THE AUGEAN STABLE OF INDIAN LETTERS

Subhas Chandra Pattanayak

The Sahitya Akademi , hereinafter called Akademi, was created as India’s National Academy of Letters. But sadly it has become the Augean Stable of Indian letters.

We will examine only one aspect: its annual awards to the “most outstanding” books in Indian languages, which is its principal aspect; and see how in this aspect it has become the Augean Stable.

Primarily addressed to Orissa’s interests as orissamatters.com is, we will begin with and continue to examine the scenario juxtaposed with the latest Sahitya award given to a book in Oriya.

This book is a novel captioned ‘Achinha Basabhumi’.

We have exposed earlier, in these pages, how the book is a despicable one, absolutely ineligible for the award and how the selection of this book was vitiated by malpractice, manipulation, and contravention of Rules.

We are now to look at the response of the Akademi to post-selection protests to see to what extent its awards stink of corruption to make it an Augean Stable.

Corruption in selection of this book as the “most outstanding book” in Oriya language for Sahitya Award 2011 had come to the attention of Sahitya Akademi sufficient ahead of presentation of the same award. But, as the selection was deliberate, it ignored the allegation.

LAB member resigns in protest

When the award was to be given on February 14, 2012, prominent member of the Akademi’s Oriya Language Advisory Board (LAB), Barendra Krushna Dhal tendered his resignation on December 24, 2011 in protest against irregularities in selection of this book. His letter of resignation had exposed the irregularities in two fronts: (1) In selecting this book, six other eminent writers – highly creative and popular – were completely ignored and (2) As if the jury members were to sign on dotted lines, they were not given enough time for a sound selection, as they were given eleven books each to read, compare and evaluate all those books in about a week’s time which was practically impossible.

So, allegation of manipulation in selection of this book was known to the Akademi by December 24, 2011.

Protest of the preeminent
member of the Jury

There were three members in the Jury: Chandra Sekhar Rath, Srinibas Mishra and Debdas Chhotray. The Akademi had made it four membered by adding the Convener Bibhuti Pattanaik to the Jury list, and by imposing him on the Jury as its President free to intervene in works of the Jury and influence its decision by way of obstruction and permission, paving thereby the way for selection of this particular book. This apart, the convener allowed regional secretary of the Akademi to play a part in the decision of the Jury, in view of which the Jury was a de facto body of five members in place of three.

However, amongst these Jury members, only one man – Chandra Sekhar Rath -was the most distinguished and preeminent one, the primacy of whose placement in the Jury stems from the emphasis laid down by the Haksar Committee and hence, whose opinion should have counted the most.

We will come to the Haksar Committee later. This much can be said now that as the activities of the three central Akademis including Sahitya Akademi were generating constant and immense dissatisfaction, the Central Government had appointed a Committee headed by Dr. H. J. Bhabha in 1964 to review their activities. Again in 1970 another Committee was appointed under chairmanship of Justice G. D. Khosla to review their functioning including action taken on the Bhabha Committee report. As both these Committees were more ignored than honored, the Central Government had to appoint a ‘High-powered Review Committee’ (HPRC) headed by Sri P.N. Haksar in 1988 “to review the working of the three Akademis, along with their affiliates and subsidiaries and the NSD with reference to the objectives for which they were set up, and keeping in mind the recommendations of Committees set up in the past in this behalf”.

In reviewing the Awards governed and given by Sahitya Akademi, this high-powered Committee had emphasized on change of criteria in appointment of Jury. Under Para 9.48 of its report, the HPRC had stipulated that, “At least one member of the jury should be a Fellow of the Akademi or an author who had won a Sahitya Akademi Award in the past”, which the Akademi has conveyed to have accepted.

This implemented recommendation of the Haksar Committee makes it unambiguously clear that the member of the Jury who is there because of being a Fellow of the Akademi or a winner of Award of the Akademi, will be of basic and guiding importance in the Jury.

And in the Jury we are concerned with, Prof. Chandra Sekhar Rath was the only member who had won the Akademi Award in 1997 for his short story compilation ‘Sabutharu Dirgharati’. So he was the most distinguished, preeminent member.

Prof. Rath had vehemently opposed the selection of ‘Achihna Basabhumi’ till the last moment in the meeting of the Jury. When with Debdas Chhotray’s secondary support it became clear that the book was bound to be selected with majority support, he had signed on the sheet of recommendation just to save the jury from the embarrassment of being fractured.

However, there, after signing, he had cried out his protests, as admitted by the Convener and in the public, after the award was announced, he had openly divulged that the selection was fixed.

On January 3, 2012, his version came to public attention through an interview published in Sambad wherein he stated that the selection was stage-managed and he had to sign on dotted lines against his conscience. This allegation from the most distinguished member of the Jury was too serious to be ignored.

The LAB Convener Bibhuti Pattanaik who, besides being the official link between the Jury and the Akademi, had arbitrarily presided over the Jury to the extent of driving it into selection of this book, had taken cognizance of Rath’s interview in response to which he had published his comments in the same paper admitting, inter alia, that Rath had put his signature most reluctantly in the selection sheet after Chhotray’s second preference added to Mishra’s adamant preference made the selection sure for ‘Achihna Basabhumi’; after which he had also raised “strong protests” against the selection of that book.

This shows that on January 3, 2012, the Akademi was also notified of the controversy over the selection.

PIL in Orissa High Court

On February 2, 2012, the Orissa High Court, on admitting PIL case No. W.P.(C) 1871/2012, had imposed an interim injunction on presentation of the Award and issued notice to the OPs comprising (1) the Union Ministry of Tourism and Culture represented by its Secretary, (2) National Academy of Letters (Sahitya Akademi), (3) the Akademi Secretary, (4) Language Advisory Board (Odiya), (5) Bibhuti Pattanaik, convener of the Akademi, (6) Chandrasekhar Rath, Jury of the Akademi, (7) Ramkumar Mukhopadhyaya, regional secretary of the Akademi and (8) Smt. Kalpana Kumari Devi, authoress of the disputed book.

So, finally, the Akademi was notified of the irregularities in selection of this book by the High Court of Orissa on February 2, 2012 also.

