Party, not parity for Husain

It were the turbulent times of the 1940's. The country was going through a political and communal frenzy. The slogan was 'Do or die', both for the nationalists and the communalists.

Muslim League's Mohammed Ali Jinnah was making impassioned speeches drawing thousands of

Progressive Artists' Group, Mumbai

Muslims to the Pakistan cause. He wove a dream of a Muslim land and exhorted his brethren to sacrifice their lives for achieving Pakistan.

In the narrow by-lanes of Mumbai, like thousands of his religion, a young painter was smitten by Jinnah's words and by his own admission went over and over again to listen to the leader ... The painter was Maqbool Fida Husain, then a struggling artist who earned his living by painting film posters.

Many years later, Husain told his friend and biographer Ila Pal that Jinnah was a very effective speaker and that he used to go to hear him. Interestingly, Husain did not understand English properly at that time and Jinnah could not speak in Urdu. And yet Husain calls Jinnah a "effective speaker".

Was Husain's judgement biased because of his sense of affiliation to Jinnah's cause? Did the painter have a dream of his own and yearned to go to Pakistan? And if he did, why didn't he do so? Well it is simple to understand.

At the time of the independence/partition, the Indian government went all out to make the Muslims feel at home in India. Thus those who had business interests and those who could not afford a shift stayed back. Business interests, Husain had none at the time. And being an ordinary worker, it was difficult for him to settle down at a new place.

However, the yearning to go to Pakistan remained hidden somewhere in his sub-conscious. That is why he was over whelmed by the reception given to him in Pakistan--many years after the nation's creation. He told his biographer that Benazir Bhutto invited him to her residence and asked him why he had come (to Pakistan) so late? And ungraciously, Husain feels today (as told to his biographer) that the coverage which the Pakistani papers gave him had not been given to him in India during the last 40 years.

What honour has India not bestowed on him? All art-lovers have highly eulogised him and paid him glowing tributes. Jawahar Lal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, Narasimha Rao--all the Prime Ministers of India decorated and honoured him. He was also nominated to the Rajya Sabha. And yet Husain finds four days of Pakistani welcome more cherished than four decades of India's affection.

Before the partition of India, the Communist Party had supported the demand of Muslim League for Pakistan. In many public meetings, the red flag of the Communist Party and the green flag of the Muslim League had flown together. Therefore, of the Muslim League leaders who remained in India after the creation of Pakistan, many turned Communists.

There are certain basic similarities between the Muslim communalists and the communists. That is why they are both treading a common path in India. Both Islam and communism are opposed to nationalism. Both these ideologies reject the concept of a nation within the confines of certain geographical boundaries. According to Islam, all the Muslims, irrespective of the country they live in, are members of the same ummat. For them, ethnicity or nationality are meaningless. Similarly, the Communist ideology believes in international communism, discarding the concept of nationalism. This, nationalism is the biggest hurdle in the expansion of both Islam and Communism in India. Therefore, Islamic communalism as well as Communism have constantly tried to weaken Indian nationalism.

League-- Communist Partnership

It was when the followers of Islam raised the demand of Pakistan for Muslims by impairing Indian nationalism, the Communist Party passed a resolution that India is not a nation, but a combine of 16 nations.

Just as India is secondary and international ummat is of primary importance for fanatic Muslims, so also Russia and international communism have been more important than India for the Communists. Because of this commonality, it was but natural for many Muslim Leaguers to acquire membership of the Communist Party of India. Painter Husain also did not feel any religious or ideological hurdle in becoming a member of the 'Progressive Artist Group' set up by the Communist Party.

The Communist Party had already set up a 'Progressive Writers Association' (PW A) for the writers and the Indian Peoples' Theatre (IPTA) for theatre artists in order to impart the Communist colour to thousands of years old Indian culture. For spreading their influence among painters and sculptors, the Communist Party set up in 1946 a 'Progressive Artists Group' through the artist Charles Newton Souza. Souza was a card holder of the inner circle of the Party. Initially, the meetings of the 'Group' used to be held at Mumbai (Khetwadi) based Communist Party Office. Later, the venue shifted to the building of the 'Friends of Soviet Union' situated in Benham Hall Lane of Mumbai (Goregaon).

