A TYPICALLY fired-up Fayyaz Chohan, Punjab minister for culture and information, is hardly the kind of auspicious note that PTI well-wishers would have wanted the new government to strike at the very beginning of its term. Mr Chohan has offered some sort of an apology for his recent insulting remarks about stage and film actors in the face of a string of protests from showbiz personalities. Even so, the storm is refusing to die down; more and more ‘proof’ is being plucked from internet footage to show just how anti-culture the new minister can be. The PTI’s predecessor in Punjab, the PML-N, was widely criticised for not promoting an environment that was conducive to cultural expression in the province. Those who believe that the state through various governments still has a huge role to play in helping create an atmosphere where culture can flourish, instead, find themselves facing a troubling scenario and fear overreach. Their concerns are bound to persist unless the statement of regret that the minister has extended over his remarks about professional performers of long standing is followed by certain practical steps where he moves in a direction opposite to the one he appeared to be headed in.

Culture is a sensitive subject and must be handled with care; at the same time, it offers tremendous possibilities for anyone wanting to make a quick impact. A minister belonging to a party that many say represents the long-suppressed sentiment of the mainstream should really relish the opportunity of being in a position to undertake corrective work in the area. It does not quite fit into the scheme of things when the first impression created by the man in charge of culture in this culturally diverse province indicates a desire for narrow control and suppression; instead, he should be promising to work towards greater freedom after a prolonged dry spell. Punjab needs a minister who inspires ideas and movement in society, and not someone who promotes taboos.

Published in Dawn, September 1st, 2018

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