Dr Mithilesh Kumar Tripathy, the National Convenor of the BJP’s Art and Culture Cell, is convinced that the youth of the country can do better. He believes they should be made aware of a world that is consummately Bhartiya, faithful to “Indian values”, and upholds the tenets of “cultural nationalism”. The BJP’s Art and Culture Cell’s conference room, where I meet him, doubles up as a quiet mini-library. Its walls are lined with wooden cupboards that has books of obfuscating wide range — Vedas in bulky hardcover, a thin paperback on Indian Atheism, selected works of Lenin, Shakespeare’s plays translated in Hindi, among other books on Sociology, Literature, Law and Astrology. With the BJP coming into power, one imagines this place to be bustling in the coming days. Excerpts from the interview:
When was the BJP’s Art and Culture cell formed? And what is its primary objective?
The party has had a cultural wing for quite some time. Later on, we also included Arts. The name “Art and Culture” has only been given recently — a year back. The BJP, at a fundamental level, wants to go forward with the Sanatana Dharma (eternal religion). There are more than 300 dharm (religions) in this world, but there’s only one adharm(immorality). It’s this immorality that dominates all the religions. So can we defeat thisadharm? Even more than 300 religions have proved to be insufficient. Only Sanatan Dharma can solve this problem. Moreover, our roots are very strong. But they risk being tainted by certain undesirable elements. We have to remove those elements.
You recently said that one of the main objectives of the Art and Culture Cell is to promote art that is “rich in Indian values”. Can you elaborate? How would you define Indian values?
As I said earlier, we believe in Sanatana Dharma and Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (the world is one family). Modi ji recently gave invitation to SAARC countries and Nawaz Sharif. This is Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam. Even secularism and similar concepts can be covered by Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam. If you want to enrich and strengthen your culture, then feature films can be a very effective medium. And even before you ask me, I will tell you this — we don’t believe in criticising other culture or religion; everything is at its rightful place. Indian culture is more than a 1000 years old, and because of that we used to be a super-power once. But what were some of the reasons that prevented us from progressing? We must work on them. And that’s there in our culture and holy books.
India is a country in which a lot of faiths, cultures co-exist. Do you think in such a case is it even possible to have a homogenous definition of “Indian values”?
There’s only one definition. And not only for Indian tradition, but for traditions around the world. If you go to any village in the country — be it in south or in Kashmir — you won’t find a marked difference in people. So there’s only one definition of culture in the country. In fact, it’s due to this unified definition — that in spite of all the problems — this country still commands importance and is progressing rapidly.
It’s not that in the last five-six years there haven’t been good films. A lot of good films have been made on our country, its politics, love and its aesthetic portrayal. Feature films often change according to the society. At one point of time, films such as Mera Gaon Mera Desh were being made because of the terror of dacoits, so a lot of films of the time responded to that. Similarly, westernisation has become prominent in the country that influences some filmmakers, and they make films accordingly. Movies are just a mirror of the society. But the young generation of the country must be taught what’s suitable for them and what’s not. They must be imparted this education through films. We have to make them understand our sanskriti (culture). Today’s youth understand things quickly. They are privy to a lot of information. But they should be taught these things through people they idolise, through films; to present it in an interesting form is quite a challenge. But it’s also a commercial world. Whoever enters the commercial world believes whatever he’s doing is right. But it’s your responsibility to make them understand. It’s imperative to provide inputs to those, who don’t even know what elements strengthen the Bhartiya Sanskriti (Indian culture) and what elements weaken it. So I won’t say it’s the fault of the common man; it might be the fault of the government or of the intelligentsia. It’s their responsibility to instruct that, “If you do like this, your country will become great; your culture will be strengthened.” This is our motto.
What’s your take on censorship? Are you satisfied with the way the current censor committee is functioning?
If you censor anything, anywhere in this world then it only means you are encouraging it. Being too strict on something often proves to be counter intuitive. For instance, around 1949, the U.S. banned alcohol. Which led to the emergence of the mafia. For instance Gold, the more you try to control and tax it, its smuggling accordingly increases as well. Even if you strictly censor something, it can still enter the society through a different medium. You can see it on the Internet, or somewhere else. But the silver lining is, if you see the records, the number of “those kinds of films” have been reduced in the society. We just need to make some changes in the system. So censoring is not the solution. When you have two options in front of you, and one of the alternatives is helpful, then you will obviously gravitate towards that. But you should at least know about it. You should know what’s vish(poison); what is amrit. Our policy has always been to present the amrit. You would leave something else only when you have a better alternative. That’s human tendency.
You have said that the art and culture cell has already started talking with the artists, who will create the kind of art that will help disseminate Indian values and culture. What kind of artists are you in talks with and what kinds of films and music is the cell planning to promote?
We began working on this a year back: on how to promote local artists, their folk music and instruments. Now that the party has come in power, we will discuss about implementing these ideas. Synthesiser and keyboard have almost rendered all the other instruments obsolete. And if you ask me, the soul of music is instruments. That soul is veena; that soul is harmonium, tabla, bansuri. And these instruments just need to enter feature films. Our youth is not being able to understand and recogonise these sounds. Why? Because no one has told them.
A lot of Hollywood films are also screened in the country. These films obviously represent a different culture and ethos. How does the cell view these films?
If you won’t strengthen Bollywood and local films, till then you won’t be able to defeat Hollywood films.
As evidenced by its mission statement, the cell strongly emphasises on “cultural nationalism”. How does it view other cultures and their possible impact on our own?
We should make our culture strong and attractive. It’s not as if the West is not influenced by our culture. America’s Hare Rama Hare Krishna movement has spread to Germany. That is a major victory of our culture and values. Film is the only medium through which Indian culture and values can be spread. We must spread our culture and values, and we will. We don’t consider any religion unfavourably. Everyone has their own values, which is shaped by their geographical conditions, culture, and reasons. We are only concerned about our culture, and how to enrich it.
Q. Of late, filmmakers have begun tackling subjects of different kinds. For instance, films have begun talking about homosexuality. In the future, how will the Art and Culture Cell perceive those films, because there seems to be an ideological dichotomy?
A. We will go by whatever is a part of the Indian culture — approved by the Vedas. Everything will be according to that.
The interview was originally published at The Sunday Guardian