Corruption all around

On being thus notified of corruption in selection of this book, it was expected of the Akademi to review the selection. But corruption was so much across it, that, instead of reviewing the cultivated recommendations of its jury for Oriya language, it defended its decision to present the award and got the stay vacated by misleading the court with suppression of vital facts as well as by taking recourse to technical grounds rather than relying on reality.

Had the Akademi reviewed the selection, it could have seen from its records that the book was selected through sheer manipulation and shrewd canvassing by its authoress through her integral part in matter of the book: the publisher, Girija Kumar Baliarsingh, who had caused insertion of this book in the list to be placed before the Jury at the last moment. The mischief of manipulation is inherent in the Annual Award Rules of the Akademi.

Rule against Rule

When Sub-Rule 1 of Rule 3 provides for enlistment of eligible books by an expert in the concerned language “strictly” conforming to the “criteria of eligibility” laid down in the Rules, Sub-Rule 3 makes the LAB members eligible not to accept the list prepared by the language expert and to recommend two books each as eligible for the award.

Yet again, under Sub-Rule 1 of Rule 4, a committee styled Preliminary Panel is created comprising ten members called ‘Referees’ , who, under Sub-Rule 3 thereof are empowered to change the list of eligible books compiled with recommendations received from the LAB members.

This is the last phase of the eligibility list for the award. Hereafter, the jury is to select the book.

Thus, the Preliminary Panel is the Final Panel for altering the list created on recommendations of the LAB members and the list created on its recommendation becomes the Final List to be placed before the Jury.

The publisher of ‘Achihna Basabhumi’ was in this Final Panel, misleadingly styled Preliminary Panel and was the only one on whose recommendation, this book which neither the language expert nor the Advisory Board members had recommended, was incorporated in the final list by the Akademi.

That the publisher of the book Girija Kumar Baliarsingh had obtained a berth in the final panel and made the book inserted in the final list by misusing his membership in that panel style ‘Preliminary Panel’ is revealed from records of the Akademi.

Asit Mohanty, an Akademi prized author and Editor of Publications (Eastern Media) had made certain queries under RTI on selection of this book. In reply to his query at Para 5 (c-viii), the Akademi has informed that, “the awarded book ‘Achinha Basabhumi’ was incorporated in the process of award at Preliminary Panel Stage” when to query at Para 5 (c-ix), it has said that, “Sri Girija Kumar Baliarsingh, one of the members of the Priliminary Panel, was (the) only (one, who) recommended the book ‘Achihna Basabhumi’ for Award.”

Award arranged through canvassing

The role of the Regional Secretary of the Akademi as well as that of the Convener in ensuring selection of this book for the award is discussed earlier in these pages. When read therewith, the role of the publisher of this book, as exposed now on the basis of records obtained from the Akademi under RTI, makes it clear that there was a meticulously calculated, canny, clever and keen canvassing for the award for ‘Achihna Basabhumi’.

The nakedness of canvassing is manifested in inclusion of the publisher of the book in the final panel.

It is up to the Akademi to reveal as to who of the Advisory Board had recommended publisher Baliarsingh for inclusion in the panel wherefrom he could insert the book in the final list.

And for this, it also should reveal, whose pressure it succumbed to in appointing this publisher as a referee and in ignoring all ethics to accommodate this particular referee’s solo recommendation at the last moment in final compilation of the eligible books for the award.

I am afraid, it will not; because the selection of this book was steered through lobbying, in sharp contravention of the rules and ethics within the knowledge of the Akademi officials and with their cooperation, participation and support.

Withdrawal of the Award is necessary

If the Akademi officials were not been involved with this offense, on receipt of Dhal’s letter of resignation from the Advisory Board on December 24, 2011, which was sent in protest against favoritism in selection, the Akademi, in order to find out if any illegality was really resorted to in selection of this book, could have immediately reviewed the entire gamut of selection, starting from the ground list to its vetting through the Advisory Board to screening thereof by referees in the final panel coined as preliminary panel and insertion of this book for the first time in the final list, beyond knowledge and jurisdiction of the Advisory Board, at the final stage on the solo recommendation of a referee who himself is the publisher of this book.

Had it been done, the clandestine canvassing by the writer could have been noticed as the publisher of a book and the writer thereof form a single unit in appearance of the book and steps could have immediately been taken to declare the book disqualified for the award.

Sub-Rule 5 of Rule 2 stipulates that, “A book shall be disqualified for the award if it is established to the satisfaction of the Executive Board that canvassing has been done by the author.”

Therefore the chief executive of the Akademi was duty bound to bring the allegation of favoritism in this book’s context to the knowledge of the Executive Board for their action against shadow canvassing by the authoress executed through her integral part in appearance of the book, the publisher.

But the chief executive of the Akademi did not do so.

The book, which is a despicable book as shown earlier in these pages and elsewhere could not be disqualified for the award before the award was presented.

After the award was presented, the role of the publisher – the integral part of the author in bringing out the book, was disclosed by the Akademi that connotes canvassing by the writer through the publisher.

Therefore the book deserves post-presentation disqualification for the award and hence the award needs to be withdrawn.

Jury members: timid or tamed?

Award to ‘Achihna Basabhumi’ could have been nullified/withdrawn had Jury member Chandra Sekhar Rath who has kept his post-announcement protests against the selection on records, been a bit honest; and if Debdas Chhotray who, in the Jury meeting, had primarily preferred another book, could have come forward to help people know the shenanigans that had preceded this selection.

There is no doubt that the Akademi officials are aggressive offenders of the very Rules, which provide for the award. But they are so very aggressive that, members of the LAB as well as of the Jury are afraid of disclosing where the shoe pinches lest that irritates the officials.

The High Court had served notices on the advisory board members through the Convener. Had they or any of them come forward to say that ‘Achihna Basabhumi’ was not in the list compiled on their recommendation, the court could not have said that the selection of this book was processed through “different expert Bodies and Committees …… formed by the National Sahitya Akademi to select the works of different authors”. And, might be, the wrong in holding this despicable book as “the most outstanding book” in Oriya language could have been corrected.

Supposing that the Convener suppressed the court notice and did not circulate the copy thereof amongst Board members, what about Chandrasekhar Rath, who had vehemently opposed the selection of this book for the award in the jury meeting itself and had, in his Sambad interview, given the impression that he had to sign on dotted lines for which his conscience was biting him bitterly and he was in deep remorse?

