The Warrant Against MS Dhoni Is Not Only Silly, It Also Sets A Dangerous Precedent

09/01/2016 11:22 AM IST | Updated 29/08/2016 9:44 PM IST
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Mahendra Singh Dhoni

Twitter thinks that a certain judge in Anantapur must be a Sachin Tendulkar fan. Otherwise why on earth would he issue a non-bailable warrant against M S Dhoni for an old magazine cover where he was portrayed as Lord Vishnu?

However, it is also possible the judge is an MS Dhoni fan instead. Perhaps that is why he is summoning the cricketer to his courtroom for a personal darshan. Maybe a selfie or an autograph is in order?

But jokes aside, it’s sad that given how taking offence has become a veritable cottage industry in India, a court should choose to set the bar even lower instead of raising it by dismissing frivolous suits. “Almost certainly the case against Dhoni was initiated by someone lusting after his two seconds of fame,” writes Swarajya. “One should ask why a court indulged him.”

It’s sad that a court should choose to set the bar even lower instead of raising it by dismissing frivolous suits.

Actually, make that “cases” against Dhoni.

M S Dhoni’s Business Today cover image was the face that launched several lawsuits. In May 2013, Jayakumar Hiremath, an RTI activist filed one in Bengaluru under Section 295 (A) of the Indian Penal Code. In May 2014, Rajinder Singh Raja, the national general secretary of the Shivesena Hindustan filed one in Delhi. The Anantapur case stemmed from yet another lawsuit filed by Y Shyam Sundar of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad.

Yes, the same VHP which did not have any problems with the Har Har Modi deification of Narendra Modi during the Lok Sabha election campaign. Or that Mumbai Mirror cover of Narendra Modi as a modern day God of All He Surveys with a cellphone and laptop. Or the routine deification of Indian politicians – NTR in Andhra Pradesh where Anantapur is located and Jayalalithaa in neighbouring Tamil Nadu. There’s even a Modi temple in Kausambhi in Uttar Pradesh and a Sonia temple in Mallial in Telangana.

What’s even more ludicrous is that it’s not as if Dhoni put on body paint and posed as Vishnu.

What’s even more ludicrous is that it’s not as if Dhoni put on body paint and posed as Vishnu. His face was apparently morphed onto an image of the God by the magazine according to Starlive 24. The fact that Dhoni has been summoned and not just the editor of the magazine drives home the point that this is far more about the lust for a celebrity scalp than about truly offended religious sensibilities.

dhoni business today cover

The Business Today cover featuring Dhoni.

The problem here is a shoe. One of the products Dhoni endorses, and thus brandishes, is a sneaker. It’s a story about Dhoni as the God of Big Deals and he is portrayed holding all kinds of products he endorses – a cola, chips, a mobile phone and yes, sneakers. This is not even a case of a Hindu God on a flip-flop or a toilet seat or a thongs – all of which have happened in the West. Even those are not always cases of trying to offend but misguided attempts at packaging Karma Cola for a western audience, for whom Ganesha is more Disney than God. The Business Today avatar of Dhoni is not a comment on Hinduism. it’s a comment on commercialization in sport.

Section 295(A) was clearly never meant to take on illustrations of a God of Big Deals.

Section 295(A) was clearly never meant to take on illustrations of a God of Big Deals. It was brought about because of an outcry in the Muslim community about scandalous references to the Prophet Muhammad’s personal life in a tract called Rangila Rasool. It was enacted in 1927 because India has no blasphemy laws. Soli Sorabjee writes that when its constitutionality was upheld, the Supreme Court made clear that “Insults to religion offered unwittingly or carelessly or without any deliberate or malicious intention to outrage the feelings of that class do not come within the section.” Even Jinnah wanted to ensure that “bona fide and honest criticisms of a religion shall be protected.”

The Business Today cover, a comment on the mega-industry of celebrity endorsements, is hardly “deliberate and malicious intention” to denigrate the good name of Vishnu. By treating it with such seriousness, all the court does is pave the way for more thin-skinned opportunists who want their day in court. Section 295(A) instead of being a way to protect religious sensibility (which itself is a tricky and subjective proposition) becomes a bludgeoning tool that can be wielded by all and sundry with an axe to grind whether it’s against M F Hussain or Business Today or Taslima Nasreen.

Sometimes it’s been used even when religion was not involved at all as in the case of the young women who commented on Facebook about the shutdown of Mumbai for Bal Thackeray’s funeral. Instead of being whittled down and defined so that it becomes more focused in its intent, and less prone to wanton misuse, Section 295(A) has grown and grown like Frankenstein’s monster until we reach the silly point of a cricketer being summoned to court for a Photoshopped image on a business magazine’s cover.

I have said this before and it bears repeating. If anything is really offensive here, it’s not that M S Dhoni in a Vishnu avatar is holding a sneaker, but that one of India’s most famous sportsmen is selling us junk food like cola and potato chips.

Where’s the outrage about that?

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