New Delhi, Feb 25 (IANS) Under attack from sections of the Hindu right and shuttling between Dubai and London as he lives out his last years as a homeless itinerant, India’s most celebrated artist Maqbool Fida Husain has been offered Qatar nationality, sparking fresh demands for his return to the country he was forced to leave four years ago.
The 95-year-old celebrity painter, who has hundreds of lawsuits against him across the country for his paintings on goddesses that many Hindus find sacrilegious and has been living abroad as a fugitive since 2006, said he had been ‘honoured’ by Qatar.
‘I, The Indian origin painter M.F. Husain at 95 have been honoured by Qatar nationality,’ Husain wrote above a line sketch of a horse, the leitmotif of much of his work. The black and white drawing was carried by The Hindu newspaper.
Husain had recently executed a series of works on the Arab civilisation commissioned by the ruling family of Qatar for a museum in Doha. Sources said the citizenship offer was a token of appreciation for the ‘visual chronicles of the Arab history at the museum’.
Son Shamshad Husain, who said his father had been given ‘a raw deal by the country’ and was not even allowed to take part in the India Art Summit, expressed happiness.
‘The family is happy about the development,’ Shamshad Husain told reporters about his father.
The news found emotional resonance amongst his friends and fans.
Photographer, designer and activist Ram Rahman, who is close to the Husain family, responded to the news by saying: ‘On a personal note, I feel it is quite clear that the man who is 95 years old and cannot return to his country to die, there is no point of him remaining an Indian citizen.’
‘It would be a tragedy. He has not given up his Indian citizenship yet but if he decides to take up the Qatari offer, he will not remain an Indian citizen anymore,’ Rahman told IANS.
Sobha Deepak Singh, director of the Shriram Bharatiya Kala Kendra, said India should allow Husain to come back to the country.
‘He should return because he is too important an artist to become a foreign citizen – of another country. I think Husain and the India government should arrive at a compromise over the cases.’
Paris-based peer Syed Haider Raza, who is planning to return to India this year-end, said he wanted Husain to return. ‘We were part of the same Mumbai Progressive Group and I wish Husain would come back too.’
Ghazanfar Zaidi, dean of the faculty of fine arts at the Jamia Milia University, which has a M.F. Husain Gallery, added: ‘It is justified since he has not been getting any response from India.’
The government reacted too, though cautiously sidestepping the issue.
A culture ministry spokesperson said the ‘department was proud that Husain had been honoured by Qatar’. But he added: ‘Citizenships issues are dealt by the home ministry.’
The issue had political ramifications as well.
In Kerala, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief Mohan Bhagwat said Husain was free to live anywhere in the country but he should understand that there was a limit to the expression of freedom.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) echoed Bhagwat with leader Najma Heptullah also adding that Husain ‘did not face danger to his life’ in the country and people were ‘only agitating’ over some of his paintings.
The Communist Party of India-Marxist asked the government to give the artist an assurance of security.
‘(What is happening to Husain) It is very unfortunate and regrettable. The government should give him an assurance about his security,’ CPI-M leader Sitaram Yechury said.
The Congress maintained a middle of the road stance and said it was his personal decision.
Asked about the government not assuring him of adequate security to facilitate his return, Congress leader Satyavrat Chaturvedi said that the government provided security to all its citizens.
‘If he (Husain) needed more security, there is a process for that. He can demand more security,’ the Congress leader said.