Hindi film industry, which prides itself on its secular image, appears to be taking sides for the first time during this Lok Sabha elections with some Bollywood A-listers asking people to vote “strategically” to protect the country’s secular character.
The collective appeal, brainchild of writer Anjum Rajabali and endorsed by several Bollywood bigwigs, says though corruption and governance are “important issues” the country’s secular character is “not negotiable”.
“While corruption and governance are important issues and we have to work out ways of holding our government accountable, India’s secular character is not negotiable,” the appeal says, asking people to “vote strategically to protect country’s secular character”.
Several celebrities including filmmakers Mahesh Bhatt, Imtiaz Ali, Zoya Akhtar, Vishal Bharadwaj, Kabir Khan, singer Shubha Mudgal and ‘Dhoom 3’ director Vijay Krishna Acharya are signatories to the appeal which appeared to have divided
BJP’s prime ministerial contender Narendra Modi is the butt of Congress’s unrelenting tirade over the Gujarat riots during the do-or-die election campaign with the issue of secularism dominating their discourse.
Rajabali, however, insists the celebrities have not appealed to the electors to vote for a particular party or person or taking sides.
“We are not asking or appealing to people to vote for a particular party or person, we are just saying vote for a person or party that is secular. We are not taking sides. Secularism is an important factor. It is the central character of our Indian society. We are appealing to people to keep this in mind while voting,” he told PTI.
“It is not what we meant (anti-modi and pro-Congress), that is not the interpretation. We are appealing to people to vote for someone who is secular. Though majority of people in this country are Hindus but there are Muslims, Parsis, Christians and others as well. So one (party or person) should take care of everyone,” veteran filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt said.
“We film people are citizens of this country and we are appealing to people to vote for the right person. If the BJP or anyone for that matter supports secularism I am with them. The idea of India is to protect everyone politically,
economically and socially,” he said.
The initiative by Rajabali and others, however, has not gone down well with many in Bollywood. “Shocking to see some colleagues, under garb of stopping so-called divisive forces, are themselves dividing a secular place like Bollywood,” filmmaker Madhur Bhandarkar said on micro-blogging site twitter.
“Launching a personal attack on a man who has done more for his state than any other leader, reeks of conspiracy & unwarranted paranoia. Let’s hope better sense prevails and our film industry elects @narendramodi with a thumping majority. It’s time India got a visionary leader,” he said.
Anupam Kher, whose wife Kirron is BJP candidate from Chandigarh, tweeted, “Since few of my colleagues are telling people who to vote for. It is also important to tell people to vote for @narendramodi for Betterment of India.”
Meanwhile, veteran scriptwriter Salim Khan said Muslims need to put behind the memories of 2002 Gujarat riots and move forward while insisting that the community finds itself safe in the country.
“When my mother died I felt I won’t be able to live but I am alive today, even my father died long back. Should I cry till now? No one can justify that (the riots). It should never happen. I am sure Mr Modi has learnt the lesson and that no one will die in his regime,” Salim, father of superstar Salman Khan, said.
“The Muslims find themselves safe in this country. They only need basic amenities, job, education, food,” he said.
“No party is secular, people are secular. I am secular. In my family, there are people following different religions. For me all religions are one,” he said.
Salim, a Muslim, is married to Sushila, a Maharashtrian Hindu, and yester year Bollywood actress Helen, daughter of an Anglo Indian father and Burmese mother.
Salman Khan had recently visited Gujarat to promote his film ‘Jai Ho’ and met Modi. The two appeared to have hit it off well as the national television showed them flying kites after savoring a Gujarati lunch, but Salman had steered clear of publicly endorsing Modi as future PM.
Actor Vivek Oberoi, who has been campaigning for BJP, feels in a democratic country everyone has the right to voice their opinion.
“It is not only about voting for someone who is secular but other issues like corruption, quality education and health care, good roads etc need to be addressed too,” Vivek said.
Director Vivek Agnihotri made his allegiance clear while attacking the people behind the appeal.
“Fellow film makers and friends have urged us to vote for secular party. So I wish people vote @narendramodi and redefine pseudo-secularism,” director Vivek Agnihotri said.
“Don’t we know this secular film club is led by who? Take my word three fourth of them are hard core Modi fans. But they sign to look good. A lot of them are closeted Modi fans but such is my industry. It’s a very sad act. As a filmmaker I condemn this prejudiced move. I want them to tell which is that secular party they are talking about,” he said.