January 16, 2010

PM Inaugurates new campus of the Maulana Abul Kalam Azad Institute of Asian Studies and work on 2nd Phase of Science City

It gives me great pleasure to be here in Kolkata to dedicate the New Campus of the Maulana Abul Kalam Azad Institute of Asian Studies and to lay the foundation stone of the 2nd Phase of the Science City of Kolkata.


Maulana Abul Kalam Azad spent almost fifty years working in this great city. He was one of the finest embodiments of India's secular composite culture. As India's first Minister in charge of Education, which included Culture, he made pioneering contributions to India's cultural and educational development. It would therefore be a fitting tribute if an Institute named after this illustrious son of Kolkata were to become a centre for learning, a center for scholarship on South Asia, with its diverse traditions and expressions.


The Science City has become a landmark of the city. I do hope that the 2nd Phase of the Science City will use the latest educational software and teaching technologies that will both entertain and inform. The popularization of science among our youth is crucial if we are to become a knowledge economy and a knowledge society.


Kolkata was the birthplace of the Indian renaissance in the 19th Century. It is the cradle where our national spirit and culture were nurtured. There is no better place than Kolkata here to contemplate how we can reshape the cultural landscape in India. It is time for winds of change to blow through our institutions, our museums, our libraries and our academies. We need to introduce modern technology and management to preserve our vast historical and archaeological wealth and to promote the wealth of our talent in the literary, visual and performing arts.


To my mind, the top most priority of the Ministry of Culture is to oversee the professionalization of the management of our cultural resources and institutions. The task of preserving our ancient historical and cultural treasures must devolve on the best professionals available in our country. We recognize that bureaucratisation tends to negate cultural expression and preservation. As a decisive first step, we have liberalized the rules for recruiting the executive heads of eight national level cultural institutions. We are going to make appointments of outstanding professionals to head the Archaeological Survey of India and other institutions very soon.


I recognize that these institutions need functional autonomy and flexibility to run effectively. We are looking into this aspect as well. I have always said that funds will never be a constraint when it comes to the question of preserving our cultural heritage. We will at the same time ensure proper accountability and oversight.


Whether it is the field of archaeology or archives, there is a wealth of knowledge, resources and expertise that is available in the country. Both the Archaeological Survey of India as well as the National Archives will strengthen networking with State level bodies and increase outreach to talent available outside the government.


I have asked the Ministry of Culture to think how, in the long term, we can increase the talent pool of professional cultural administrators and managers who can manage our museums, archives and academies. We have to encourage studies in art appreciation, antiquarian studies and museology and also set up an international-level post graduate course in museum management. The government could consider funding chairs in select universities to enhance interest and studies in such areas.



The world associates us with our cultural showpieces - our monuments, works of art and historical remains. Many of these are lying in neglect. The fact of the matter is also that, despite our best intentions, the manner in which we preserve and display our artifacts, both cultural and historical has fallen behind contemporary world standards. There is no reason why the Indian Museum or our other premier museums should not be on par with the Smithsonian, the Hermitage or the British Museum.


The Ministry of Culture has taken up the revamp of our museums on a priority basis. I have also asked the Central Advisory Board on Culture, which has some of our most distinguished professionals in the field, to suggest a plan of action to make our museums world class. We will have to draw upon the best expertise available in conservation, multi-media display, design, lighting, narration and communication so that visits to our museums become experiences to remember.


We are giving added emphasis to the promotion of the performing and creative arts. I am glad to inform you that the Government of India has recently doubled the amount of annual salary grants to theatre and dance groups. In fact, there was a demand fromtheatre personalities in Kolkata for assistance in setting up small, intimate performing spaces known as 'studio theatres' for smaller audiences. I am happy to announce that the Ministry of Culture is finalizing a scheme of financial assistance for setting up such studio theatres.


In recent years, there has been a profusion of writing in various Indian languages. Indian writers in English have gained world renown in recent years. There is much that needs to be done to popularize contemporary writing in other Indian languages, particularly among the younger generation since many of the writers are young and deal with contemporary themes.


We had set up a National Translation Mission and it is making progress. The Coordination Committee of the three National Academies met last week. One of the fruitful decisions that emerged was to work to systematically popularize Indian literature abroad. The modalities and funding are now being worked out. I do hope that in the coming years, modern Indian literature and our classics would be available in Arabic, Chinese, French, Russian, Spanish and English. It is equally important to expose ourselves to outside cultural influences. We should make an effort to promote regional studies and study of foreign languages in our country.