From the High Court verdict it transpires that he was personally notified of the case; but he did not respond.

Had he responded to the court notice and placed the facts he had divulged through the interview, the verdict of the court could certainly have not gone in favor of the Akademi and the stay on presentation of the award could not have been lifted; because the court could not have approved the illegalities resorted to in selection of this book.

Is Rath a timid fellow or was tamed by the Akademi after the Sambad interview to stay away from telling the court the truth? The answer is best known to him.

Tamed Tenacity?

It has been revealed even by the convener that when two of the members were against the awarded book, only one member of the three member jury, Srinibas Mishra, had declared at the start of the Jury meeting that he would never support any book other than ‘Achihna basabhumi’.

He is a retired person, too old for serious perusal and evaluation of so many books of so many diversities and genres in so small a time, such as a week, as LAB member Barendra Dhal has noted in his reported resignation letter.

Had he seriously read even one book, i.e. the book he so tenaciously supported, he could not have supported the book at all.

Because, a retired teacher like him could not have supported a book of filthy, insulting and obnoxious words hurled at people of lower castes, women, widows, and Muslims; a book of contempt against societal unity, against national integration and against progressive virtues.

Why he was so fixed for this particular book? Was it also an instance of tamed tenacity? This agonizing suspicion should be cleared. But, it may be clear if Mishra honestly gives a detailed account of how and why he found this book to be the “most outstanding book” of the period.

Debdas’ surprising silence

But the other member of the jury, Debdas Chhotray, who, at the beginning, had declared that none of the books in the final list was eligible for the award, had subsequently expressed his preference for a book other than ‘Achihna Basabhumi’. What happened that he helped this book with his second preference despite it being a despicable book, is a point of public interest.

Therefore I had sent him a properly explained questionnaire, which, had he answered, could have better helped in location of malpractice, if any, in selection of this book for the national award and in projection of a despicable book as “the most outstanding book” published in Oriya language. The questionnaire is perusable here. Why a man like Chhotray preferred not to cooperate is a conundrum.

Role of the Bar at India International Centre

However, a look into old files brings me into pages of Outlook India wherein well known Hindi writer Krishna Sobti was quoted to have said, “Undoubtedly, there is a literary mafia at work.”

How the mafia works? Says Sobti, “There is always a silent decision to promote someone or the other. It’s a circuit game barred to outsiders. Only a few have access to the India International Centre bar where so many things are decided.” (Outlook India, November 01, 1995)

If Jury members are gained over in bars such as at India International Centre, New Delhi, how can one expect of them any faithful adherence to Rules of the national award?

In the same discussion, Sheelbhadra, who also drew attention to the fact that a jury member had even claimed credit for ‘getting’ a particular writer his award, has said, “Personal factors obviously influence the selection of books by the language committees”.

Should we not know what Khushwant Singh has said in the same story?

In recalling his decision to quit the Sahitya Akademi’s award panel after a writer, whom he had reported for lobbying for her book, not only got the award but even declared her husband would get one the following year, Singh has said, “The kind of lobbying that goes on is shocking. In particular, there is a rampant scandal in Punjabi awards. I can’t think of a single Akademi award-winning book that has been commercially successful: they are simply unreadable.”

And, who can say, the India International Centre bar is barred to Punjabi writers?

Sanctuary of literary mafia

In their well documented write up captioned ‘Literary Mafia’ Amit Prakash and Y.P.Rajesh have exposed how award fixers are ruling the roost in the Sahitya Akademi.

“A talented Indian language writer today would need to be both influential and old, if not dead, before he is read and formally recognized by ……… the Sahitya Akademi.

“Though it is still a gentleman’s game compared to the vicious politicking, scandals and goondaism that plague the art world, the fortune and fame of many Indian writers are determined by a well-entrenched literary mafia in Delhi. A society for mutual admiration, it is a close knit group of ‘established writers’ and writer-bureaucrats who lord over vast networks of patronage. Outsiders stand little chance of breaking into this circuit and stumble in either by default or for sheer want of a favorite in a particular category or language”.(Ibid)

Exposure by Chittaranjan Das

Famous essayist and author, late Chittaranjan Das has described his experience as a member of the jury of the Akademi in Pragativadi dated June 30, 2003.

When, to avoid canvassing, it is a must for the Akademi to keep secret the names of the Jury members and this secrecy is so absolutized that no member of the Jury can know who the other members are, Das has revealed in his write-up, how he was approached by the other two members of the jury one by one and pressurized by both of them to select a particular book to ensure the award for a particular person.

Even a close friend of Das, who was not in the Jury, was used to pressurize him in support the same book, Das has said.

He has even revealed that both the other members of the Jury having decided ahead of the Jury meeting to select that particular book, his signature was formally collected by an officer of the Akademi on the sheet of paper reflecting the pre-session decision.

If Akademi officials were not involved with such award fixing, how could Das be known as a member of the Jury to others and how other two members could be gained over to have selected the book even before the Jury met?

This stripping of the Akademi by the eminent essayist, who was revered not only as a great litterateur but also as a paragon of Gandhian virtues, makes it clear that the Akademi of letters has become a sanctuary of literary mafia.

The allegation that the Convener had made

It reminds me of how in the matter of Sahitya Award-2004, in a public function of the Akademi itself at Balasore on 8 February 2010, its Convener Bibhuti Pattanaik had set the State’s literary environment ablaze by claiming that the climate of corruption prevalent in the country has also affected the nation’s highest awards for literature.

As an instance, in a conniption, he had exposed how Prafulla Mohanty had succeeded in bagging that award by bribing Jury member Manoranjan Das, with dismaying details.

It is an irony that with the same Bibhuti Pattanaik continuing as the Convener, the Award-2011 has gone to a despicable book by manipulation through illicit nexuses!

What else than the wrong practices of entertaining award-fixers in the Akademi could be responsible for this?

Awardee known
four months ahead of selection

As reported on 27 December 2007, an open appeal to the Central Culture Minister was made by eminent writers including Mahasweta Devi, Krishna Sobti, Ashok Vajpeyi, Vishnu Khare, J.P.Das, Pratibha Ray,and Ajit Cour to save the Akademi from the labyrinth of irregularities and from the grip of award fixers.

