Art critic Kamna Prasad is known for her strong government connections. recently was seen pressing the Husain cause with her e-book on the painter. Thanks to her persistence, a number of officials and ministers were drawn to Husain. Husainmania drew prompt rightwing fire. The e-book was reviewed by a journal of the ministry of external affairs, and both the ministry and the painter were trashed on right-wing web sites. It was the only occasion when the ministry got involved in the Husain saga. That is a government promotion of Husain circa 2009. But the actions of the UPA government were not always friendly.
In 2006, Shivraj Patil, then Union home minister, created conditions for Husain’s banishment. Patil had instructed police chiefs of Mumbai and Delhi to investigate complaints against the painter. Husain’s supporters, including Rajen Prasad of Sahmat, an organisation that campaigns for artistic freedom, say the action of the home ministry compromised the painter’s security. Home Minister P. Chidambaram is perceived by many to be honest about getting Husain back from Qatar. But activists feel he has not been of much help.
Shivraj Patil’s action followed the law ministry’s review of Husain’s paintings. What irks the art community is the way the government machinery was used to persecute the painter. Ram Rahman, artist and campaigner for Husain’s rights, says it reveals the government’s inability to ensure that power is not used to quell creative freedom.
When an exhibition of Husain’s paintings was vandalised at Delhi’s Constitution Club in 2006, the Delhi Police did not act. Sahmat said police purposely refused to take action against the vandals.
The Husain episode was also exploited by mavericks. In Gujarat, BJP leader Jashubhai Patel gained prominence after he offered a kilogram of gold to anyone who gouged out the painter’s eyes. His demand included Husain’s right thumb so that the painter could be neutralised forever. Akhtar Beg, vice-president of the Madhya Pradesh Congress Committee, offered Rs 11 lakh to any patriot who chopped off Husain’s hands. Certain Muslim leaders of the Congress felt that by painting nudes of Hindu deities Husain had revealed his Hindu leanings. Ram Rahman feels as far as punishing Husain was concerned, it had become a common cause for all.
Husain is a divisive factor as he is the only painter who attracts both admirers and detractors. Prasad says the painter’s work is the best way to fight bigotry. “His work speaks louder than his critics who have made a career out of Husain bashing,” she said. Husain, curiously, is no longer the favourite punching bag for the Sangh-related outfits.