JAIPUR -- Filmmaker Karan Johar's controversial remarks on 'democracy' at the Jaipur Literature Festival 2016 kicked up a storm with the Congress hitting out against the Modi government accusing it of stifling freedom of expression and BJP dismissing the criticism saying India is the most tolerant country.
Johar, who had been at the receiving end of scathing criticism and hatred from political parties and religious groups after he took part in the All India Bakchod Roast last year, could have been referring to his own plight. Several FIRs continue to get filed against him across the country for his role in the roast.
However, his comment was quickly placed in the context of the 'intolerance debate' raging in the country. For starters, it was convenient to do so since his peers Shah Rukh Khan and Aamir Khan have recently spoken up against religious majoritarianism much to to the dismay of BJP supporters.
"The talk about freedom of expression is the biggest joke I believe in the world. Democracy is the second biggest joke I think."
"I really wonder how are we really democratic? How is there freedom of expression? As a filmmaker, I feel bound at every level be it what I put out on celluloid or what I say in print," he said at the ongoing Jaipur Literature Festival.
He didn't refer to a political party, he didn't even utter the word 'intolerance' and observed the impediments he has to face as a creative professional.
Following the roast, Johar had faced deeply personal insults from people wearing party stripes and people who didn't. The FIR's lodged against him and AIB were by Hindu, Christian and Muslim religious groups.
Johar had said, "I feel like there is always some kind of a legal notice awaiting me everywhere I go." It was clear, therefore, that he was referring to his personal experience.
"I've become some kind of an FIR king," Johar said referring to the controversy over the AIB roast, staged in Mumbai last year which involved the western concept of insult comedy.
However, political parties lost no time in trying to reap advantage of the comments made by one of the most popular filmmakers in the country, turning his remarks into an indictment against Narendra Modi and his government.
Attacking the NDA government, Congress leader Manish Tewari said, "This government of Modi is against intellectuals. They are against liberal voices. The tension is increasing from everywhere. Other than Anupam Kher, who is a pawn for the government, all other artists, painters, filmmakers are saying that this government is against intellectuals."
Union Minister Mahesh Sharma retaliated saying, "The whole world is seeing that India is the most tolerant country."
Also hitting back at Congress, his ministerial colleague Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said, "Those who are raising questions on India's tolerance have no knowledge about the country's culture and traditions. They are illiterate. It is true that issues of intolerance crop up the moment elections are announced."
Rubbishing their claims, Tewari said, "It is against every such behaviour that wants to take the liberal and all encompassing ideologies forward."
"If all other artists and actors and filmmakers and writers are saying that this government is against intellectuals and is trying to curb the freedom of expression, then it must be true. Truth does not need any evidence," he said.
Immediately after, Arvind Kejriwal joined the din, saying Johar was right.
Karan Johar right. Only one person in this country can publicly talk abt his mann ki baat. No one else can do that https://t.co/V7uPl2o0Xr
— Arvind Kejriwal (@ArvindKejriwal) January 22, 2016
When journalists asked for his reaction, BJP minister VK Singh, brushed of their requests saying there are more important issues to be discussed at the moment. According to NDTV, he said, "Ja ke uski pitayi kar lo yaar, tum mere peechhe kyun padh rahe ho (Go and beat him up, why are you getting after me)."
In his conversation with Poonam Saxena who has penned his biography 'An Unsuitable Boy' and author-columnist Shobhaa De, Johar said he felt he was living in a "tough country" where speaking about one's personal life can land people behind the bars.
Recently Shah Rukh Khan and Aamir Khan found themselves in the midst of a controversy for speaking up against the "growing intolerance" in the country.
With inputs from PTI
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