But amongst these signatories, there is one such writer who had bagged the award by manipulation!

Four months ahead of announcement of the award,former Secretary of Orissa Sahitya Akademi Dr. Hara Prasad Paricha Pattanaik had told me the name of who would get the award. And, when this particular person got the award, to what extent procurement of the award has become easier for the unscrupulous became crystal clear. In a different context, in a 2007 discussion, I have kept this information on records in these pages.

Multiple devices

“Controversies around awards in other Indian languages are not as loud as those in Hindi, which drag in all sorts of isms — cronyism, casteism, political affiliation, ideology”, says Neelabh Mishra in Outlook India of March 08, 2010.

So, not only New Delhi’s India International Centre bar, but also multiple devices like bribe, cronyism, casteism, political affiliation, ideology et cetera are in active use in selection of books for Sahitya Award.

Chronic corruption

Who but the intelligent persons can be writers and, as writers, aspire for national awards? But it also is a fact that whosoever is corrupt, is intelligent.

Like birds of the same feather, intelligent people may flock together without the risk of being easily caught for differences in avocational genre.

So in the Akademi, there is always a generic nexus between the intelligent ones with literary aspirations and the intelligent ones who thrive on corruption. Resultantly, corruption is chronic in the Akademi.

Salvaging attempts screwed up

Attempts were made to salvage the Akademi from this labyrinth in 1964 by reviewing its activities though a Committee headed by Dr. H. J. Bhabha and again in 1970 though another Committee headed by Justice G. D. Khosla. As findings thereof had no impact on the Akademi, a high-powered Committee headed by P. N. Haksar was appointed in 1988 about which we have already mentioned. This being a high-powered Committee, action on its recommendations was supposed to be sure. But mafia ruling the roost in Akademi matters screwed it up.

Parliamentary Standing Committee does a dig

With a Communist Sitaram Yechury at the helm, the Parliament’s Standing Committee on Transport, Tourism and Culture thought it prudent to look at the functioning of the autonomous cultural bodies including the Akademi and in the process stumbled upon the Haksar Committee report ignored by the Akademi, abandoned by the Government and buried under dusts of time. It had to force the Ministry to retrieve the report, but it failed to find if any action was taken thereon; because, the concerned files were reported to be missing.

In introducing how it stumbled upon the Haksar Committe report, the Standing committee says, “The Committee had received inputs from various quarters, governmental and nongovernmental including Media, about the working of our premier cultural bodies – Sangeet Natak Akademi, Sahitya Akademi, Lalit Kala Akademi and National School of Drama. The issues ranged from their constitution, composition, mandate and mainly their general functioning. It was felt that most of these institutions were not able to live up to the original mandates set out by their founding fathers. Controversies of different kind involving these institutions that keep cropping up from time to time, had caught this Committee’s attention. Questions were also raised about the indifference and helplessness shown by the Ministry of Culture to do anything in the face of autonomy enjoyed by these institutions.(Para 23)

“In view of this, the Committee wanted to find out if these institutions set up during the initial years, were able to make the desired contribution towards enriching, promoting and preserving our arts and culture”. (para 24)

“To begin with, the Committee prepared a questionnaire and sent to the Ministry of Culture for furnishing replies, based on which it could begin its deliberations. During the deliberations, the Committee came to know that similar sentiments about the functioning and activities of these institutions had existed even during the sixties and thereafter, which is why different Committees had to be set up for going into their working”.(Para 25)

Files gone missing

The Standing Committee came to know of three different Committees constituted for the purpose in the past, the last being the Haksar Committee, which was a “High-Powered Review Committee” created for the purpose of salvaging the Akademis.

It “asked for a copy of this High-Powered Committee Report (Haksar Committee) from the Government and it was surprised to know that files relating to action taken to most of its recommendations had gone missing and the Ministry of Culture was trying to locate them. However, a copy of the Haksar Committee Report was furnished to this Committee. The recommendations/observations of this Committee (Haksar Committee), in fact, were an eye-opener to this Committee that were found to be as relevant today as they would have been more than two decades ago when it was submitted to the Govt. of India in the year 1990”, the Parliamentary Standing Committee has noted at Para 26 of in its report tabled in the Parliament on 17 August 2011.

Decision of the Standing Committee

Convinced of the relevance of the Haksar Committee report, which was produced on the basis of in-depth scrutinization of “the records of the institutions including the agenda and proceedings of their policy-making bodies, executive and academic bodies and internal committees” on the one hand; and on the other hand its interaction “across section of people active in the fields of performing and visual arts, language and literature, education and cultural administration over the country”, but was lying abandoned, the Standing Committee “felt that it would be unnecessary duplication of efforts and resources for the Parliamentary Committee to start another exercise of reviewing the working of these institutions as it had initially decided”.

Therefore, the Committee “took a decision to review the implementation of the recommendations of the Haksar Committee and report its observations/recommendations to Parliament which might sensitize the Government, Akademis, NSD and the people at large, about the significance as well as the neglect of these bodies in our nation’s life”. (Para 28-29)

Concerned as we are only with the Sahitya Akademi in this essay, we will look into the affairs only of this Akademi as mentioned in the Standing Committee Report to the extent that is relevant to the topic in our hand: the Annual Sahitya Awards.

At Para 9.46 of its report, the HPRC headed by Haksar had observed, “The Sahitya Akademi needs to take note of the general dissatisfaction regarding the present system of deciding its annual awards.” To query of the Parliamentary Committee on this point, the Akademi refused to agree to this, as there has been no objection over its present system of selection.

The Standing Commiittee has refused to accept the the version of the Akademi. It has noted, “The Committee endorses the recommendation of the HPRC and is of the view that selection process is not without any controversy. It is true about Sahitya Akademi award also. What is needed is to follow a very transparent and comprehensive selection process with least scope for favoritism, etc. The existing selection process may be re-examined accordingly and intimated to the Committee.”

The Haksar Committee had further said that, “The juries must apply the most exacting standards. If no book or author in any given language comes up to the mark, no prize need be awarded. The existing guideline to this effect should be strictly enforced.” (Para 9.51 of its report) To query of the Standing Committee on this count, the Akademi said that the recommendation has been “implemented” and the Standing Committee took note of it. But as shown in this chain of discussions in these pages, it is clear that the recommendation is observed more in violation than implementation. Corruption has engulfed the entire process.

