When silence is not golden

The hysteria carefully whipped up over the yet-to-be-released film Padmavati is acquiring fearful dimensions. Awards of ten crore rupees have been announced to behead the film’s director Sanjay Leela Bhansali and to mutilate the film’s heroine Deepa Padukone. The threat was issued by a person who has just resigned as Haryana BJP’s media coordinator. He has resigned not because he is repentant or been reprimanded by the party for giving incitement to murder but in protest against Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar’s unwillingness to announce a ban on the release of the film – something which has been done by chief ministers of several BJP-ruled States and something which the Supreme Court has unambiguously said they can’t do.
What is noteworthy is that despite the Prime Minister’s repeated warnings that nobody can take the law in his own hands, neither he nor party chief Amit Shah nor any top functionary of the party has unequivocally condemned the party’s media coordinator in Haryana. At long last, he has just been issued a show cause notice. The entire chain of events leaves no room for doubt that the ruling party supports the provocative statements of their Haryana man by maintaining complete silence and it is because of this that the Haryana police have not done what they should have done on the very first day – book the man under relevant sections of the Indian Penal Code. The administration is helpless in the face of the ruling party’s tacit support. The way the Karni Sena has made the film a matter of prestige for the entire Rajput community suggests a political intent behind it. The BJP leadership’s complete silence is not golden.
Will the passions already whipped up be further fanned to create more trouble and fear psychosis among film-makers or be allowed to die down gradually? This question is relevant because several State Assembly elections starting with Gujarat next month and ending with the general elections in 2019 are slated to be held and the surcharged atmosphere may bring in rich electoral dividends for some people who believe in the politics of polarization. In Gujarat, the debate is no longer about development. It is about the supposed neglect of Gujarat’s interests by the Congress party and Gujarati people’s self-respect. The electoral battle is being shown as one between Gujarati asmita versus the Nehru-Gandhi leadership of the Congress. The contrived confrontation is hollow but it does not matter so long as it helps win the elections. But the long-term consequences will be bad for the people and the country.

Friday, 1 December, 2017