He had pledged to watch My Name Is Khan, and urged the rest of the state to do the same.
Now, it’s unclear where Chief Minister Ashok Chavan will do this.
In a clear vote of no-confidence against the state, theatre owners and multiplexes across the state are leaning towards following the Shiv Sena’s orders rather than the CM’s advice and “will decide on the premiere of the film on Friday morning”.
The Sena has been lashing out at Shah Rukh Khan since January 25, when the Bollywood superstar said Pakistani cricketers should have been included in the Indian Premier League teams, and later added that Mumbai belonged to all Indians [and not just the Marathi manoos].
On Tuesday, party workers began ripping up posters and attacking cinema halls. The state responded with a massive crackdown, arresting over 1,600 Sainiks by Wednesday evening.
But advance bookings for the film closed across the city — and in Thane and Navi Mumbai. And the tone was set.
On Thursday, rather than cracking down, the state response began to crumble. Early in the day, Minister of State for Home Ramesh Bagwe said it was time for the Shiv Sena and Shah Rukh Khan to talked to each other.
“It is better if the two compromise and resolve the matter through mutual understanding,” he said.
Meanwhile, Chavan went from a position of clear strength — “Be fearless and go out. The government is capable of taking care of vandals,” he had said on Wednesday — to one of indecision bordering on retreat.
“Let them decide what to do,” the chief minister said on Thursday.
Hours later, the theatre owners got into a huddle at MNIK director-producer Karan Johar’s Khar offices and spoke with him via videoconference. When they left, they still had not decided if they would trust the state to ensure the premiere went off peacefully.
“Despite all the promises, seven Mumbai theatres were attacked over the last three days,” said one theatre owner. “Every time, we end up facing the consequences. First, our establishments are vandalised. Then, people stay away for days out of fear. It’s just not worth the risk.”
Police commissioner D. Sivanandhan offered more protection. “We have provided them enough security. If [theatre owners] feel it is less, we are ready to provide even more. We are flexible in as far as the demand and the need for security goes,” he said.
But most exhibitors were not biting.
By Thursday night, it had gone from a sweeping crackdown to a face-saving bid. As Chavan switched from promises to excuses — “It is not the government’s failure. We have done our job. No one is going to score any point” — government sources said the state was trying to persuade a handful of theatres to screen the film amid massive security in the hopes that a peaceful morning show would encourage others to join in as well.
Either way, Chavan has failed to ensure — as the Congress higher-ups had wanted — that the bruised Sena was brought under control.
Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi had got the ball rolling when he swept through the city, humiliating the Sena by storming the party’s bastion Dadar on a local train.
But rather than building on this victory, the Maharashtra Congress — which heads the state in alliance with the NCP — found itself instantly undermined by Sharad Pawar.
The day after Rahul’s photogenic visit, the NCP chief visited Bal Thackeray at his Bandra residence, asking permission for Australian cricketers to play in Mumbai—something the Sena had opposed as a mark of protest against the attacks on Indians Down Under.
Now, the Sena has had the last laugh.
“It is a clear victory,” said Sena spokesperson Neelam Gorhe. “The fact that theatre owners are not ready to trust the state’s security means that the Congress government has failed.”