Saturday, May 27, 2006

Boycott Aamir Khan?

(This piece appeared in Hindustan Times (Bombay) on May 27, 2006

Friday, May 26, 2006 is the beginning of yet another chapter in the history of Indian fascism. Aamir Khan is to be boycotted in Gujarat for expressing an opinion about resettlement of the Narmada oustees and the Vadodara violence. He is to be silenced into submission. Saffron-clad, trishul-wielding activists have been on the prowl 'peacefully', persuading theatre owners to not release the film Fanaa. As part of their responsibility towards "5 crore Gujaratis", they will leave no stone, sword or trishul unturned to protect their " swabhimaan and asmita". Just as they did in 2002.

It is not as if attack and intimidation are new tactics now being suddenly unleashed by the BJP. In 2002, NDTV's coverage of the carnage so angered Modi that he ordered a blackout of the Star News signal. Rajdeep Sardesai's vehicle was attacked minutes after he left CM Modi's home. On election day, a mob of party workers surround Barkha Dutt, right outside the BJP office. Two men standing next to my camera start chanting - "strip her, strip her". Barkha has the presence of mind to dash into the party office itself to escape the mob. Many others weren't so fortunate - many print media reporters get beaten up, a TV journalist has his arm broken, News channels have their outdoor broadcast vans ransacked. Their crime: they dared to report the truth as they saw it, refusing to buy the 'party line'.

Fascism feeds on terror. Create a fear psychosis and reap an electoral harvest. Terrorise well-defined targets and send out chilling messages. On Feb 28, 2002, two well-chosen Muslim targets were attacked. Ehsan Jafri, the Congress leader who had campaigned against Modi in Rajkot and Prof J S Bandukwala, noted civil liberties activist and a known critic of the politics of hate. Jafri was hacked to death; the professor somehow escaped, [though his home was destroyed by the very people who invited him to deliver the Savarkar Memorial lecture on Feb 26, 2002]. The message: If Bandukwala with his 'national and international' contacts and Jafri as an ex-member of Parliament with his 'Delhi' connections can't even save themselves, no Muslim is safe. Post-carnage, many in Gujarat raise their voice to appeal for peace and justice. Again a target is chosen - Mallika Sarabhai. The message: if old-money, connected families like the Sarabhais can be persecuted, don't you dare speak against us!

Post -2002 Gujarat is already witnessing segregation in schools. Women and schoolgoing children are afraid of crossing the 'border'. Ghettos have sprung up in cities, small towns and villages. Jobless youth often speak of how H-class gets all jobs while M-class (Muslims) don't. My film Final Solution records an impassioned pracharak exhorting the crowds - "buy only from Hindu shops and ride only on Hindu rickshaws". Non-Hindu police officers find it tough to get executive assignments; conscientious IPS officers who prevented bloodshed in their districts cool their heels in punishment postings. Hindu girls marrying Muslim men either get 'rescued' by Babu Bajrangi and his troops or get killed, like Geetaben or Bhartiben. VHP leaders suggest benignly, "Muslims are our younger brothers; they must respect the elders and then they will get their rights". Other hindutva activists are content with much simpler solutions - Muslims should have no right to vote, compulsory sterilisation of Muslim men at the birth of the second child, banning of Hindu-Muslim marriages, jail terms for the person converting to Islam and the Moulvi who aids him or the ultimate solution - Muslims must leave India and go to Pakistan. Echoes of Nazi Germany?

Gandhi's Sabarmati Ashram symbolises the crisis of our times. In 2002, its gate were shut to Muslims seeking shelter. It is here that Medha Patkar was dragged by her hair, in full view of journalists and video cameras, in police presence, by a valiant youth called Amit Thakkar. Now, in his avataar as a BJP Yuva Morcha leader, he thunders, "Aamir Khan has insulted the five crore population of Gujarat by supporting Medha Patekar (sic)...Then he made nasty comments about chief minister Narendra Modi. There is no place for any anti-Gujarati in Gujarat". His national President, Dharmendra Pradhan is even more belligerent, determined to prevent any Aamir film, old or new, from being screened in Gujarat. BJP's national leadership declines comment. Says Arun Jailtley, "The party has nothing to do with the campaign.".He fails to condemn the politics of intimidation and fear unleashed by his own partymen in Gujarat. But, then, why should Jaitley, former Law Minister, stand up for Article 19 of the Indian constitution guaranteeing freedom of speech or Article 25 concerning freedom of conscience and free profession?

