Karan Johar may be relieved that Rs. 5 crore as “penance” for hiring Pakistani actor Fawad Khan in his film Ae Dil Hai Mushkil (ADHM) has been enough for the right-wing outfit Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS). But nearly everybody else is asking – at what cost to secular traditions in the country? This includes senior army officers, who say that the Army should not accept money obtained through coercion. Further, the CM’s unwillingness to protect against extra-constitutional threats, as well as Bollywood’s willingness to capitulate to these demands, is widely being seen as encouragement to vigilante groups, a dilution of the Chief Minister’s office, and a stinging blow to liberal and secular values in the country.
Even as Karan Johar issued a video statement proclaiming his patriotism and apologising for hiring a Pakistani actor, officers like Lt Gen (Rtd) BS Jaswal and Air Vice Marshall (Rtd) Manmohan Bahadur went on TV to express their “anguish” at this attempt to use an “apolitical and secular” entity like the Indian Army to score political points.
Earlier on Saturday, Johar, accompanied by Producers’ Guild President Mukesh Bhatt, met Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis as well as MNS chief Raj Thackeray to reassure them that filmmakers would not work with Pakistani artistes in the future. They also made a Rs.5 crore donation to the Army Welfare Fund saying, “We owe this to the Army.”
In response, senior army officials said that such ransom money should be rejected outright.
Political critics like The Hindu‘s Sachin Kalbag have pointed out that in 2010, when the Shiv Sena raised similar protests against Shah Rukh Khan’s My Name Is Khan, the then chief minister of Maharashtra Ashok Chavan offered police protection at screenings, and pushed back against Thackeray’s intimidation attempts. Fadnavis, however, despite belonging to a majority government at the Centre, has been silent and complicit.
Now six years later, not only has CM Fadnavis actively colluded with the MNS’ demands, but filmmaker Karan Johar too has said he would “obviously not” hire Pakistani actors again. Johar also added a special mention in the beginning of the film, as homage to martyrs.
Shortly after the meeting, the MNS chief and now apparent law-maker Thackeray, called off the protests against Ae Dil Hai Mushkil. He then informed television channels that producers who have used Pakistani citizens in their movies would have to pay Rs. 5 crore each to the Army Welfare Fund. The Producers Guild of India has in fact agreed to not hire actors from Pakistan at all.
Army veterans expressed their disapproval over how MNS had bullied Bollywood over the issue, using the Army for its inflammatory rhetoric, and said that only a government order should prevail. Lt Gen (Rtd) BS Jaswal told a TV channel that he was anguished over the dragging of the Army in the issue and said the sacrifices of the Army could not be weighed in terms of money, and the Army should not be politicised.
Air Vice Marshall (Rtd) Manmohan Bahadur said the Army would prefer voluntary contributions from people instead of having people being coerced into contributing. He stressed that the Army was apolitical, and ought not to be dragged into politics.
Maharashtra CM Devendra Fadnavis is now facing criticsm for his complicity in allowing an extortionist political party to dictate terms, and thereby undermining the office of Chief Minister. Instead of cracking down on the MNS party members, who publicly threatened to vandalise theatres screening ADHM, Fadnavis took their side and colluded in making the makers agree to their conditions.
It seems that the issue of intolerance and freedom of speech, so hotly contested between Bollywood bigwigs and right-wing outfits, has been settled in favour of the latter. And Karan Johar’s own words earlier this year at the Jaipur Lit Festival ring ominously, “It is virtually impossible to speak your mind in public.” So much for Mann Ki Baat.