Congress Protection

In 1951 Husain got an assignment to make murals in Ashoka Hotel, Delhi. Thereafter, he never looked back. He grew by leaps and bounds under the patronage of the Congress. Fame and riches came in abundance. In 1952, he was included in the cultural delegation to China. The sequence that started with it continues till today even after 47 years. Government purchases of his works, state honours and decorations, publicity by official media etc. became decisive factors in establishing him as India's topmost artist. Husain's biographer Dhyaneshwar Nadkami writes "Husain was on close terms with many Congress leaders. One such person was Rajani Patel, who wielded much clout in Indira's regime. The question of benefits reaped by Husain through this friendship is best left unanswered".

Husain is wholly a political creature, Congress was the only party that could promote his personal financial interest, nurse his leftist thoughts and appease his Islamic fundamentalism at the same time. During Emergency, he painted three mega pictures (8'X4'); one of them depicted Indira Gandhi as Durga. Exhibitions of these paintings were held in many cities. Indira Gandhi herself went to see the exhibition. Rajni Patel, a man of leftist leanings and a Congressman was also present there. Doordarshan gave tremendous publicity to this exhibition. The brochure issued by Husain on this occasion carried on the cover page: "Victory of Truth over Falsehood." Thus, for Husain, democracy is untruth and its murder is truth.

Again in the words of his biographer Nadkarni : 'Whether votary of emergency or a member of Rajya Sabha, Husain appears to us a man who had the run of corridors of power. We spot a split personality here : the intrepid, socially aware, ceaselessly creative painter and the public figure favoured by Govt. and the politicians. It was probably a tight-rope walk for Husain to maintain enough distance from wielders of power and preserve his independence. He got a big contract for a mural in the Indira Gandhi international Airport. Carried away by his enthusiasm, he also decorated pandal for a Congress session."

Undermining Indian Nationalism

True artists do not have anything to go with politics and politicians of the day. Creativity is all they care for. But Husain does not fall in this category. He has tried to gain political mileage wherever he could. It would be interesting to narrate an incident in this connection. An actor of street plays Safdar Hashmi, was murdered by some Congressmen in a village near Delhi. In the meeting organised to pay tribute to Hashmi, Husain appeared with a painting and said that he had done it in the memory of Hashmi. Later on, it came to be known that this was painted by him much before the death of Hashmi. After Hashmi's death, he changed the date on the painting and dedicated it to his memory. This is an adverse comment on Husain and unmasks his cunning, scheming personality.

Basically, both communism and Islamic fundamentalism do not believe in democracy. Both these ideologies believe in elimination of their adversaries. They do not believe in the democratic principle of solving the problems through debate and discussion with those who differ with them. Therefore, when the BJP Government in Madhya Pradesh amended the rules of Bharat Bhawan, Bhopal, which had been turned into a personal fietdom by a politician and a bureaucrat, and gave this institution a democratic setup, Husain did not relish it. He issued a statement that Bharat Bhawan should be bombed out. This surely is not the language of an artist.

The question still raised as to why Husain painted the Hindu gods and goddesses in the nude in violation of tradition. How is it that while he paints his mother and daughter and the daughter of prophet Mohammad, Fatima etc. with all respect and etiquette. the Hindi goddesses have been presented in insulting poses of nudity? The reply is clear. The Hindu religion is the fountain head of Indian nationalism. Therefore, it becomes necessary for the Communists and Islamic fundamentalists-- the twin opponents of Indian nationalism to undermine the Hindu icons. In the last 50 or 60 years, artists painters and writers connected with the 'Progressive Artists Group', 'Progressive Writers Association' and Indian Peoples Theatre are ungaged in this campaign. Husain is also one of them. He is fast acquiring the status of an 'idol breaker' by distorting the pictures of Hindu gods and goddesses.

Proof? The painting of Vishnu by Husain. By tradition, God Vishnu has four hands holding 'Shankha', 'Chakra', 'Gada' and 'Padma '. But in Husain's painting, Vishnu's hands have been cut off from the wrists. He has also been shown shorn of his legs. Husain's concept of Vishnu is that of a crippled, maimed and mutilated Vishnu. Is further evidence needed to understand Husain's motive?


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