Music to no ears


Kerala government’s flip-flop over land given to Ustad Amjad Ali Khan strikes the wrong chord

At a time when Kerala was all set for Saraswati puja—when the goddess of art and knowledge is worshipped—its CPI(M)-led government struck a wrong musical note. In fact, it created a cacophony.

The bad note started with a press note. The state’s tourism department said it would take back land allotted by the previous Congress-led government to a ‘private person’ in the Veli Tourism Village in Thiruvananthapuram.

“The land can be used only for tourism purposes, and not any other activities,’’ said the press release, which was issued after a meeting chaired by Tourism Minister A.C. Moideen.

The terse note would have gone unnoticed but for the ‘private person’—sarod maestro Ustad Amjad Ali Khan.

Former chief minister Oommen Chandy had invited the Padma Vibhushan recipient when he evinced interest to set up a residential institution in God’s Own Country. Chandy cleared the papers in a jiffy, overruling the tourism department’s reservations. Two acres were allotted in Veli for Khan’s dream project—the International School of Music.

Interestingly the school’s foundation stone was unveiled on May 18 this year, a day before the assembly election results were announced. The Pinarayi Vijayan government was sworn in a week later.

“Amjad Ali Khan is a very good friend, and the Left government is committed to fulfil the promise made to him,” CPI(M) Polit Bureau member M.A. Baby told THE WEEK. “He has great love for Kerala, and it is an honour to have a legend like him associate with our state.”

Baby, who is seen as the CPI(M)’s cultural face in Kerala, said inter-departmental “miscommunication” had caused the confusion.

Some confusion, however, seems to continue. “Veli Tourism Village is a project under the tourism department, and we have every right to look into the developments there,” said a senior tourism department official. “The land given to Khan came under the scanner as we were analysing all land allocations of the previous government.”

Even as Moideen and his secretary refused to comment on record, Revenue Minister E. Chandrasekharan said only he and his department could decide on the issue. “Land is a subject that comes under the revenue department,” he said. “Moreover, no department has any right to revoke a cabinet order.”

Meanwhile, the opposition demanded action against the officials who ‘cancelled’ the land allotment. Chandy called it a “shameful decision”.

Finally, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan intervened. The International School of Music project, he clarified, was very much on. He also assured all possible support to it.

While discordant notes were being played out in Kerala, Khan was in Washington, DC to perform at the Lincoln Memorial. The Chant4Change concert, he said, was “an appeal for peace and harmony”.

“Khan saab was perturbed,” said former Kerala Sangeeta Nataka Akademi chairman Soorya Krishnamoorthy, who is close to the maestro. “But the CM’s assurance has put things back on track.”

Krishnamoorthy noted that Khan’s only request was that the site should be near an international airport, as he would have to fly frequently for concerts. That was why Chandy chose Veli.

Khan, a staunch advocate of the gurukul system, envisages a school where students from across the world can live and learn various genres of music.

And its motto is apt for these times: To practise and popularise music beyond all castes, religions and creeds.

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