“Our conventional wisdom says that a society bereft of art, music and literature will consist of people as good as animals with no horns and tails. The main challenge before us today is to protect and promote our tangible and intangible cultural assets at a right perspective.” The Parliamentary Standing Committee had introduced its report with this note.

Challenge remains a challenge

But the challenge has remained a challenge. The Akademi has remained the Augean Stable of Indian letters, as is established by award to ‘Achihna Basabhumi’.

It is time, the Standing Committee of the Parliament, in this context, should find time , to review the implementation of its views. And, the sooner it is done, the better.

Advertisements

Offense Against Oriya Language: India’s National Academy of Letters Collaborates with Hijackers of Sahitya Award,2011

Subhas Chandra Pattanayak

Climate of corruption has so severely affected India that even the National Academy of Letters – the Kendra Sahitya Akademi – is being looked at askance as the breeding center of clandestine deals and favoritism in selection of books for annual awards that the nation offers to the best of works in Indian languages .

Selection of Achihna Basabhumi, authored by Kolkata based Kalpana Kumari Devi, with a dubious dateline of 2009 for its annual award in Oriya language for the year 2011 has regenerated this suspicion.

It is seen that the book was not in the ground list prepared for the purpose of selection. Therefore, it is clear that it was inserted into the short list placed before the Juri from beyond the ground list prepared by the expert appointed by the Akademi.

Whosoever had made this book included in the list before the Jury, can certainly be held as the main manipulator of the award. The Akademi is not disclosing the name of whosoever has clamped this book on the Jury beyond the ground list.

The Jury was legally bound to reject this book on two grounds: firstly, for use of derogatory words against lower caste people as shown in these pages earlier and secondly, for absence of materials that should have shown the book as the “most outstanding” one to merit the national award. An attempt to evaluate how far it was the “most outstanding” could have revealed that its claim to have been published in 2009 to qualify for consideration for the award was dubious. But no such attempt was made, because, the Jury was either gained over by whosoever had lobbied for this book or was too pusillanimous to use its wisdom against pressure from the Akademi to recommend this book for the award.

So, surely the Jury has failed to perform its assigned duty in the manner stipulated in the Rules of the Akademi and, as subsequent discussion would show, has done the worst possible damage to the dignity of Oriya language by dancing to the tune of award hijackers.

Unless, its recommendation in favor of Achihna Basabhumi is rejected by the Akademi, its credibility and the dignity of the award would remain impaired, to the chagrin of all who love their language.

Rules of the Akademi raped

At least 50 % of the members of the Akademi’s Oriya Advisory Board (LAB) have told me that they had not suggested any name for appointment as expert to prepare a ground list for the award.

All of them have told me that they do not know the name of the expert who prepared the ground list with books that were not to be considered “most outstanding” on the matrix of the Rules.

Rules stipulate that, from amongst the persons recommended by the Board members, one or at best two would be appointed by the Academy President as expert or experts, to prepare the ground list of books eligible for the award.

When Board members had not recommended any person for appointment as expert, where from the Academy President got a man to prepare the ground list?

It is apprehended that the so-called expert was either a ghost expert or was appointed by manipulation; because, it is discernible that the ground list was prepared by a sophomore, not an expert on Oriya literature inasmuch as 11 books out of the 16 in the ground list belonged to a single publisher, which also included two of his own titles and one of his wife. Had an expert or a team of two experts, as provided for under the Rules, prepared the ground list, then 11 out of 16 books could never have come into that list from a single publisher.

Mafias in Academy loot the awards

The selection of Achihna Basabhumi, also of the same publisher of the afore said 11 books, inserted into the shortlist from beyond the ground list, for the national literature award 2011, as the most outstanding book published in Oriya language during the relevant period has provoked even the superbly polite and gentle face in Oriya literature, Sri Satakadi Hota to say before TV cameras that Sahitya Akademi Awards are being looted like mafias loot the mines. Sri Hota is a member of the General Council of the Akademi with enough experience in its functionalities. In an interview, (Chhota Srustira Samahar Chandan: Vol-V, Issue 1) he has not only corroborated his telecasted version, but also has put it on records that for the last few years he has been consciously watching how the Sahitya Awards are being fixed in contravention of the Rules, willfully carried out.

Another noted activist in the area of Oriya literature, Journalist Barendra Krushna Dhal, has even resigned from the Akademi’s LAB in protest against favoritism resorted to in selection of this book, specifically as, to his observation, the Akademi is incorrigibly corrupt in such selections.

Noted poet Rajendra K. Panda, also a member of the LAB was so shocked by selection of this book that on 22 December 2011, he had to share his feelings on his facebook wall in these words: “I woke up with a surprise. Kalpana Kumari Devi has been selected to receive this year’s award of Sahitya Akademi for Odia. I confess, I have not read any of her books; it shows my ignorance. Of course, I had seen some of her short stories years back; they were lackluster; may be, she grew in her dimensions later, about which I didn’t know”.

Deceitfulness of Chandra Sekhar Rath

These reactions had provoked author-cum-journalist Asit Mohanty, who also leads the Mukta Sahitya Manch, to meet one of the selectors of this book, Jury member Chandra Sekhar Rath to find out how and why this book was selected for the coveted award. The text of the interview is published in Orissa’s top circulated daily, the Sambad, on 3 January 2012. Here, in answering to Mohanty, Rath has vomited that he succumbed to the pressure from the convener of the Advisory Board, Bibhuti Patnaik in selection of this book.

More shocking than the allegation against Bibhuti Patnaik is the dastardly deceitfulness of Rath as revealed in this interview. He has no qualms in saying that, though reluctant to chose this book for the award, he was morally bound to select the book. “I am aware of the dissatisfaction in the public over selection of this book and I have no hesitation in saying that I am also not satisfied. But, by this, I am not trying to disown my responsibility. Coincidentally I had to be a part of this decision and I am dissatisfied with myself for what I had to morally do”, he has said.

Hypocrisy! could there be a different name of thine?

