Indian Army officials have made clear their displeasure at being dragged into the unseemly fuss which the Mumbai-based right wing outfit Maharashtra Navnirman Sena has made over the release of the movie Ae Dil Hai Mushkil, with its chief Raj Thackeray demanding that filmmakers pay ₹5 crores to the army welfare fund as penance for casting Pakistani actors.
Following a surge in the number of charities and individuals that wanted to contribute to help the families of slain soldiers following the deadly terrorist attack on an army base in Kashmir on September 18, a centralised fund was recently set up to receive voluntary donations, but current and former army officials made it clear that they did not want contributions obtained by "extortion."
On Saturday, Air Vice Marshal Manmohan Bahadur, now retired, tweeted, "I served four decades in uniform and never did I live on extorted money. What's this happening in my country." "The Indian armed forces cannot, and should not, become crutches for political ambitions. Unfortunately, this is the trend seen in recent past. Stay away, please," he said.
A serving senior officer in the army told The Times of India: "Don't play politics with the Army, which has a strong apolitical, highly-disciplined and secular ethos. The armed forces do not want to be dragged into such low-level political wrangling."
Another serving officer told TOI, "We only accept funds that are donated voluntarily, not through such coercion or extortion."
Johar's film was cleared for release on 28 October after he met with Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis and Thackeray on Saturday. "Every producer who has cast a Pakistani actor must contribute Rs 5 crore to the Army welfare fund," Thackeray said after the meeting. "While Pakistan has banned Indian content, why do we give them a red carpet here."
Former northern army commander Lieutenant General BS Jaswal told the Hindustan Times, "The army doesn't go around begging for funds. If a film producer wants to donate, he can do it like any other Indian citizen. But it's unacceptable in such a manner."
Kargil war hero Brigadier Khushal Thakur, now retired, told HT, "If something is wrong, it is wrong. How can a forced donation of Rs 5 crore make it right? But the bottom line is the army's name should not be misused for political gain."
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