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HindustanTimes Wed,22 Oct 2014

This battle is about the idea of India

Rahul Bose   February 02, 2013
First Published: 23:08 IST(2/2/2013) | Last Updated: 23:09 IST(2/2/2013)

The Vishwaroopam controversy has once again brought into relief one of the issues that determine the nature of a democracy.

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It is the repeated assertion of the Tamil Nadu government that even though a film may be passed by a central government body - the Central Board of Film Certification, in this case - the state government has the right to ban it under state laws.

If we step beyond the debate about the Supreme Court judgment on the same issue versus the contention of the Tamil Nadu government, we enter territory that is naggingly familiar - the battle between the Centre and the states of India.

Whether it's the implementation of the national rural employment guarantee scheme or value-added tax and general sales tax, the tussle between what is right for the nation as against what is right for various (and disparate) Indian states is a tussle that has been, for a few years now, threatening to blow up into a full-blown battle.

When it comes to art and culture, this battle can and must be fought along clear ideological lines. It is this battle that the Vishwaroopam controversy has brought into sharp relief. It is the battle of the idea of India.

Just as nobody disputes the fact that defence should be controlled by the Centre, no state should dispute the authority of the Centre to determine what our nation can read, see, and watch.

Cinema, art and literature cannot, and should not, ever be state subjects.

By the very nature of their creative power, coupled with easy access, the arts contribute to ideas that society (most times even beyond nations) reacts to, debates, incorporates and sometimes rejects.

The growing assertion that each Indian state will determine what its citizens will see and not see is ludicrous at best and perilous at worst.

The danger is clear and present: under the guise of the well-worn argument that 'what the Centre, in it's arrogance, thinks is good for us, almost never is, because it is hopelessly disconnected with the ground reality' states will increasingly try and control the ideas that flow through them.

Forget states, even nations consider an overabundance of ideas anathemical to governance.

Hand this control over to our regional leaders and the Vishwaroopam controversy will prove to only be the tip of an iceberg that will decimate what is left of our democratic ideals.

(Rahul Bose is an actor and rights activist. He starred in both recent films under fire: Midnight's Children and Vishwaroopam)


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