Why Kerala author Radhakrishnan resigned as Eminent Member of Kendra Sahitya Akademi

In his resignation letter, C Radhakrishnan said the presence of a Minister of State in the inaugural session of the festival last year had invited protests and assurances were given that this would not be repeated.
C Radhakrishnan
C Radhakrishnan
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C Radhakrishnan, a leading novelist from Kerala, has resigned from his position as the Eminent Member of the Kendra Sahitya Akademi, the country’s national academy of letters. In his letter dated April 1, 2024, sent to Akademi secretary Sreenivasa Rao,  Radhakrishnan said he is resigning from his post to protest the inauguration of the literary festival by a Union Minister without any known credentials in literature. He also expressed concern about an attempt to modify the Akademi’s constitution.

Radhakrishnan, one of the two writers from Kerala to be conferred Eminent Membership, told TNM that it became impossible for him to continue in the Akademi as writers themselves were polarised into those who were pro-regime and others who wanted to safeguard their independence. “There was political division between writers. Normally, decisions of the Akademi are to be ratified by the General Council, of which I am a member by virtue of the Eminent Membership conferred on me. But off late, the General Council did not have any say on Akademi affairs,” he said. 

Radhakrishnan was bestowed with Eminent Member recognition in December 2022.  MT Vasudevan Nair is the only other writer from Kerala to be extended the same honour by the Akademi.

The supreme authority of the Akademi vests with the General Council, which has 99 members. The body, which meets every year, lays down the general policy, which is implemented under the direct supervision of an executive board. Radhakrishnan hinted that the Akademi decisions are now being taken by the government nominees in the body, bypassing the writers, and highhandedness was evident.

The Festival of Letters organised by the Kendra Sahitya Akademi in Delhi from March 11 to 16, witnessed the participation of 1,100 writers and was inaugurated by Arjun Meghval, Union Minister of State for Culture. In 2023, the event saw participation of 400 writers and in 2022, around 250. In both years, the event was inaugurated by Meghval. 

Radhakrishnan said he was not aware of this fact as it was the first time that he was part of a General Council after being made an Eminent Member. “The General Council was not privy to decisions regarding the conduct of the Festival of Letters, including the invites to a large number of writers,” he said. 

It was the 70th anniversary of the Akademi, and the huge participation was an attempt to make it the largest literary festival in the world and create a world record, a writer who attended the event said.

“I strongly protest against this year's Akademi festival having been inaugurated by a cabinet minister of the Government of India, a person without any known credential whatsoever in literature. This has happened for the first time in the long chequered history of the Sahitya Akademi, which consistently upheld the autonomy of the institution against pressures to make it yield to political clout,” Radhakrishnan said in the letter.

The letter said that the presence of a minister of state in the inaugural session of the festival last year had invited protests from writers, and assurances were given that this would not repeat. 

“Hope you remember the unrelenting struggle we put up against efforts to influence the Akademi politically while I was a member of the Executive Committee for five years. I would like to clarify that I am not against any particular political party. I protest against the politicisation of the administration of culture eroding the independent stature of the Akademi. You know the other two Akademies have been robbed of their autonomy since a long while ago. I hope and pray my fellow writers, young and old, would realise the severe danger this Akademi too is drifting towards,” the letter said.

Radhakrishnan also warned about attempts to modify the constitution of the Akademi.  “...Founding Fathers of the Sahitya Akademi gave it a constitution capable of resisting all attempts to undermine the democratic autonomy of this institution and enable it to survive unmolested. Political bosses are now reported to be smarting even to redraft the constitution of the Akademi! Sorry, I can't be a silent witness to the funeral of the very last democratically autonomous institution of culture in the nation,” the writer said, adding that he was no longer interested in continuing as an Eminent Member of the Sahitya Akademi. 

Radhakrishnan, who contested Akademi’s vice president in 2023, had lost the election by one vote to Kumud Sharma, a Sangh Parivar nominee. Hindi poet and writer Madhav Kaushik, who defeated Mallepuram G Venkatesh, a Sangh protege, was elected the president.

A writer who attended the Festival of Letters said that while the event this year was attended by authors from a diverse political spectrum, an increase in right-wing political clout in conduct, selection of speakers and topics was evident. “There is a perceptible change in the way the Akademi has been functioning for the past three years,” he said.

Recently, the Union Ministry of Culture had curtailed the powers of the Lalita Kala Akademi Chairman, V Nagdas, an artist hailing from Kerala. 

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