The Big Story: Setting a price for freedom
It is no longer enough for filmmakers in India to have their work approved by the Central Board of Film Certification. There is another censor in town, whose ability to whip up mobs on the streets is the new scissors hanging over the heads of producers.
On the weekend, the Maharashtra government, astonishingly, awarded the cloak of legitimacy to a group that believes that mobocracy should trump fundamental rights. Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis of the Bharatiya Janata Party chose to become the middleman in negotations between the makers of Aei Dil Hai Mushkil and Maharashtra Navnirman Sena chief Raj Thackrey. The MNS had threatened to disrupt the movie's release on Diwali weekend since it features Pakistani actor Fawad Khan in a minor role, something that right-wing groups have declared unacceptable in the wake of the recent militant attack on an Army camp in Kashmir.
Instead of upholding this constitutional responsibilities to enforce law and order, Fadnavis decided to capitulate to the MNS, a political party with a negligible base and a lone legislator. As a result of the deal brokered by the Maharashtra chief minister between Karan Johar, the director of the film, and the extra-constitutional force represented by Thackeray, all films that have Pakistani actors will have to pay Rs 5 crore to the Army relief fund. In the process, Raj Thackrey has set a price for freedom of expression and on the heads of servicemen.
The state has offered its own reasons to legitimise its actions. Upholding law and order was its primary concern, it claims, so talking to the mob was in the interests of peace. This despite the Supreme Court making it clear in a number of cases that a state government cannot use law and order as a pretext to let constitutional rights be trampled on.
Of course, Fadnavis's justification doesn't seem to hold much water, given the BJP's own attempts to politicise the September 29 "surgical strikes" across the border. On October 18, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar went to the extent of crediting the teachings of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh – the BJP's hardline ideological parent – as the driver for the military operation. In Uttar Pradesh, the party has used the surgical strikes in its election campaign posters.
Fadnavis's ready acceptance of the role of a broker demonstrated his party's attempt to maintain its hyper-nationalist image. It also seems likely that the BJP has recognised the MNS's ability to serve as a strategic tool to undermine the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra. Though the BJP rules the state in an alliance with the Sena, the relationship between the partners has been stormy.
Whatever its motivations, it is clear that for short-term gains, the BJP has decided to sacrifice foundational values of the Constitution.
The events are also a sorry commentary on the film industry. Despite grave threats from fringe elements, Bollywood has failed to speak in one voice. These divisions have increasingly made the industry an easy target.
The Big Scroll
- Maharashtra Navnirman Sena chief Raj Thackrey says his nationalist zeal should not be misconstrued as political extortion.
- The Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh descended into further turmoil on Sunday with the sacking of Shivpal Yadav from the Cabinet and Rajya Sabha MP Ramgopal Yadav from the party.
- The infighting in the Samajwadi Party may have forced its chief Mulayam Singh Yadav to turn back on the "Janata Parivar", reports the Indian Express
- In Punjab, the Aam Aadmi Party has followed the footsteps of the Congress and is now distributing loan-waiver forms to farmers as part of its election promise, reports the Economic Times.
- In The Hindu, TP Sreenivasan argues that India needs a broad-based diplomatic approach to avoid going the Pakistan way and being ridiculed for being too Kashmir-centric.
- Badri Raina in the Indian Express says all institutions in a democracy should be subject to public criticism.
- In the Mint, Chandan Bhan Prasad writes on how free market economics was liberating Dalits in Maharashtra and why the recent Dalit movement has its roots in this economic upliftment.
In Jharkand, the family of a Muslim man beaten up by the police and a Vishwa Hindu Parishad official seek justice.
I was standing near Minhaj’s shop at about 9 at night, when eight to 10 men in plain clothes arrived on two motorcycles and a four-wheel vehicle,” Shahban told a team of activists that visited Dighari on October 17. “They started to chase and beat Minhaj and me. We tried to run. We thought they were criminals.