This article is from 20 years ago. Those who want to use Vajpeyi's shoulder to fire their guns at not just Narendra Modi, but also the Sangh parivar, will pretend that the Sangh does not have the resources that will project the true picture of what is happening in India.
The Literary Mafia
November 1, 1995.
Hindi poet and short story writer Uday Prakash finds (Ashok) Vajpeyi unworthy of the two awards and calls him a "power broker" disguised as a poet. "Nobody takes Vajpeyi seriously in Hindi literature. History will remember him as a culture czar who doled out patronage," says Prakash, who was co-editor with Vajpeyi of Poorvagraha, a Madhya Pradesh government-funded literary journal founded by Vajpeyi.
How do a handful of people come to wield such immense clout? And how are such incestuous networks formed? Vajpeyi's track record and the controversies that have dogged him offer vital clues.
A promising Hindi poet in the '60s, Vajpeyi joined the IAS in 1965. Consistently patronised by Arjun Singh in Madhya Pradesh, Vajpeyi's power grew when Arjun Singh became chief minister in the '80s and he became the state culture secretary. He set up 11 cultural institutions, 10 of them in Bhopal itself. These extended his influence beyond the literary sphere into the visual and performing arts. His was the last word in the appointment of their trustees and office-bearers.
However, till the '80s he was a relatively unknown commodity outside Madhya Pradesh. Bhopal's Bharat Bhawan, inaugurated in 1982 by Indira Gandhi, was his crowning glory. There is hardly a writer, painter or performing artiste of repute today who has not enjoyed Vajpeyi's hospitality and patronage. Controversies-such as those stemming from his decision to host the World Poetry Festival in December 1984 (when Bhopal was still reeling from the infamous gas tragedy), or to divert to culture funds earmarked for social welfare--failed to shake him.
He remained extremely powerful till he was unceremoniously shunted to the state Revenue Board when the Sundarlal Patwa led BJP government came to power in Bhopal in 1989. But mentor Arjun Singh came to his rescue, this time as HRD minister, and brought him in as joint secretary in the Culture Department in 1992.
Whether by coincidence or design, the past few years have seen major upswings in the fortunes of his kith and kin. Shortly after Arjun Singh became HRD minister in 1991, Vajpeyi's sister-in-law Kirti Jain, who was then officiating as director of the National School of Drama, was formally appointed to the post (despite the fact that her contribution to theatre is negligible and she has directed only one NSD play). Snide asides have been made at his father-in-law and ex-NSD director, Nemichand Jain, getting a big Ford Foundation grant and about the 'spurt' in the number of his published works since 1992.
Vajpeyi's poet-brother Udayan, who had earlier held the Asia Poetry Chair at Bharat Bhawan, recently received an Akademi fellowship. Last year witnessed a controversy over Vajpeyi's 26-year old son Kabir being appointed to the post of "eminent architect" by the Lalit Kala Akademi, which he declined after adverse press reports. And at the recently concluded Avignon festival in France, Vajpeyi had Kathak danseuse and close friend Prerna Shrimali dancing to the themes of his poems while noted writer B.V. Karanth was sent as her 'stage manager'.
Unlike Mahapatra, who declined to speak on the 'vexed issue' of awards, the suave Vajpeyi faces up square to each charge. "I have never promoted myself or my work or ever sought to influence any jury. There is no literary mafia at work. The criticism against my getting the awards is purely personal and is not based on a critical evaluation of my work. I just take it all in my stride." He sees himself as a writer first, and says that in his 27 years as a culture administrator he has "tried to ensure dignity and honour for the writer"