Rath was asked: Have you any objection to reveal the names of the books that were before the Jury for selection? Instead of revealing the names of the books, he has rushed into saying how the award was fixed.

Pointing out that the kingpin in award fixation was the regional secretary of Sahitya Akademi, Ramkumar Mukhopadhyaya, Rath has said, it is this official, who, beyond known provisions of the Rules, imposed upon the Jury Sri Bibhuti Patnaik to preside over and participate in final selection of the book for the award.

“To my knowledge, role of the convener is limited to organize the session of the Jury and to provide the Jury with unrestrained opportunity to take the decision. Participation of the convener in decision making was an unknown proposition. But as the regional secretary of the Akademi himself gave this direction, even though surprised, I did not feel it necessary to seek clarification on the new rule and kept quite. As such, in place of three members in the Juri, we became four. Then voice of the convener remained predominant from start to end of the session”, has said Sri Rath.

Is it expected of Sri Rath, a man of seniority and fame as a writer, to indulge in such acrobatics that clearly is designed to mislead the people?

If the Akademi secretary had wrongfully instructed that the session of the Jury was to be controlled by the convener and the convener was jumping his jurisdiction and imposing himself upon the Jury, why had he not objected to that in the meeting on records?

If it was a foul play against our literature, why did he not try to foil it on the spot?

Is it not an afterthought to divert public attention from the farce, he, as a member of the Jury, has made of the award?

Is it not a design shrewdly contrived to escape exposure by throwing the mud to someone else?

If he has any honesty, he should answer these questions.

However, as Rath has alleged that the decision of the Jury was influenced, we would like to go further into what he has said. Because history of offense against our mother tongue needs be kept on records.

He has said, “From amongst us, a member at the start of the session stated that there was no book in the list that could be considered as outstanding to qualify for the award. I politely differed. Because, to my impression, all most all the authors under consideration were eminent and accordingly, all the books were fit for the award”.

To him, all of the books placed before the Jury were so superb that it was difficult to reject any of them. “The problem with me was not in selecting one of the books; it was in rejecting the rest ten titles”, he has said.

If he is true in his this statement, why has he, as quoted supra, declared, “I have no hesitation in saying that I am also not satisfied” with selection of Achihna Basabhumi for the award?

Let him clarify, if he likes.

But let us proceed to see what further he has said.

He has said, “I had proposed that one book each from the four segments of literature be chosen first and from those four books, in the second stage, the best book be recommended for award. But the convener declared that there was no necessity of a second shortlist and insisted upon selection from the novel segment alone.I cannot say if the book now selected could have come into the list if the second shortlist should have been prepared. Yet, as because the proposal for the second shortlist was harped on, two or three books were discarded in a haste. Difference of opinion also had arisen. When a particular novel was influential to a Jury member, it was discarded because of views that the same was not at all a novel. Another novel was kept out of consideration, because its author was considered young enough to wait for awards. The third one being the only one of that year, besides being a compilation of published materials, was considered unfit for the award. In all such decisions, the tone of the convener was the dominant tone. Then, he placed the (now selected) book with his supportive opinion thereon”.

Thus saying, he has further said, “My personal predicament was that, if I was not supporting him, then difference of opinion was a must. But, adoption of his proposal by majority support was a certainty. The second predicament was, failure to take an unanimous decision in favor of a book would not be worthwhile in national arena. And, works of letters of this area would not be free from controversy. So, without going into any argument, I put my signature of approval thereon. This is for me, a defeat on moral ground. May be, I do not possess the required courage and ability for impartial evaluation needed for a clear, fearless decision”.

If Rath was really addressed to dignity of Oriya language, he should not have bared the Jury proceedings in such a style. And, if what he has divulged is factually correct, why has he not tendered his resignation as yet, specifically as he now confesses that he does not possess the required courage and ability for impartial evaluation of a literary work needed for delivering a clear fearless decision in matter of awards?

Convener’s clarification

Convener Bibhuti Pattanaik issued a clarification in print media, from which it transpires that out of the 11 books placed before the Jury, only six books somewhat had got mention in the discussion. They were, besides Achihna Basabhumi of Kalpanakumari Devi, Aranyare Yetedin of poet Hara Prasad Parcha Patnaik, Kanta O Anyanya Galpa of Gourahari Das, Chitra Turaga of Padmaja Pal, Mukti Yuddha of Satakadi Hota and Paunshagadara Sunara Dhuli, Mo Dhanamali of Debraj Lenka.

Out of these six books, three books – Kanta O Anyanya Galpa, Chitra Turaga and Mukti Yuddha – were from three different publishers and the rest three books were from the same publisher who was favored with 11 of his published titles in the ground list of 16 books.

When, to Jury member Debdas Chhotray, as informed by Sri Pattanaik, none of these books were “outstanding” to merit the national award, Chandra Sekhar Rath had put his preference on Parichha Patnaik’s Aranyare Yetedin and Pal’s Chitra Turaga. The other Jury member Shrinibas Mishra had declared from the beginning that none of the books except Kalpanakumari’s Achihna Basabhumi had any merit for the national award.

As the agenda of selection was shepherded into the limits of novels alone, Parichha Patnaik’s as well as Pal’s works were kept out of purview of the Jury.

In such circumstances, both Chhotray and Rath were prevailed upon to expand their views, whereupon, Chhotray announced his first preference for Debraj Lenka’s Paunshagadara Sunars Dhuli, Mo Dhanamali and second preference for Achihna Basabhumi.

When Rath was reluctant to prefer Lenka’s book on the ground of some indecent expressions depicted therein, Mishra had found Hota’s Mukti Yuddha unfit for the award on the ground of projection of Naxalites therein as freedom fighters.

So, taking into accounts the first preference of Mishra and second preference of Chhotray for Achihna Basabhumi, this book was selected for the award whereto Rath also subscribed his endorsement in the meeting itself, Pattanaik has said.

Wrongs rampant

But this clarification issued by the convener has bared how wrongs are rampant in selection, exposing inter alia his own wrongful participation therein.

