Since 2010 when it won the India Got Talent reality show, the rise of Shillong Chamber Choir has been smooth, till the revelation by Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) about the group’s spending of public money without any accountability. The CAG revealed that the Choir members availed Rs 39.22 lakh from the Meghalaya Art and Culture department as airfare to participate in the World Choir Games at Cincinnati in the US in 2012. The two major faults were pointed out in the CAG report tabled this week in the assembly. There was no document which proved that the Choir promoted interest of the state, a condition put by chief minister Mukul Sangma while directing the Art and Culture department to grant the Choir’s request for funding the airfare of the group’s 22 members. Secondly, no boarding passes were deposited to the department by the Choir since they ‘lost’ all of them! Besides, five of the Choir members travelled in business class ‘for lack of seats in the economy class’.

This is not a major scam, but enough to damage the image of a culture group held in high esteem so far. Integrity and lack of it can make or break an artiste. A person or group’s integrity has little to do with its performance as artiste and the entertainment it provides to the public. Yet, the artiste’s image can go for a toss if something wrong is associated with him or her. Bollywood has seen the fall of stars like Shiney Ahuja and Sanjay Dutta from the peak of their career. Salman Khan has been luckier, thanks to all the court verdicts that went in his favour so far. Even Amir Khan’s image was dented recently following his controversial remark about ‘growing intolerance’ in India.

The Shillong Chamber Choir may have very well represented Meghalaya and India in different world forums including the World Choir Games. But a professional group like it shall under no circumstances ‘lose’ all the boarding passes. It may leave enough room for doubt if the group had deposited the passes to the Games organisers, who could have paid for the tickets on submission of the passes. Such cheap act, if at all, will make the Choir’s hard-earned image go down the drain!

(Published as editorial in The Meghalaya Guardian on March 26, 2016)