The Devendra Fadnavis government has certainly not covered itself in glory in the incident involving the release of the Karan Johar film Ae Dil hai Mushkil. Instead of firmly telling the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) and its leader Raj Thackeray that its threats to attack theatres screening the film would be met with the full force of the law, the chief minister allowed things to come to such a pass that the filmmaker not only had to promise not to use Pakistani artistes in his films again but also to run tributes to our jawans who were martyred in Uri at the beginning of the film.
Emboldened by this inaction, Mr Thackeray has now asked that every filmmaker using the services of Pakistani artistes must pay Rs 5 crore to the Army relief fund. This is objectionable and unacceptable. He has no locus standi to impose any such condition. This is not just illegal; it also imposes an enormous financial burden on a filmmaker. But more than any of this, it amounts to dragging the Army into the petty politics surrounding the release of this film. Senior army officers have expressed their discomfort with this saying that the Army is apolitical and secular. The Indian Army should reject this proposal outright. In fact, a senior Army official has already said that money extracted through arm-twisting would not be accepted by it. Clearly, he thinks, and rightly so, that the Army’s image would be tarnished by being made part of a political game. Mr Fadnavis’ spectacular failure to act in time brings to mind another chief minister who presided over a similar controversy over the film, My Name is Khan.
Former chief minister of Maharashtra Ashok Chavan refused to be cowed down by threats of violence by the Shiv Sena and gave the film’s screening protection. The government cannot allow itself to be dictated to by hyper-nationalists like Thackeray who is trying to regain lost ground on the political front using this film.
No one has come out of this smelling of roses – Mr Fadnavis has failed in his duty, the film industry has not been able to stand up to a bully and of course, Mr Thackeray has shown himself and his party to be disruptive and extortionist.
Filmmakers and the Producers’ Guild have given Mr Fadnavis assurances that they will not work with Pakistani artistes in future. It is condemnable that Mr Fadnavis accepted this. If this goes unchallenged, parties like the MNS will up the ante. The State must act now to stop this threat to filmmakers and also attempts to drag the Army into politics.