Even as he has not countered Rath’s allegation that the Akademi’s regional secretary Ramkumar Mukhopadhyaya had clamped him on the Jury to preside over its session, he has, on his own accord, said that he has intervened in proceedings of the Jury. As for instance, he has said, “I had first stressed upon limiting the selection to novels only as from this segment more numbers of books had come into zone of final consideration” and when consideration was thus shepherded into the arena novels only, “I objected to taking cognizance of Debraj Lenka’s 98 page book as a complete novel”.

Had the convener thus not steered the selection process, Parichha Patnai’s beautiful poems compiled in Aranyare Yetedina (I have read this book so may times, every time feeling its freshness) or Gourahari’s stories in Kanta O Anyanya Galpa or Pal’s Chitra Turaga might have been chosen for the award beyond the segment of novel.

In the segment of novel, the only segment adopted for award, the selection seems to have been fixed.

Hota’s Mukti Yuddha was discarded, as to perception of Mishra, it equated Naxals with freedom fighters. Is quality of literature to be weighed on whether or not the author supports economy of inequality? Nonsense.

Lenka’s Paunshagadara Sunara Dhuli, Mo Dhanamali was rejected as the convener refused to accept it as a complete novel and Rath found in its pages certain expression that did not commensurate with standard language.

It is surprising that this Rath did not find any objectionable expression in Achihna Basabhumi though derogatory words are used against people of lower castes many a times in the book. Is it upper caste class design?

The convener may throw necessary light on this aspect.

Like Hota’s powerful novel Mukti Yuddha was discarded because it eulogized the revolutionaries, Paricha Patnaik’s Aranyare Yetedina was kept out of consideration, because it had also certain poems therein like Mukti Yatra that despite putting premium on patience, eulogized the Naxal activities in an environment of exploitation.

Was it because it was necessary to keep every iota of progressive expression out Sahitya Award to please the government run by right viruses?

The convener may throw necessary light on this aspect.

But who will be responsible for the gang rape on the Akademi’s reigning Procedure that govern the award?

Gang rape of Akademi’s reigning Procedure

Akademi’s reigning Procedure lays down under the head of “The Jury and its Functions” that:

The recommendations of Referees in the Preliminary Panel shall be considered by a three member Jury. The Jury members shall be selected by the President after considering the recommendations in this behalf by the members of the Language Advisory Board concerned.

The Akademi shall purchase the books recommended by the Referees in the Preliminary Panel and send them to the Jury members and to the Convener.

The Convener shall act as the link between the Jury and the Akademi. He/she will ensure that the meeting of the Jury is conducted properly and satisfactorily and will countersign the report of the Jury.

The Jury members shall, either by consensus or by majority, recommend a book for the award. They may also recommend that, in their opinion, no book is eligible for the award during the year. In the event of a member not being able to attend the meeting, he/she may convey his/her view in writing.

In view of these stipulations, there should have been only a three member Jury to examine the Oriya books placed before it and to select one of them for the award. The convener having admittedly participated to the extent of intervention in the proceeding of the Juri had de facto turned it into a four member body in contravention of the Procedure even in the presence of the regional secretary of the Akademi, who according to what Rath has stated, had clamped him on the Jury to chair over it.

According to the procedure noted above, the role of the Convener was limited to acting as the link between the Jury and the Akademi. He was to ensure that the meeting of the Jury was conducted properly and satisfactorily; but not to intervene in proceedings thereof. But as he, on his own accord, has disclosed, he intervened to the extent of capturing the award by his close friend Kalpanakumari for her novel Achihna Basabhumi with all the three members of the Jury accepting his intervention under the very eyes of Mukhopadhyaya, the Akademi official. I do not know if there is any precedence of such a gang rape of Akademi’s Rules and Procedure in process of facilitating award hijacking.

Selection through sharp practice

To which book the award should be given? To the “most outstanding” book of a recognized language.

The procedure for selecting a book laid down under the head of Sahitya Akademi Award says:

Subject to the provision of rule 1(2), there shall be an award every year for the most outstanding book by an Indian author, first published in any of the languages recognized by the Sahitya Akademi during the three years prior to the year, immediately preceding the year of the award.

By way of Illustration, it is said, that, “for the award of 2004, books published between 2000 and 2002 would be considered”.

This means, for the award of 2011, the selected book was to have been published during the period covering 2007 to 2009. But the selection was done through sharp practice and in contravention of this time tag and in contempt against stipulation on “most outstanding” status of the book.

Backdated publication

The final year of the qualifying period fitting into the zone of consideration for Sahitya Award 2011 was 2009.

But the book Achihna Basabhumi was not even written by this year.

This is clear from the interview its authoress had given to Yugashree Yuganaree as is published in its edition of February 2010.

To the query as to why she had no published work since 1986, she had said in the interview, “For intervening 20 year, I had given up writing. All the responsibilities of the household were on my shoulder. Children were in their demanding childhood. Novel writing is taxing and time-consuming. (Therefore) In the intervening period I my writing was limited to short stories only. Now again I have started writing novel” (Yugashree Yuganaree, February 2010, p.7)

So, according to her own statement, she had not written novel during 20 years up to 2010. And, hence, the book Achihna Basabhumi was not written before 2010.

There is reason to apprehend that the book was not published even before 2011. This is because, the book was not found in any of the book fairs either in 2010 or in 2011.

Had it been really published in 2009, its publisher who could flood the ground list of 16 books with as many as 11 from his publications alone as against 5 from other publishers, could not have kept away the book from the book fairs.

There is no review of the book in media worth the name in 2009, the claimed year of its publication.

There was no media review of the book even in 2010 and 2011.

On the other hand, when its publisher (the owner of the publishing brands Kahani and Akshara) Girija Kumar Baliarsingh has claimed that this book was published befor November 2009, there is no trace of this book in the 6th final edition, 2009 of Odia Pustak Prakasahan Suchi (Index of Oriya published works) that has covered all the books published till end of November, 2009. It is noteworthy that this index has, in its body, as many as 28 novels published by this publisher by end of November 2009 on the basis of data supplied by Baliarsingh, the publisher. But Achihna Basabhumi does not find a place in it, because the publisher did not submit its name as it was not published by then.

The ISBN records do not show that this book was published in 2009.

But before the ink of the convener’s signature on the Jury minutes dried up on blind acceptance of 2009 as its publication year, the book has come out with its second edition, 2012. so immensely popular is this book!

