It has been brought to the "kind notice" of theatre owners in Hyderabad that Ae Dil Hai Mushkil stars a Pakistan actor as a "side hero" and therefore, "being an Indian", they should not screen the film. The person making this polite request is Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) legislator Raja Singh. But his humility is restricted to the written word. On camera, Raja Singh threatens to "burn down any theatre" in his Goshamahal constituency in Hyderabad that dares to screen the Karan Johar flick. The threatening video is up on his Facebook page.
Those who know Raja Singh and his inflammatory brand of politics know what he can bring to the theatre — both cinematic and political. Petrol mixed with hate. Raja Singh is a serial offender and the BJP conveniently turns a blind eye to his utterances.
In August, Raja Singh praised those who had beaten Dalits in Una in Gujarat, putting out a video on Facebook. In it, he called those Dalits galeez (filthy) who indulge in cow slaughter. Justifying the assault on Dalits in Una by cow vigilante groups, Raja Singh said, "Those Dalits who were taking the cow, the cow meat, those who were beaten, it was a very good thing to happen."
The BJP has distanced itself from Raja Singh's threat to exhibitors even though the letter is on his letterhead that says he is the BJP's whip in the Telangana assembly. The BJP's position also is curious. It endorses Raja Singh's position that exhibitors should not screen the movie but is not in favour of using force against those who do not fall in line.
Why shouldn't the BJP throw Raja Singh out of the party for threatening to indulge in arson? That is because the BJP that has five MLAs in Telangana and reaps the benefit of Hindu consolidation that Raja Singh, in his capacity as the head of the Gau Raksha Dal, brings to the EVM. But it makes a show of keeping him at a safe distance when his utterances embarrass the party's public image.
The BJP in pursuit of its own interests may pursue a "kabhi haan kabhi naa" approach to Raja Singh, but why isn't the Telangana police throwing the rulebook at this BJP lawmaker when he talks of burning down a theatre if it defies his diktat?
The BJP's position also is curious. It endorses Raja Singh's position that exhibitors should not screen the movie but is not in favour of using force against those who do not fall in line.
That is because of the political leadership of the Telangana government also is happy to look the other way. Its cinematography minister Srinivas Yadav argues that Raja Singh is only looking to appeal to his Hindu constituency. As if threatening to burn down a theatre is a perfectly legitimate and acceptable form of behaviour.
Raja Singh is doing this on purpose. The anti-Pakistan rhetoric has been part of his brand of politics for long. When seven men were arrested in the Old city area of Hyderabad in June and charged by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) of being part of an ISIS terror module, Raja Singh accused political parties like the All India Majlis Ittehad ul Muslimeen (AIMIM), led by Asaduddin Owaisi, of converting the part beyond the Charminar into a "mini-Pakistan". Tarring the entire Muslim community with the same brush comes naturally to this BJP leader, who has been part of the RSS and spent his initial political years in Chandrababu Naidu's Telugu Desam Party.
Raja Singh has often accused the Owaisis of helping terror suspects. In July, the BJP's Telangana leadership found it convenient to borrow this line and launched a signature campaign against Owaisi for extending legal help to the seven accused.
Now, stretching his imagination, Raja Singh says 35 per cent of the money that Fawad Khan was paid by Karan Johar to act in his film went as tax to the government of Pakistan and that money was then used to buy ammunition and weapons for terrorists to kill Indian soldiers. Hence Johar and Fawad are responsible for Pathankot and Uri — thus goes his argument.
The 38-year-old rabble-rouser MLA is said to be ambitious. Political circles say he aims to contest the Lok Sabha elections against Owaisi from the Hyderabad constituency. Which is why the effort to continuously polarise by attacking Muslims and Dalits — two votebanks that Owaisi woos.
Raja Singh says 35 per cent of the money that Fawad Khan was paid by Karan Johar to act in his film went as tax to the government of Pakistan and that money was then used to buy ammunition and weapons for terrorists to kill Indian soldiers.
It is no longer a question of just a movie or some lumpen elements threatening to disrupt the movie. It is about how elected representatives, who swear to abide by the Constitution of India, subvert the system for selfish political gains. It is about lawmakers openly breaking the law of the land. It is about a few testing the others on nationalism. It is about self-appointed patriots opening up a certification agency to decide on the basis of their warped logic who is a patriot and who isn't.
Who, then, is to speak against these self-appointed protectors of India. Union minister of state for Home Kiren Rijiju heckles an Anurag Kashyap who appealed to the Prime minister. Even an Amitabh Bachchan and a Rishi Kapoor, who have a stature in the country, do not speak out.
If theatre owners in Hyderabad, and elsewhere, cower and decide not to screen the film, it is not just Johar who would lose out. India and its sense of balance would be the loser as the likes of Raj (Thackeray) and Raja (Singh) would have then tasted success.
An English news anchor said this on air yesterday. "Karan Johar says that his film will ensure a happy Diwali. Do we need a Pakistan actor to make our Diwali happy?" Such an insane argument only does what Raja Singh is threatening to do. Burn all logic.
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