Enjoy your rights, but very quietly. Raise any questions and earn the sobriquet - "enemies of Gujarat or Hindutva "! Hitler, Himmler, Goebbels would have smiled in approval. Senator McCarthy would have chomped on his fat cigar to suggest a House un-Gujarati activities committee to investigate all the enemies of Gujarat. If Charlie Chaplin, Arthur Miller and Dashiel Hammet could be persecuted, why not Aamir Khan?

Manubhai Patel of the Gujarat Multiplex Owners' Association says, "There is no political pressure, we have done it voluntarily" Single-screen cinema owners issue ads in newspapers on May 23, promising a release of the film. By the evening, a TV channel reports that they too have 'voluntarily' joined the boycott. The Gujarat Druggists and Chemists Association wants to boycott all products being endorsed by Aamir Khan. Leaders from the Congress wonder "why is Aamir talking about political issues?" V K Malhotra and Shatughan Sinha of BJP ask Aamir to apologise.

Aamir's crime? He suggested that Narmada oustees must be rehabilitated. Is there anyone in India or among the allegedly deeply offended "5 crore Gujaratis", who believes that the people of Narmada valley have no rights? That their homes and livelihoods should be destroyed as soon as possible, without resettling them? That their villages and towns must be flooded immediately by raising the height of the dam so that the people of Gujarat can benefit? That the Narmada protestors can and must exchange their fertile lands for distant, barren plots? That their children can and should grow up in an urban slum of their choice? That their women have the option of working as maids, bargirls and prostitutes in any city of their choice within and outside Gujarat?

Imagine a government notification to set up solar power substations or rainwater harvesting reservoirs to meet power and water shortage in our cities, acquiring all of Greater Kailash in Delhi, Mylapore in Chennai, Jubilee Hills in Hyderabad, Vile Parle in Mumbai or Paldi in Ahmedabad. Imagine the furore. The 24/7 media coverage. The Residents' welfare associations demonstrating. The flood of court cases, frayed tempers and street-level skirmishes and finally, politicians making soothing noises. Do the people of Narmada valley not have the same rights as you and I in the urban middle class? Ironically, the state and central governments display remarkable haste in legalising illegal constructions in Delhi and Ulhasnagar through ordinances, bypassing the legal system completely. Should the State be selective? Isn't welfare of all its people its obligation? Why does it bend to accommodate law-breakers in our cities while ruthlessly evicting its villages and tribal hamlets? Should we raise our voice against such blatant and partisan injustice? If your answer is no, then we might as well toll the death knell of our Democracy. If yes, then that's precisely what Aamir has done!

Politics of intolerance marks Hindutva fascism, just as it did in Nazi Germany in the 1930s. Attacks on intelligentsia, too, are another common ground. Stormtroopers vandalise libraries, institutions and art exhibitions routinely. Party members in censor boards merrily ban and mutilate films or harass film-makers. The BJP is only following a time-tested pattern - intimidate any independent voice into silence!

Though Hema Malini, Dharmendra, Vinod Khanna and other TV or film stars within the BJP failed to speak against the Gujarat carnage, I hope they will at least respond to this full-scale assault on a Bollywood colleague. A suggestion already doing the rounds is for the entire film industry to stop releasing new films in Gujarat. Others caution about rampant piracy - with the State looking the other way; DVDs for Fanaa are already on offer for Rs 160 in Ahmedabad . Will the Shahrukhs and Hrithiks, Subhash Ghais and Boney Kapoors of the film industry stand up and be counted when it matters? Or is the Bollywood family just a big myth, concocted for money-spinning awards nights and glitzy extravaganzas on foreign shores?

Will we refuse to learn lessons from history and fail to protest? The Gujarat BJP's message is loud and clear - "shut up or else..."
Will you?
Should I?
Or Aamir?