If the book is so immensely popular that its first edition is sold away so quickly, how is it that no writer worth the name has seen this book as yet?

How could its first edition got sold so soon sans media review and away from book fairs? It is a conundrum to whosoever has any interest in the history of book-selling in Orissa.

Its selection for 2011 award has generated unprecedented protests in this State. It is hard to believe that there must be any amongst book lovers of Orissa to whose attention the news of its selection and protests on its claimed age has not come as yet. But none of them has given any indication so far that he or she has seen the book in 2009 or even 2010 or even 2011.

On the other hand, in trying to pooh-pooh the questions on its publication dateline, its publisher Girija Baliarsingh has, in a statement asserted that he had published the book by November, 2009, but had not marketed it, as mistakes sic passim, a complete overhaul thereof was essential. The overhauling was certainly not completed before its manipulated insertion into the final list, as otherwise, it could have been placed in the ground list obviously by a paid agent attired as expert. However, by taking refuge in the necessity of overhauling, the publisher has admitted that the book had not reached the market by the relevant year of 2009.

So the book was not really published in 2009 and hence had no qualification for consideration for the Sahitya Award, 2011.

Whosoever had enlisted this book for consideration had certainly placed a backdated publication and the Jury has certainly erred against Oriya language as well as the Akademi by entertaining this backdated edition.

Paid agent(s) in the attire of expert

In the scheme of Sahitya Award given to the “most outstanding” book in every Indian language, the role of the expert is primordial. Rules require that preparation of the ground list of “most outstanding” books must be assigned to an expert or at best two experts as the President of the Akademi would prefer.

Rules further require that members of the LAB would each recommend up to five persons for appointment as “expert” out of which the President of the Akademi will have to chose one expert, or “at his discretion” two experts to prepare the ground list “strictly” conforming “to the criteria of eligibility laid down under these rules”.

The catch word here is “members”. The Akademi must have to collect from each of the LAB member the names for appointment of the “expert(s) and unless there is a vacancy by way of death, no LAB member can be granted the liberty of abstaining from submitting his/her preferred names for appointment of the “expert”.

But the Akademi is now being used by literature “mafia” (as Satakadi Hota, quoted supra, has used the term) to hijack the Sahitya Award. This hijacking would not be possible if the Akademi appoints real “expert(s)” for preparation of the ground list. And, therefore submission of names for appointment as “expert(s) is not being stressed upon. This facilitates preparation of the ground list of “most outstanding” books by paid agents of aspirant authors and/or publishers, attired as “experts”, bagging the appointment.

This is discernible in the matter of Oriya language in 2011 award context.

As 50 % of the LAB members had told me (noted supra) so also Barendra Krushna Dhal, another member of LAB, has revealed in writing that he had not recommended any name for appointment as “expert” (The Samaja: 18 January 2012).

Thus the Akademi had no names from “members” of the LAB and hence, appointment of “expert”, if any, was improper, farcical and arbitrary.

To this so-called “expert” it did not appear prudent to pick up the “most outstanding” books from Orissa’s vast numbers of publishers/authors for the ground list by conforming strictly “to the criteria of eligibility laid down under these rules” .

The “expert” is so expert in Oriya language that the list it prepared was limited to only 16 books out of which as many as 11 books came from the stable of a single publisher!

In the circumstances, therefore, it is suspected that the “expert” was not a real expert, but a paid agent attired as expert, appointed to prepare a ground list of any books under the guise of choosing the “most outstanding” ones.

Rightly, therefore, Chhoray, as noted supra, considered none of those books as “most outstanding”.

It would not be out of context to say that when the final list for placement before the Jury was prepared, as many as 12 books constituting 75 % of the books in the ground list prepared by the so-called “expert” were thrown out as unworthy of consideration.

It shows that from the very start, the most aggressive award hijacker had inserted his tentacles into the selection system.

Labyrinth of manipulation

In the labyrinth of manipulation, selection of the “most outstanding” book did not stay a prerequisite for the Sahitya Award, as, besides the sophomore(s) attired as expert(s), a member of the Jury – Shrinibas Mishra – was, from the beginning, harping on selection of Achihna Basabhumi for the award, despite it being in noway the “most outstanding” book published during the stipulated period.

Chhotray had given his second preference to it, that shows that in his view this book was not the “most outstanding”.

And Rath, the other Jury member, who ultimately had to succumb to pressure, was, till the last moment against choice of this book. So, to him also, this book was not the “most outstanding”.

Besides, none of these three members of the Jury had taken any step to determine that this book was surely the “most outstanding” and published in 2009.

What does “most outstanding” mean?

The plain meaning of the word “outstanding” means, standing out from a group : conspicuous; and marked by eminence and distinction noticeable.

Therefore, to mark a book as “most outstanding” its comparison with other books of the group is essential. This was neither done by the “expert” while preparing the ground list, nor by the person who referred it to Jury and not by the Jury that ultimately recommended it.

A plain reading of the book vis-a-vis others in the group should also not have sufficed to show the book as the “most outstanding” even if in scheme of sequences, structure of language, style of expression, purpose of presentation and other literary properties, it would have looked sounder than its contestants in the perceptions of the Jury members; because, it had to stand the test of marketing with “noticeable distinction” and also “eminence” to come out as the “most outstanding” book of the relevant period. Exceeding others in sale is the second prerequisite on which determination of the book as the “most outstanding” rests.

Spirit of the time tag killed

The Jury members have not understood this, or if they have understood, they have not given importance to the unavoidable prerequisite that, the book chosen for the award must have exceeded other books in sale and acceptability by the readers.

The Rule requires this and therefore it has provided for selecting a book published “during the three years prior to the year, immediately preceding the year of the award”.

The sole purpose of this time tag is addressed to market study to determine as to which of the book is “most sold” to decide which one of the books under zone of consideration is the “most outstanding” book on the basis of its acceptability to the readers.

This market study was never conducted and the books were never compared on the basis of sale either by the “expert” or by the Jury and more shockingly, the Akademi has never studied the sale status of the books in run for the award to assess as to whether in readers’ view the book so selected was the “most outstanding”.

It is sad that the spirit of the time tag is killed and Rules of the Akademi are raped and rendered inconsequential as its functionaries have collaborated with award hijackers.