Technological upgradation of the archives of our institutions is one of our key priorities. Institutions such as the Sangeet Natak Academi, the Films Division, the Zonal Cultural Centres, the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts and numerous other institutions have a wealth of valuable audio-visual materials which need immediate preservation. The Ministry of Culture will extend whatever assistance is required to preserve, digitize and popularize these audio-visual materials that document our contemporary cultural history.


The government is working hard to revive the cultural scene in Bengal. Kolkata has been a major center of inquiry and research in modern India. The Asiatic Society has just celebrated its 225th year. The Ministry of Culture had made a special allocation of almost Rs.90 crores in the current financial year, to modernize four of its premier cultural institutions located in Kolkata, namely, the Asiatic Society, the Indian Museum, the Victoria Memorial and the National Library.


Each of these institutions is a cultural icon of the country. Unfortunately, these institutions have not been able to fully utilize this grant in the first year. The modernization of the National Library is among our priority tasks. I am glad to learn that almost the entire catalogue of 24 lakh books of the National Library would be available in digital format online, within the next six months or so. I do hope that these four institutions will work harder to use the allocated funds to introduce state of the art systems of preservation, display and storage of their priceless antiquities, paintings and manuscripts.


During the current financial year, we have also given substantial additional funds to the Khuda Baksh Library of Patna, the Rampur Raza Library of UP and the Delhi Public Library.


The National Gallery of Modern Art in Delhi has recently increased its space by six times and has also opened a branch in Bangalore, meeting the longstanding demand of that city. The Chief Minister of West Bengal has written to me proposing the setting up of a Kolkata Museum of Modern Art through a public-private partnership. We are examining this proposal. We are also keen to convert the Acharya Bhawan of India's great scientist J.C. Bose into a science heritage museum and we have taken steps for improving the Sir Jadunath Sarkar Archives and Museum. The Ministry of Culture will also assist in the revival of other historic cultural institutions of Kolkata like the Academy of Fine Arts and the Government College of Art.


In May 2011, the world will celebrate the 150th birth anniversary of Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore. A National Committee of distinguished experts will advise on the events to commemorate the life and works, as well as the values and ideals, of Gurudev. Last week I agreed with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to oversee the joint celebrations of the event in a befitting manner. We will work to rekindle international interest in the works of one of the world's greatest poets.


A most fitting commemoration would be an organic revival of the national treasure that is Viswa Bharati. The Government of India has already sanctioned Rs.95 crores through the University Grants Commission for its upgradation. We are working to preserve Shantiniketan's cultural properties. Over the next four years we expect to restore many of its priceless paintings, sculptures and murals and the hand-written manuscripts of the poet laureate. We hope to take up the modernization of both the Rabindra Bhavan and the Kala Bhavan. I am told that there is a possibility of displaying, for the first time since the 1930s, exhibitions of the gemsfrom Tagore's art works in Paris and other important cities. We are also assisting in fulfilling two long-standing needs: the publication of a Rabindra Chitraa-vali depicting the genius of Tagore's paintings and a comprehensive edition of Tagore's literary works.


Perhaps even more important is the preservation of the intangible cultural heritage bequeathed by Gurudev of learning through free thought and self- expression in communion with nature. How we could do so keeping in mind contemporary needs is something that needs deep reflection and creative thinking.


In a few years it will also be the 150th birth anniversary of the great teacher and spiritual thinker Swami Vivekananda. We propose to use the occasion to popularize his powerful teachings and thoughts, which have great contemporary relevance. The Ministry of Culture has already earmarked Rs 100 crore for the events and a National Committee will guide the celebrations in cooperation with the Ramakrishna Mission.


I would like to conclude by emphasizing that our government believes in the plurality of Indian culture, in the freedom of cultural expression and in the importance of culture in our social progress and the spiritual development. We seek to strengthen and promote our cultural diversity by ensuring that the distant states and regions of India find due representation in our cultural arena.


For its long term salvation, culture must become a people's movement. We have to give culture a contemporary feel and relevance. Art in public spaces needs to be encouraged to integrate aesthetics and culture with urban life. Youth should be encouraged to discover in art and culture a joy and inspiration that mass media does not offer. We truly need a renaissance in the way in which we preserve, protect and propagate art and culture in the country. I commend all those gathered here today to come together in this important national endeavour.


Thank you.