The army is not comfortable with being dragged into the politics surrounding the release of Bollywood movie Ae Dil Hai Mushkil after the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) demanded that producers of films employing Pakistani artistes should pay Rs 5 crore to an army welfare fund as “penance”.
Several serving and retired officers Hindustan Times spoke to said the army was an “apolitical and secular” organisation and attempts should not be made to exploit its name for scoring political brownie points.
Former northern army commander Lieutenant General BS Jaswal said, “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 it’s unacceptable in such a manner.”
Jaswal added the government should have the last word if the matter is too sensitive. “Let’s keep the army out of politics. We have stayed that way and would like to stay that way.”
Karan Johar’s movie is finally set for a Diwali release after MNS president Raj Thackeray rolled back his threat to block the film. The climbdown came after the assurance that a share of the film’s profits will be donated for the welfare of army personnel. The MNS also demanded that producers of movies employing Pakistan artistes pay Rs 5 crore each, even as the Producers Guild of India promised not to hire Pakistanis any longer.
The Sena began its protests more than three weeks ago after 19 soldiers were killed in a militant attack in Jammu and Kashmir last month. India blames Pakistan for sheltering these militants and even used diplomatic avenues to isolate the neighbour over the matter.
The MNS’ conditions, which were agreed upon in a meeting between filmmaker Karan Johar, Producers Guild of India president Mukesh Bhatt and Maharshtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis on Saturday, went viral on social media with people comparing it to extortion.
“Anyone can contribute to the fund but it has to be voluntary. You can’t force people to make donations and the army wouldn’t like to accept such money,” said a senior officer at the army headquarters.
Kargil war hero Brigadier Khushal Thakur (retd) said national sentiments should not be exploited like this. “If something is wrong, it is wrong. How can a forced donation of Rs 5 crore make it right? But the bottom line is the army’s name should not be misused for political gain,” he said.
Echoing similar views, another officer said films release every Friday and it’s best to resist the temptation of playing politics under the pretext of supporting the army.
“If the producers have been arm-twisted into paying the money, there’s no way the army will accept it,” he said.
The army recently opened an Army Welfare Fund Battle Casualties bank account for families of battle casualties after several organisations and individuals approached the defence ministry with contributions.
In a release issued on October 17, the defence ministry said, “The contribution to the fund is purely voluntary in nature.”