I’m delighted the military fraternity has reacted with outrage at the attempt to whitewash what is essentially extortion from Karan Johar by Raj Thackeray by calling it penance. I always believed our men in uniform would be repelled by this donation. Not for a moment did I think they would welcome it. It’s wonderful to know my instincts were right.
Speaking for every soldier, Gen. Shankar Roychowdhury, one of our most senior retired army chiefs, told The Hindu the army had nothing to do with the politics of Maharashtra and did not wish to be dragged into it. Air Vice-Marshal Manmohan Bahadur tweeted: “By accepting this money the army would become a ‘receiver’ of tainted money.” Major. Chandrakant Singh, a hero of the 1971 war, said: “The army will not accept such a thing.”
The point they’re making is simple and necessary but, sadly, it wasn’t obvious, at least not to those who thoughtlessly agreed on a donation of Rs 5 crore to the Army Welfare Fund to clear Johar’s film. This was imposed on Johar. If he hadn’t agreed cinema halls showing his film would have been attacked by Raj Thackeray’s thugs. Inevitably, they wouldn’t have shown it and audiences would have kept away.
Even if the suggestion to donate came from Johar himself, as chief minister Devendra Fadnavis has claimed, it was undeniably made under pressure. Every officer and jawan knows that. This is why accepting the money is tantamount to accepting the proceeds of coercion. And no man in uniform would accept the fruits of blackmail or extortion.
There is, however, another reason why our army must refuse the ‘donation’. This time it goes to the very core of the institution. It is, after all, the proud army of the world’s biggest democracy. Its task is to defend that democracy. So when the rights conferred by our Constitution are challenged by bullies — even if it’s done, paradoxically, in the name of a faux nationalism — the army would believe its duty is to defend those rights, not benefit from their abridgement.
Actually, the belief the army would accept this money — and, I presume, it’s shared by Thackeray, Fadnavis and Johar — is an insult to the army. How dare they have thought so!
So when the Rs 5-crore cheque arrives at the Army Welfare Fund, I hope it’s returned with a polite but firm letter to explain why. It doesn’t have to be written offensively and, indeed, it should express gratitude but it must make clear why the money cannot be accepted. And the letter must be made public so its content is recorded for history.
This would be a decorous but firm way of teaching Raj Thackeray’s Maharashtra Navnirman Sena an important lesson. It must stop using the army or talk of nationalism to disguise its undemocratic behaviour as the pursuit of a higher cause.
For example, Shalini Thackeray loudly asserted in television discussions that soldiers on our borders, who are prepared to lay down their lives, have demanded a ban on Bollywood films with Pakistani actors. That simply isn’t true. As far as I know, not a single officer or jawan has even remotely made this demand. She simply made it up to dignify her party’s thuggery with the appearance of soldierly sentiment.
This must stop. If the MNS won’t desist, the army must tell it to do so. This is why that letter from the Army Welfare Fund is not just important but necessary.
The views expressed are personal