PADMAVATI IS DEAD, LONG LIVE PADMAVATI!

Rangeela Rasool that showed the Prophet as a worldly man given to ordinary pleasures. The publisher of the book, Mahashay Rajpal, was tried on the basis of complaints filed by Muslims but was acquitted two years later in 1929 because there was no law on the statute book, the Indian Penal Code, to specifically deal with promoting enmity or hatred between communities. Rajpal was murdered soon after his acquittal by a zealous young Muslim who was then executed after trial. The significance of this episode is that the British rulers of the time were pressured to add a section to the IPC that made insulting the leaders of any religious community a crime punishable with imprisonment. In other words, hate and hate crime made it to the statute book, imposing a considered restriction on what we now call freedom of speech and expression, or FoE as it is known in cyberspace. Cut to 1950. India had given itself a constitution incorporating —via Article 19 Clause 1a—freedom of speech and expression in its section of fundamental rights of citizens. The right to free expression was not absolute; it did have restrictions. At the time the Constitution was adopted, Clause 2 of Article 19 read: (2) Nothing in sub-clause (a) of clause (1) shall affect the operation of any existing law in so far as it relates to, or prevents the State from making any law relating to, libel, slander, defamation, contempt of court or any matter which offends against decency or morality or which undermines the security of, or tends to overthrow, the State.  Meanwhile, Hindu-Muslim riots had shaken up East Pakistan, and refugees streamed into India. Syama Prasad Mookerjee of the Hindu Mahasabha was in Prime Minister Nehru’s Cabinet at the time; the organisation was pretty vocal about its dreams of an Akhand (unified) Bharat. In April, Nehru made a deal with his Pakistan counterpart, Liaquat Ali Khan, to secure the peace. Part of the deal was clamping down on any propaganda for war between the two new nations. Two days before the pact, Mookerjee resigned over Nehru’s Pakistan policy. From then on he called for a war to reunite the two nations once again. Meanwhile, two Supreme Court decisions of the same year had overturned a ban on a left-leaning journal and pre-censorship of a right-wing journal. Nehru and Sardar Vallabhai Patel corresponded with alacrity over these developments, and it all came down to the first amendment of the Constitution which added ‘public order’ and ‘incitement to offence’ to Clause 2 of Article 19. Significantly, the restrictions that the amended clause introduced were ‘reasonable’, leaving the door open to judicial review of any related action by the executive. The clause now reads: (2) Nothing in sub-clause (a) of clause (1) shall affect the operation of any existing law, or prevent the State from making any law, in so far as such law imposes reasonable restrictions on the exercise of the right conferred by the said sub-clause in the interests of the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence. Films— like the unreleased Padmavati is alleged to—can threaten public order, decency and morality. The last word on this is with the Central Board of Film Certification, a statutory body established in 1951. Padmavati has not yet been cleared by the board which only last year did not allow the release of a film called Mohalla Assi because it offended Hindu sentiments. On November 28, the Supreme Court refused—for the third time in November—to ban Padmavati, saying it is the prerogative of the censor board to review the film and make a decision on whether it is suitable for screening.  The court also rebuked persons holding public office—read chief ministers of states who have spoken against the film—for their comments on the film. “When the matter is pending the consideration of the CBFC (Central Board of Film Certification), how can persons holding public offices comment on whether CBFC should issue certificate or not? That will prejudice the decision of the CBFC,” the court said. And there the matter rests. For now, that is. This means that if the CBFC clears the film, with or without cuts and/or changes, it can be due for nationwide release sometime next month. Therein lies the rub. State governments have the option to invoke their duty to uphold public order, decency and morality and ban the film. The BJP-ruled states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh have already indicated so. Congress-ruled Punjab may just follow their cue, as can others like Bihar. Sectarian politics can yield results that overpower any agency of the state. Even if state governments do not block the film, theatre owners can refuse to screen the film for fear of violence by fringe groups, as was the case with Jodhaa Akbar in Rajasthan nine years ago. That time, it was the same Rajput Karni Sena that had taken to the streets with the all-too familiar complaint of ‘distortion of historical facts’. Thirty theatres in Rajasthan did not screen the movie that year because members of the Karni Sena sent them threatening letters written in blood. Street politics, too, can sometimes beat the state and the operation of the law of the land. Certified fit for public viewing or not, it is likely that Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Padmavati will not make it to screens across more than half the country. But the legend of Padmavati that has inspired the protests against the film will live on. Padmavati is dead, Long Live Padmavati!


