A Unique Multilingual Media Platform


Articles Culture National

Murder(s) at and of Lalit Kala Akademi

  • April 19, 2024
  • 8 min read
Murder(s) at and of Lalit Kala Akademi

On April 8, 2024 the Lalit Kala Akademi (LKA) announced the 64th National Exhibition of Art scheduling it for the months of July – August 2024. The announcement contained the invitation for artists too, which stipulated that the minimum age for participation is 25 years. It also stated that the entry forms for submitting applications can be obtained from Lalit Kala Akademi Headquarters at New Delhi or from the Regional Centres.

A number of senior artists based in the national capital of Delhi told The AIDEM that the announcement immediately brought back memories of the ill fated 63rd National Exhibition held last year. This exhibition, which had opened on 28th August 2023, was aborted midway in a clear display of authoritarianism that has become the hallmark of almost all ministries of the union government in the second innings of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The prestigious national exhibition was aborted to display 2500 specially chosen photographs related to the Prime Minister’s birthday at the LKA Galleries.

Arjun Meghwal, Minister of Culture

It was a clear snub to the institution of the LKA, which was founded in 1954 and has a rich history of promoting art and artists of diverse cultural origins and inclinations. The snub was indeed conspicuous as the officials of the Ministry of Culture (MoC) refused to come to the opening of the 63rd National Exhibition but instead went for the Prime Minister’s birthday exhibition. Leading the celebrators at the Prime Minister’s birthday exhibition was the Minister of Culture, Arjun Meghwal.

Dismissal order of professionals appointed by LKA Chairman

A large majority of the artists community in Delhi are looking at this year’s national exhibition with a sense of foreboding. It is not just the experience of last year that has triggered this. There are several other factors too. One of the most prominent factors that has added to this apprehension is the absolutely tyrannical manner in which the artists, including the LKA Chairperson Professor V Nagdas, has been treated by the union government, especially the MoC. In fact, very many of these artists told The AIDEM that the way Professor Nagdas was treated goes against the very culture and traditions of the LKA.

Professor V Nagdas

The apex cultural body was established in 1954, with a constitution that assured it full autonomy. But, under the Modi regime, the artists point out, the LKA seems to have become a subordinate establishment of the MoC. The MoC has already officially divested the Chairman of almost all his authorities including in financial decisions, appointments and corrective measures in relation to staff members.

Professor V Nagdas, a veteran printmaker and pedagogue with a proven record as an efficient organiser of international camps was appointed as the Chairman of LKA and he took charge on 13 March 2023. Within eleven months the MoC decided to take away his powers through an order issued on 08 January 2024. Signed by Suman Bara, Under Secretary, Government of India, this order says, ‘You are hereby directed not to take any administrative actions including appointment, recruitment, transfer, disciplinary actions and financial decisions without the concurrence of the Ministry of Culture.

The appointment of Professor Nagdas as the Chairman of LKA had initially come as a surprise to the art community for it was believed that the Sanskar Bharti, the cultural wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), plays a pivotal role in appointments to cultural institutions such as the LKA. It was well known that only those who had Sangh Parivar affiliations were considered for such important posts. At the time of the appointment, the general belief in the artists community was that Professor Nagdas was politically noncommittal. However, later it was revealed that he has been a member of Sanskar Bharti for many years, right from his days at the Indira Sangeet Viswavidyalaya located at Khairagarh in Chhattisgarh. (The institution is also known as ISVK and Khairagarh University). He had initiated the Graphic Arts Department in the university and was its head for many years.

Professor V Nagdas

Sources close to the officials at the Akademi told The AIDEM that despite this background Professor Nagdas was targeted by the MoC because of the non-partisan manner in which he tried to conduct the affairs of the LKA. These sources added that he had got wholehearted support from the artist-community from day one because of this attitude. But, for this very reason, some people in the MoC and Sanskar Bharti were not happy with him.

Moreover, he had allegedly not taken proactive clearance and blessings from the Sanskar Bharti for the appointment of a few professionals. Apart from that he had also made the declaration of a grand Ayodhya Project, which sought to present the theme of Ram the Man and the Idea. The plan was to have a grand art camp at Ayodhya in the run up to the inauguration of the Ram Temple on 22 January 2024. The details of this proposed exhibition was published in the Indian Express in August 2023.

Indian Express story on Ram Project of Professor Nagdas

Dr. Chandrprakash Dwivedi had agreed to play the role of a mentor to the 75 artists who were to work on the inclusive theme of Ram, the Man and the Idea. Sources say that the MoC, which was directly involved in the affairs of cultural organisations including the Akademi, was not happy with this project. This reservation resulted in warning signals to LKA. Later, a press conference was called to announce that the Ram Project had been called off.

The direct confrontation between the MoC and the Chairman seemed to have happened when Professor Nagdas issued a memo to Rajeev Kumar, an IRS officer who was deputed as the Secretary in Charge for some time at the Akademi. Professor Nagdas had also apparently found out certain financial malpractices in the Akademi and had transferred an official from the Garhi Regional Centre to the Headquarters. The MoC retaliated to this by redesignating the transferred official as the in-charge of a scrap material art project in Banaras for the Ministry of Railways. This was a clear instance of bypassing the Chairman’s order and the authority of his office.

Order curtailing the powers of the Chairman, LKA

Meanwhile, some of the members of the General Council and Executive Council turned hostile. They had this grievance that due to the pandemic they had not got enough time to execute their duties and hence wanted their term extended. The MoC quickly obliged and extended their term by three months. Using it as an opportunity, the Finance Committee, composed of the same members, immediately asked for the sacking of twenty-nine contract staff appointed by Professor Nagdas.

On 12 February 2024, the sacking order came from the MoC. Suman Singh, Assistant Editor (Hindi), Jayaprakash, in charge of Administration and PS to the Chairman, Johny ML, Assistant Editor (English) were also in the list. When contacted by The AIDEM, Johny ML, a well-known art historian, curator and writer said that the sacking did not surprise him at all. “This threat was always there. Professor Nagdas knew me for a long time and had complete faith in my professional credentials. When he became the chairman, he called me and asked whether I could join the Akademi to look after the editorial section. My appointment was based on merit and I thought it was a consultant’s job. Soon, a rumour started spreading that the Chairman was filling the Akademi with Communists and Maoists. In fact, as the Chairman is a resident of Chattisgarh, the reference to Maoism came very easily,” Johny ML told The AIDEM.

Dismissal Order (Detailed list)

Beyond this rumour mongering, Akademi insiders revealed to The AIDEM that certain investigations initiated by Professor Nagdas into certain dubious appointments initiated by the MoC could also be a factor for the hasty action against him. The insiders point out that a team of officials at the Akademi had been authorised by the Chairman to thoroughly investigate certain appointments, including to positions such as Production Officer and a Photo Officer, and find out whether these were done properly following all rules, regulations and qualification parameters. Apparently, some of the appointees were worried that they had been posted without due process and that the Chairman might take action against them.


Besides, there has been a standing demand for a full-time Secretary to the Akademi. During the tenure of the previous Chairman, Late Uttam Pacharne, the formalities for appointing a new Secretary was completed and the file was sent to the MoC. No action was taken then. The same process was again completed under Professor Nagdas and the MoC once again sat on the files. Many artists contacted by The AIDEM did not want to come out in the open, but a majority of them said privately that the MoC wants to do away with the autonomy of the Akademi. Evidently, all the signals from the MoC point in this direction.

About Author

Apurva Roy Chatterjee

Apurva Roy Chatterjee is a researcher and freelance writer based in Delhi.