Keep the army out of politics of blackmail

RASHEEDA BHAGAT | Updated on January 16, 2018 Published on October 24, 2016

They serve the country: Not people’s vested interests

It was cynical patriotism at its worst when the MNS managed to extort money from Karan Johar’s team, citing the army’s cause

The film fraternity is a soft target when it comes to blackmail and extortion, and shamefully, it is the quickest to buckle under threats. The drama related to the release of Karan Johar’s film, Ae Dil Hai Mushkil, proves this.

In the aftermath of the horrendous Uri terrorist attack which killed 18 Indian soldiers and bore a Pakistani stamp, the ensuing outrage demanded that Pakistani actors working in Indian movies either condemn the attack or be sent home. The likes of Salman Khan and Shyam Benegal who tried to delink cultural ties between the two countries and terrorism, were flayed mercilessly, and abused relentlessly where vilification works best — on social media.

Caught in this crossfire were the makers of the film starring Ranbir Kapoor and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan; Pakistani actor Fawad Khan plays a key role.

In the world of bullying the one who shouts the loudest and makes the vilest threat wins the game. And so the one-MLA party (MNS) chief Raj Thackeray has managed to extort a sum of ₹5 crore from Johar and company as “penance” for featuring a Pakistani actor, with the money going to the Army Welfare Fund. Other conditions — no more Pakistani actors in future and a homage to the Uri soldiers killed at the beginning of the movie.

Bullied into a deal

The murky deal between Raj Thackeray and the Producers’ Guild was brokered by Maharashtra chief minister, Devendra Fadnavis. Already, cinema owners in Pakistan have taken off Indian films from their theatres and announced an indefinite ban. TV channels and radio stations have been asked to stop airing Indian content. On our side, Zee’s Zindagi channel has stopped broadcasting Pakistani plays, which were very popular in our country. Last year you could find them on television monitors at Delhi and Mumbai airports!

Of course, public sentiment in India has never been so anti-Pakistani and with good reason too. The recent overtures for peace such as Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s surprise stopover in Lahore to greet Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, have only been reciprocated by more intense cross-border firing followed by terrorist attacks at Pathankot and Uri.

But what is shameful is milking the anti-Pakistan outrage to gain political capital, and that too by a party such as the MNS which was totally rejected by the people of Maharashtra in the last election. Unseating the Congress-led government, they had opted for a BJP-Shiv Sena combine. While ₹5 crore has been paid upfront, it is possible that more has been paid behind the scenes to buy peace and allow the release of the movie.

While one section of the film fraternity has condemned this deal, another feels that Karan Johar has cleverly got much more publicity than could have been possible with ₹5 crore!

Dignified, fitting response

While these numbers can be analysed with authority or accuracy only by the movie trade pundits, what is heartening in this disgraceful deal which milks the Indian soldier for political upmanship, is the way some Indian armed force veterans have responded. The former northern army commander Lt-Gen BS Jaswal told an English daily: “The army doesn’t go around begging for funds. If a film producer wants to donate, he can do it like any other Indian citizen. But this is unacceptable. Let’s keep the army out of politics. We have stayed that way and would like to stay that way.”

One of the most vociferous attacks came from the former Air Vice Marshal Manmohan Bahadur who tweeted, “I served four decades in uniform — and never did I live on extorted money. What’s this happening in my country?” While he rejected such “tainted money”, former army chief Deepak Kapoor said: “The Government provides enough to take care of our soldiers. The army should not be dragged into this episode, it is a secular organisation with no political affinity.”

Northern Command former Chief of Staff Lt-Gen Balbir Singh said what while the national interest was supreme, the “army does not believe in taking political advantage of this issue, especially when it comes to donation for army welfare fund”.

It is heartening that our armed forces are not fooled by this downright extortion in their name. It is an entity that proudly wears its secular and professional credentials, and has no hesitation in taking firm action when mistakes are made. Yes, our defence personnel deserve the best and we as citizens should demand that our government gives them their due not only through lip service but also in actual effect. What they don’t need are pseudo nationalists or charlatans to keep their morale high.

Published on October 24, 2016

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