The new Censor Board chief called Prime Minister Narendra Modi his “action hero” in a television interview on Tuesday as a colleague defended him for praising the BJP amid criticism the government has daubed the censorship panel in saffron.
Board chairperson Pahlaj Nihalani trashed criticism that the government hand-picked him for the job as a reward for making a BJP campaign video — Har Har Modi, Ghar Ghar Modi — for the May 2014 general election.
“I am proud to say I am a BJP person. I believe in the BJP. Narendra Modi is the voice of the nation ... He is my action hero. He is a visionary person,” Nihalani told NDTV.
The 65-year-old producer of Bollywood hits such as Aankhen in the 1990s succeeded acclaimed Bharatanatyam dancer Leela Samson after she stepped down from the post last week, citing government “interference and coercion” following the release of Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh’s controversial film, MSG: The Messenger of God.
Nine members of the board followed in her footsteps. They along with the board chief were replaced by a pro-BJP team.
Nihalani blamed Samson for kicking up a controversy at the end of her tenure when she should have retired with dignity. “All through her tenure she barely attended office and did not take any initiative to improve the working of the board,” he said.
Fellow moviemaker Ashoke Pandit, a newly-inducted member, backed him for his Modi praises and hit out at Samson. “Modi is the Prime Minister of the country. It is not like we are supporting Dawood or Chhota Shakeel. If people can support the Congress, what is the problem if we are pro-Modi?” he asked.
“Samson misbehaved with the highest authority as chief of the Censor Board. Resigning like that is contempt of authority. If we talk about corruption, why didn’t she resign when the CEO of the board (Rakesh Kumar) was arrested for accepting a bribe?”
They tried to allay fears that the government has packed the board with BJP supporters to run a partisan agenda of stifling films — such as Aamir Khan’s PK — that the party’s radical affiliates might find anti-Hindu.
Pandit said individual political leanings would not affect their work. “I’m a big fan of Modi ... but when it comes to passing films, there is a constitution and you have to follow that.”
The government defended its decision to induct well-known BJP sympathisers into the board. “I agree one or two names are clearly associated with the party, but we have to select eminent people from different fields,” said Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, the junior information and broadcasting minister, who had alleged several previous board members were pro-Congress.