  is couched in officialese but what it means is the same: the reconstitution of the board resulted in the removal of Dr Kapila Vatsyayan from the Board of Trustees of the IGNCA.

My article says: “In April 2017, it was reported that 6,000 books donated by her to the IGNCA were removed from the galleries and dumped in a godown”. The Member Secretary, IGNCA, is in  denial mode but as mentioned by me, my assertion was based on news reports of April 2017. In fact, it was reported in The Indian Express of April 25, 2017 that Dr Kapila Vatsyayan was “very upset” and “reached IGNCA and protested angrily”, and was “in tears”. The report said that about 6,000 books, donated to the IGNCA by its founder Member Secretary Kapila Vatsyayan “were removed this month from the galleries where they had been on display for 10 years, and packed into a godown”. The report, quoting sources, said that a new Joint Secretary, Vinita Srivastava, had taken “the decision” without consulting Vatsyayan, who had donated the books in 2007. The report said that the newspaper had tried to contact Srivastava’s office but there was no response from her. The report quoted Dr Vatsyayan as saying:  “Those books were my lifetime collections. They were my life. I had given them for future generations. I was told that they just removed and dumped them.” The report further said that IGNCA Member Secretary Sachchidananda Joshi met Vatsyayan and apologised to her.

If the packed boxes of books had indeed been just shifted as the letter of the Member Secretary, IGNCA, suggests, why was Dr Vatsyayan so upset?  It is also hard to believe that from 2007, when the 6000 books were donated by Dr Vatsyayan, until 2017, a period of 10 years, the books had been “kept in boxes” and had not  been “accessioned and displayed in proper way”. In fact, the gifted books had been “on display for 10 years” and were then unceremoniously “dumped”. The Indian Express report cited the above mentioned that “The shelves where Vatsyayan’s books had been displayed are now empty. The guard said the room is locked.”

So if the IGNCA made amends six months later in November 2017, as  the Member Secretary, IGNCA, writes, it was a positive development.

It is interesting to note that The Financial Express of November 26, 2017 carried a report about this “sudden turnaround”:

“Kapila Vatsyayan was the founding director of the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA),and remained the presiding deity whenever the Congress was in power. It was not surprising that in the new government, the Gandhis’ cultural czarina had no role to play. Even the books which she had earlier donated to the IGNCA were dumped in a godown. But this month the IGNCA did a turnaround and tried to make amends with the octogenarian. A new gallery was inaugurated to house Vatsyayan’s collection of 6,000 books. At the inaugural function, IGNCA head Ram Bahadur Rai did not flinch as Vatsyayan effusively praised her late mentor, Rajiv Gandhi. The sudden deference towards Vatsyayan is because Rai, a veteran Hindi journalist who played a leading role in the JP movement, is an admirer of Vatsyayan’s late husband Agyeya Vatsyanan, even though they were estranged. Agyeya, a renowned Hindi poet and journalist, was editor of Jayaprakash Narayan’s publication Everyman’s Weekly.”

Intriguingly, Jyoti Sabharwal quotes Dr Kapila Vatsyayan in her biography Kapila Vatsyayan: Afloat a Lotus Leaf (2015) as saying that she was against naming of institutions after political leaders because  organisations get “thwarted by pettiness and misconception” in the event of a change in the political dispensation. This was obviously based on her IGNCA experience, where, as I wrote in my article, “the political weathercock kept heaping humiliation on her intermittently.”  Dr Kapila Vatsyayan further said that “Once there is political hostility, then the same arms of the state are used in order to destroy the very institutions that are built by a decision of the state.”