By Nardeep Singh Dahiya // ]]>

Modi has an unhealthy mentality, says Congress

The Congress on Monday said Prime Minister Narendra Modi suffered from an “unhealthy mentality” and accused him of making irresponsible and untrue statements. The party also accused Modi of misleading the people of Gujarat on the contributions of Jawaharlal Nehru. “The Prime Minister has said the country’s first Prime Minister had not done anything for Gujarat. It is wrong and far from the truth. We condemn it,” party spokesperson Anand Sharma told the media here. The Prime Minister suffers from an “unhealthy mentality, which is an issue of national concern”, Sharma said. “He feels that nothing happened in Gujarat and the country before he came,” he said. “Unhealthy mentality is when a person says the universe was not created before me, India did not have an identity before I came… He (Modi) always says this is happening for the first time. “He needs to be told that India became a nuclear power in 1974, we went to space, Chandrayaan and Mangalyaan had already been launched… India was recognised worldwide.

“If he feels nothing happened before he came, it is the responsibility of the opposition to correct him. Whatever he is saying is untrue. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is very nervous. They are rattled over the increasing support for the Congress in Gujarat.” Sharma countered the BJP charge of dynastic politics in the Congress, saying the last member of the Nehru-Gandhi family to take oath of an important post was when Rajiv Gandhi became the Prime Minister in 1984.  “It means 32-33 years have gone… For 10 years, Congress was in power and I need to remind him (Modi) that Rahul Gandhi is an elected member of Parliament. “He has forgotten that the Congress gave Prime Ministers like Lal Bahadur Shastri and Manmohan Singh who came from humble backgrounds.” He added: “The Congress has never told the BJP who it should elect as its leader. The Prime Minister should stop worrying about the Congress and focus on his party instead.” The Prime Minister was trying to mislead the people of Gujarat by giving wrong statements and trying to lure the voters, Sharma said. “He (Modi) should not give certificates of honesty to his own government.” Attcking the Modi government for delaying the Winter Session of Parliament, Sharma said: “The Modi government is running away from accountability. That is why the Prime Minister never convened Parliament ahead of the Gujarat polls.” (IANS) // ]]>

