It was in 2014 when former chief minister Oommen Chandy requested sarod maestro Ustad Amjad Ali Khan to establish his proposed international school of music in Thiruvananthapuram when the latter came down to receive the Swati Puraskaram, the highest music award instituted by the Government of Kerala.
Oommen Chandy was so keen to have a first-of-its kind institution in the country in Kerala. Accepting the invitation, the ace music maestro said his family intended to settle down in the State and spend the rest of his life there. Duly responding to his desire to have it in the capital, the government promised him to allot land for setting up the institute in Thiruvananthapuram. The only demand put forth by him was that the location should be close to the airport as he has to travel abroad frequently for concerts.
As the chairman of the Kerala Sangeetha Nataka Academy, I was at the forefront to make this project a reality. After finalizing the terms and conditions for executing the project, the government identified a two-acre plot near the Veli tourist village.
The government expedited the process and issued a notification regarding the setting up of the school in last February in the midst of strong opposition from a section of officials. The foundation stone of the school was unveiled by the then Chief Secretary S. M. Vijayanand as the model code of conduct was enforced by the State Election Commission in view of the assembly polls.
Subsequently, several private agencies came forward to invest in the proposed residential school with international standards. The central government also expressed its willingness to provide funds to the project.
To avail itself of funding, the school required land transfer documents from the government. Though Amjad Ali Khan contacted the officials concerned several times, many of them were non-cooperative. They tried their best to dissuade him and thwart the avant-garde project.
As the situation got murkier, the maestro approached CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury, seeking his intervention to break the deadlock. He also arranged a meeting with chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan in Delhi. The chief minister guaranteed the support of the State government in executing the project and asked him to go ahead with it immediately.
When I met Amjad later, he was all praise for Pinarayi’s forthrightness. But the ambitious initiative still remains on paper. I have learned that the officials concerned had received instructions from the chief minister’s office even four days ago to speed up works on the project. However, in a sudden turn of events, the Tourism Department decided not to allot land for the purpose.
The treatment meted out to a person of his stature is not fair. By going back on the promise made to him, the State government has humiliated a world-renowned musician. If Kerala does not allot land to establish the school, several other states including Tamil Nadu will be ready to roll out the red carpet for him.
Like Oommen Chandy, Pinarayi Vijayan is also keen to have the school in Kerala. But it is unfortunate that a section of bureaucrats with vested interests are trying to torpedo the project. If the government is forced to drop the proposal, it is going to tarnish the image of Kerala at the national level.
On the other hand, if materialized, it will go on to become the pride of every Keralite. There's no doubt about it.
(The author is the former chairman of the Kerala Sangeetha Nataka Academy and founder of SOORYA Stage and Film Society)