New Delhi: Indian artist M.F. Husain, who has been living outside the country for four years after his controversial paintings of Hindu goddesses led to threats against his life, has been conferred Qatari nationality.
Reacting to the news, Indian government officials said the painter would be accorded full protection if he returned to the country, while a Hindu extremist leader said his organization would be glad if the artist renounced Indian citizenship.
Other Indian artists supported Husain’s decision to remain in the Arabian Gulf emirate, but lamented the country’s loss.
Husain announced the citizenship offer in a faxed message to N. Ram, the editor-in-chief of ‘The Hindu’ newspaper, on Wednesday.
“I, the Indian origin painter M.F. Husain at 95, have been honoured by Qatar nationality,” the message read. It bore the black-and-white sketch of a horse, a recurring figure in Husain’s work.
When contacted, the embassy of Qatar in New Delhi told ‘Mint’ it was yet to receive an official statement on this from its government.
Husain did not apply for the nationality, which was conferred on him by the ruling family of Qatar.
Honoured: M.F. Husain went into a self-imposed exile in 2006 after a controversy over his depiction of Hindu goddesses. Sebastian D’Souza/AFP
In October, he had told ‘Mint’ he was desperate to return to India, and would do so the moment he was officially promised protection.
A ‘PTI’ news agency report quoted Rajiv Shukla, spokesperson of the ruling Congress party, as saying that Husain would receive full protection if he returned to India. “He is an Indian citizen and he has got equal rights in India,” Shukla said, adding that Husain should remain a citizen of the country.
Home secretary G.K. Pillai told NDTV on Thursday that Husain was free to return to India, and that security would be provided if he wanted it.
Delhi-based photographer and activist Ram Rahman, who is a close friend of Husain’s, said there was no reason for the painter to be beholden to his Indian citizenship when the government had failed to protect him.
Since 1996, Hindu nationalist groups have issued death threats against Husain, filed more than 900 court cases, vandalised his paintings and threatened gallery owners who wanted to display his works.
In 2006, Husain went into self-imposed exile after a Hindu group offered an $11.5 million reward for his death for painting a Hindu goddess in the nude.
The Vishwa Hindu Parishad, the organization that has spearheaded the anti-Husain campaign across India over the last decade, said it would be glad if the artist renounced his citizenship.
“People like Husain are not supposed to be Indian as they defame the values of the country,” its media coordinator Vinod Bansal told ‘Agence France Presse’ news agency.