70 YEARS OF ASPIRATIONS AND ANXIETIES

Seven decades is a long time. As India just moves past the 70th anniversary of its independence from the British, many have, in an annual ritual, revisited those times full of nostalgia, hope and hatred. Others have expressed aspirations and anxieties about the present and the future.   Of special significance in this discourse is the subcontinent’s partition, often spelt with a capital P. It meant a million people killed and millions more forced to leave their homes. Time has not healed, but only partly, those wounds as generations have moved on. Was it a lack of foresight? Would the Indian leaders who sat down with the last viceroy on June 3, 1947 to agree on the hasty exercise have proceeded had they any inkling of the holocaust that would ensue. True, the British were in a hurry to leave and abandoned a slower path to independence and Partition — by mid-1948, as originally envisaged. But then, given those vitiated times, would any division have satisfied everyone? Partisans who hail the independence blame each other for the misery the partition brought. It is left to the sensitive lot, a dying breed of people in subcontinent and elsewhere, to view the twin events objectively. Born after the independence and unaffected by the partition, I prefer to look at, not those who ruled, reformed and most certainly, ravished India in the past, and how India responded, but to take just a few snatches at how the two have related since they parted ways. There have surely been numerous ups and downs. The relationship has remained ‘special’ but was buffeted by long years of cold war. Britain did not—could not have—relished Jawaharlal Nehru, a product of Harrow and Cambridge, comfortable at India joining the Commonwealth, but also rallying much of post-colonial Asia and Africa to form the Non-Aligned Movement that, despite its middle-path protestations between the two power blocks, was an anti-West alliance. As a result, there was much the two could have done, but did not. After the first two decades, Indians began to lose the charm for Britain, even as the expression “colonial mentality” became popular. Despite cold war distancing, the United States became a bigger destination for the Indian aspirants of education and enterprise. Oxford and Cambridge have never lost their magnetic charm, but other centres of learning have beckoned. Nehru himself began the process of looking elsewhere for knowledge by setting up five Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) with technologies from five different nations.   Of the economists that Britain nurtured, British educated Dr Manmohan Singh did usher in India’s economic reforms. But they are now being pushed by those groomed at MIT, Columbia and other American institutions. In terms of numbers, though not necessarily quality, 1.8 million Indian origin Britons form a small part of the 30 million diaspora and rank a distant seventh. More Indians get elected to Canadian legislatures than to the “Mother Parliament.” Peter Sellers’ depiction of the way Indians speak English is passé. More Indians speak English language, the way they do, than people anywhere. With their language-fuelled IT enterprises and start-ups they have turned employers. From Tetley Tea to Cobra Beer, several Indian entrepreneurs, in a manner of speaking, “carry coal to New Castle.” Although English language keeps Indians at home glued, like the England-educated men and women who turned anti-British freedom fighters, the Indians have learnt to be irreverent about things British. They were amused when Members in British Parliament fumed at India ordering, not the British combat aircraft, but the French Rafale. Over decades, while some of the Commonwealth nations place the British royalty at the top in their constitutional scheme of things, the way the Indians view the British royalty have radically changed. When Queen Elizabeth II went tiger hunting in India in 1961, her request to use a calf as a bait for hunting tigers was gently turned down by Nehru. The enthusiasm of the crowd and the country seems to have tempered with each successive visit. So while in 1961 we saw hordes cheering for the queen, by 1997 the elephant rides had been replaced by stately sedans and a ceremonial approach to things. In 1997 when she last visited India, the trip became controversial for her acknowledgement of the Jalianwala Bagh massacre as being a “difficult episode in our past”. While some were satisfied with what was perceived to be an apology, others felt it wasn’t enough.  That wasn’t the only causer of controversy. The British High Commissioner, Sir David Gore-Booth (1996-98) had made a testy observation about India’s stand on the Kashmir dispute with Pakistan, accusing the Indian leadership of “tilting at the windmill”. I attended that press conference. After consulting senior colleagues, I wrote that the British were calling Indians Quixotic. It made front page news in The Times of India and invited nasty comments about the British being the creators of the Kashmir problem. That perception remains and has been the subject of deep research. Such issues have willy-nilly cropped up during any British premier’s India visit. Theresa May’s visit was an exception, though. Perhaps, the Indians’ view of Britain has changed after Brexit.   To the young and intelligent in India, although derided at home by proponents of vernacular languages as “Macaulay’s progeny”, British colonialism is a distant past, but not its vagaries. Two people in the recent years have excited their imagination and anger. Prof Mridula Mukherjee of Delhi University made out a strong case against Winston Churchill for diverting food grown in India to British forces during the World War II and deliberately causing the Great Bengal Famine in which millions perished. The other person, Shashi Tharoor, a Congress lawmaker, speaking at Oxford, made out a persuasive case, without rancor and recrimination, for reparation from the British who earned, plundered and even stole more than what they gave India for two centuries. Of course, none seriously believes that the British would ever return anything, including the famed Koh-i-Noor, another popular, but controversial demand the Indians often make. Despite occasional ‘nasty’ reporting, I do nurse fond memories of the royal couple’s India visits. I was part of the ceremonial parade in the Queen’s honour by the Sea Cadet Corps, an organization that trains the young in seamanship, in England, India and many countries across the world. I proudly mentioned this to the royal couple in 1997 when introduced at a lunch hosted by the High Commissioner at his residence.   [caption id="attachment_18166" align="alignleft" width="300"] Prince Philip(L in front), Duke of Edinburgh,[/caption] I then moved to Prince Philip and recalled a similar parade he had inspected in the late 1950s. Gracious moment was over for me. But not for the young lady reporter who followed.  She introduced herself as representative of a news agency. “Oh, the one that keeps sending out false news?”  The prince beamed. The girl did not know to respond. That was, and has been, the prince’s typical brand of humour. Controversies apart, it has lent human touch to the royal pomp. He retired from his public engagements on August 2. So, here is bidding him farewell – although an irreverent one. // ]]>