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Row over literary awards for active politicians

Kamla Bora in Jaipur | April 20, 2003 03:44 IST

The announcement of the annual Rajasthan Sahitya Akademi awards has kicked up a row, with academic and literary circles aghast not only at the inclusion of active politicians in the list but also the bestowing of its highest honour, the Meera Puraskar, on a middle-ranking police officer, Hari Ram Meena, whose literary achievements remain unknown.

But the anger of prominent litterateurs is mainly directed against the selection of Rajasthan Pradesh Congress Committee chief Dr Girija Vyas, member of the Lok Sabha from Udaipur, and former Mahila Congress chief Prabha Thakur, member of the Rajya Sabha. Both have been selected for the honour of Vishishtha Sahityakar (special litterateur).

"The chairman of the Akademi, Mr Ved Vyas, has tried to further his own political career in the Congress by using the awards as a tool," said Hetu Bhardwaj, former chairman of the state government's literary body.

Ved Vyas, considered close to Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, was recently named chairman of the Akademi, which he headed in 1992 also after being nominated by the state governor under President's rule on Gehlot's recommendation. His term then had ended abruptly when a coalition government headed by the Bharatiya Janata Party came to power in 1993.

Vyas had headed the Rajasthani Language Akademi under the earlier Congress government in the state.

The leftist leanings of Vyas, who runs the Progressive Writers' Association in the state, are apparent in this year's awards list, which includes a Communist Party of India, Marxist, activist named Prem Kishen who is an advocate by profession. Prem Kishen has also been selected as a Vishishtha Sahityakar.

With a row breaking out over the list of awardees, Justice Shiv Kumar Sharma of the Rajasthan high court, who writes poetry under the pen name Kumar Shiv, politely declined to accept the award to avoid getting dragged into the mess.

"Genuine litterateurs have been ignored and mediocrities or those having no literary standing have been selected," said well-known writer Raja Ram Bhadu. But Vyas insisted there has been no partiality and the awardees' literary contributions have been the sole criterion for selection.

Interestingly, the political awardees themselves are divided on the propriety of being selected for the honours. "I shall be happy to receive the Akademi award," said Girija Vyas, "but I don't know how my name was selected. I thank the Akademi for the honour, but I feel that politicians should have been avoided."

But Prabha Thakur asserted that there should be no controversy over her selection. "Probably it is a lifetime achievement award," she said, "which I should have got much earlier. I have written three books."

But senior poet Govind Mathur disagrees. He said the selection of politicians for the Akademi's awards was only indicative of the chairman's own political ambitions.

Ved Vyas, who was already being accused by detractors of being the most expensive chairman of the Akademi since its inception more than three decades ago, had created another controversy recently by holding a meeting of the chairmen of different language Akademies to demand minister of state rank.

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