I am awfully relieved that the chief minister, a law graduate from Nagpur University, my alma mater, which has had the best of legal minds teaching its students, knows how to distinguish between right and wrong. I spent a terrible weekend outraging about the ‘mandavli’ – as critics have described it — between Maharashtra Navnirman Sena president Raj Thackeray and film producer Karan Johar who agreed to donate Rs5 crore to the army welfare fund in lieu of the MNS calling off its goons from cinemas showing his Diwali blockbuster ‘Ae Dil Hai Mushkil’.
On Monday, Devendra Fadnavis clarified he was against the settlement, but as Johar was insistent on the donation, he looked on as the two struck an open deal in the interest of peace.
I take Fadnavis at his word. I also understand Johar’s compulsions in insisting he would pay the Rs 5 crore into the Army fund – even if it was forced out of him by Raj Thackeray this time round. I believe he well deserved to be parted with that money. Actor Shabana Azmi has lambasted the government for having put a price tag on nationalism. But what about Johar? I think he is equally culpable — not just now but on an earlier occasion, too, when one of his films had used the word,’Bombay’ instead of ‘Mumbai’ , I wonder why he did not have the gumption to tell off Raj Thackeray. He could easily have told Raj to first de-anglicize his name from Thackeray, which is a colonial hangover from the days of William Makepeace Thackeray whose writings Raj’s grandfather so admired and hence took on the British spelling. What is wrong with the homespun ‘Thakre’? After all it is more in in keeping with the nationalism Raj espouses.
If critics say this is an awful precedent, there are other instances too when Bollywood has genuflected before Matoshree for years — and now they have added Krishna Kunj to their woes. Like the visit paid by Boney Kapoor to Raj’s residence a few years ago to apologise for producing a music show by Indian and Pakistani singers aired simultaneously in both countries. So as Uddhav Thackeray, the president of the Shiv Sena said in Goa over the weekend, in response to a query about the settlement, “Yeh to hona hi tha!”
However, when he and his party were attempting the same thing in 2010 with Shah Rukh Khan’s ‘My Name Is Khan’, after Khan said Pakistani cricketers should be allowed in the Indian Premier League, I recall both Shah Rukh , a close pal of Johar’s, and Ashok Chavan, the then chief minister, had shown rather more gumption in standing up to this bullying and had taken the Sena on in no uncertain terms. The city had virtually turned into a garrison and Chavan announced that, while a very busy man, he would definitely take the time off to see the first show on the first day. His entire cabinet followed in his footsteps, attending shows across the city at different times on the first day and this tiger cub had to retreat into his lair.
I believe Fadnavis could have taken some lessons from that episode and refrained from giving Raj Thackeray any legitimacy on the issue. For what Raj has done is nothing short of illegal, even if couched in terms of nationalism — and it is telling that Army officers across the country have labelled it as extortion and refused such tainted money. He has all of one MLA in the Maharashtra Assembly, his party has less than 4% of the vote share in the state and, what’s more, even his supporters think he is of no consequence. One only has to look at how they have deserted him like rats do a sinking ship — for the Sena or the BJP in Nashik (where the MNS controls the civic body) — to understand his locus standi among the general public.
The Congress created a Frankenstein’s Monster five decades ago by allowing the Shiv Sena to, literally, run riot across the state. The BJP does not need another of its own, even if it feels the need to play Uddhav against Raj to put the Sena in its place, which is proving a very troublesome ally.
With Fadnavis’ clarification, I do hope the government will now put a full stop to such episodes. Else doing business in the city could get unimaginably dangerous. We already pay our taxes – to the government. We do not need such shakedown to add to our woes.