By Vijay Darda | 24-10-2016
After the Uri attacks, shocking as they were, we have seen a surge of jingoism in almost all walks of life. The hysteria in some sections of the electronic media would have us believe as if there is real war going on across the border. Yes, it is true the violence from across the border had been stepped up which should be seen as a natural fall-out of the surgical strikes.
In this atmosphere, Bollywood the soft power and soft target, came under sharper focus for casting Pakistani artists in films at a time when our soldiers are shedding their blood in the fight against terror. Initially, the demand was that the Pakistani artists should condemn the Uri and other attacks unconditionally. The generic statements issued by the actors “condemning acts of terror anywhere” did not satisfy the jingoistic voices. The issue then changed track. Instead of the Pakistani actors the guns were now trained on the Indian producers who had worked with these actors. The target in the cross hairs being Karan Johar (KJo for his fans and friends) whose latest film Ae Dil Hai Mushkil (ADHM in filmy parlance) is slated for an October 28 Diwali release. Needless to say a lot of money is riding on the shoulders of this film.
Once the release date was set the sequence moved from mere words to actionable threats as the Raj Thackeray outfit MNS warned of violence at theatres that would screen ADHM. Immediately, the association of theatre owners that has four hundred members in Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka and Gujarat announced that it would not be screening ADHM to avoid loss to their properties as well as personnel. With many theatres having glass facades this was a realistic assessment of the threat perception from MNS cadres who have a violent track record against various sections of the society.
For a while it appeared that the nay sayers would carry the day and ADHM’s Diwali release could be an unpredictable affair. But then the pragmatic KJo made his first conciliatory move. The armchair defenders of the freedom of expression can have the liberty of calling it a surrender, but one should ask them the same question when their career and hard earned money is at stake. The film producers came into play and met home minister Rajnath Singh and gave him an assurance that the film industry respects the national sentiment and no Pakistani actor would henceforth be working in the industry. In return, they got an assurance that the release of ADHM would be a smooth affair. In stepped Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis who appeared to have ‘brokered’ a deal between MNS and KJo, that there would be no obstruction in the release of the film with two conditions. The producer would pay ` 5 crore to Army Welfare Fund (AWF) and pay a tribute to the Uri jawans at the start of the film. So was it all about money? Or is there a move to legitimise the extortionist approach of the MNS? These are some questions that need to be asked.
Similarly, some tough questions need to be asked to the jingoistic patriots as to what do they plan to do with the $ 2 billion worth goods that India sends to Pakistan through government authorised road, rail and sea routes. This is authorised estimate of the trade through formal channels for which Pakistan has a negative list of 1,209 items that cannot be imported from India. But smart traders on both sides of the divide circumvent this by using a third party country – Dubai – to channel the goods. These are called informal exports and the trade volume is twice the size of formal exports. So jingoist patriots – any plans to stalk the industrialists, traders or block the trucks? So, we should ask ourselves this question as to how far this misguided patriotism will take us? As a principled approach in this time of crisis, I fully endorse the ban on Pakistani artists. There is no question of letting them enjoy our hospitality and giving them an opportunity to earn money and fame. It is simply not done. We have adopted a similar approach in cricket, and there are no cricketing relations between India and Pakistan for the past several years and even if the two boards have shown a willingness to resume the ties, the Indian authorities have not been keen to do so. If we play cricket with Pakistan, it gives an impression of normalcy between the two countries that simply does not exist on the ground.
However, even while doing all this ban business, and trying to isolate Pakistan internationally, we cannot forget that dialogue between the neighbouring countries is the only way forward. Even the foreign secretary S Jaishankar has stated this with a caveat that the place and timing of the talks shall be of India’s choosing. In the context of the India-Pakistan relations we have to take into account their internal conditions. Unlike Prime Minister Narendra Modi, his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif is not the master of the country’s foreign policy and the armed forces. These are dictated by the army whose chief Raheel Sharif is due to retire on November 30 and when a new chief comes in that will determine the dynamics of the civil-military relationship. Till then uncertainty would prevail. Sharif has other domestic issues like Panama gate, and the threat by Imran Khan to lockdown Islamabad. Last time this happened the army bailed out Sharif and reasserted its supremacy.
In the end, it will be through the people to people interactions and the goodwill they produce that the bosses on both sides of divide change their mindset on the India-Pakistan issue. Right now there is little scope for it but we see it in tidbits through visits by school children, etc. But one should be optimistic and hopeful that the commonalities and not the differences shall override the relationship between the two countries.
Before I conclude…
There are serious questions about the role of the MNS in the context of the release of the film ADHM. Can a few persons who decide to take law into their hands dictate terms? Who has authorised MNS to collect donations on behalf of the Army Welfare Fund? How was the figure of Rs 5 crore arrived at? Is this enough for repentance? National sentiment apart, the atmosphere of violence and disruption created by such outfits is a matter of concern. The authorities must act in a manner to ensure that they do not get away with their tactics.