Organised by the RSS’s cultural wing Sanskar Bharti, led by actor Anupam Kher, and ending with a meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the ‘March for India’ rally held here Saturday against artistes who had returned awards citing intolerance in the country was unequivocal about what it thought their colleagues were: “Traitors who deserved to be thrown across the Wagah border”.
No one was spared — historians, journalists or Shah Rukh Khan. “Dhongi sahityakaron ko, jute maaro saalon ko (Hit the fraud historians with boots),” said one slogan. “Presstitues suck up to Europeans, Presstitues go to hell,” went another.
“The day Shah Rukh Khan’s movie is released,” said actor Raja Bundela, “free tickets are distributed to Muslims.”
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Later, after he had met a group of the marchers, Modi issued a statement saying, “Indian culture goes beyond tolerance, and talks of acceptance.” His office also released a photograph of the PM with the group.
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Members of several wings of the BJP and RSS, and of the Akhil Bharatiya Kranti Dal headed by the party’s controversial MP Yogi Adtiyanath, were present at the march. Tweets by participants such as Kher and others were retweeted by the BJP’s official handle.
The country is more tolerant than ever, the marchers said, terming the writers, filmmakers and artistes who had returned awards as “deshdrohi (traitors)”. The crowd repeatedly broke into solgans of “Bharat Mata ki jai”, “Vande Mataram”, “India is great”, “India is tolerant”.
“Any brutal killing is condemnable. We strongly condemn it and expect swift justice. But in the garb of this, if some people attempt to defame India at the international platform following a well-planned strategy, then we should reflect on it,” read a memorandum, signed by several eminent personalities from the field of art and culture, which was submitted by the marchers to President Pranab Mukherjee. “We firmly believe that the protest of any writer should be respected… but if this protest is part of any specific plan, it should be exposed,” the memorandum said.
While a few thousand participated in the march from National Museum to Vijay Chowk, a delegation including Kher and filmmaker Madhur Bhandarkar met the President and later Modi.
Sanskar Bharti South Delhi president Rekha Gupta, who is the mother of actress Esha Gupta, said, “The Sanskar Bharti has been given the task of organising this march. We will continue spreading ‘awareness’.” Kher and Bhandarkar were associated with the Sanskar Bharti, Gupta said.
While she accepted that the Sanskar Bharti was a cultural wing of the RSS, she claimed, “There is no politics (in the march). Today Indian pride has got bolstered before the world due to Modiji. Such incidents have happened earlier… (Mohammed) Akhlaq (who was lynched in Dadri) was not the only one who was killed. People are killed daily.”
They had mobilised all their resources, Gupta said. “I am the national president of the Mahila Agrawal Sammelan. It has 22 crore people in India. I have called all of them.”
Another co-organiser, Gajendra Solanki, who anchored the march, has been associated with various RSS wings. “The way the atmosphere has been created by the media and a few writers… it hurts us. We realised it was a conspiracy to defame India before the world and decided to counter it. The first meeting was held on October 28 and then a major rally was planned,” he said.
Eminent Kannada writer S L Bhyrappa said, “The people who had appealed to the US government to deny visa to Modi, when he was the Gujarat chief minister, are now tarnishing his image… They want him to fail. This is pure politics. We will not let this happen.”
Filmmakers openly targeted colleagues on basis of religion, which is largely unheard of in the tight-knit community. Playback singer Abhijeet, who has sung many of Shah Rukh’s famous songs, was among the most vituperative.
“He has become a hero from zero in 25-30 years. I have sung songs for him… ‘I am the best’ (a song from Shah Rukh-starrer Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani). Not he, I am the best. He should be proud of Hindustan. Hafiz saheb (Pakistan-based terrorist Hafiz Saeed) has invited him (to Pakistan). If he goes, we will go to drop him, and if he says take me back, we will not let him return,” Abhijeet said.
“This march will end when we drop such persons across the Wagah border,” he added.
“Shah Rukh Khan won’t speak about America where he was frisked twice. America must have some information which makes him keep quiet, Shah Rukh has his own compulsions. The day his movie is released, free tickets are distributed to Muslims,” said Raja Bundela.
“Hindi cinema has been divided into two ideologies, Left and others. Today we are questioning it. These filmmakers should make movies on Chandrashekhar Azad and Subhas Chandra Bose. This country has 80 per cent Hindus, their ideology cannot be termed communal,” added Bundela.
Asserting that India is tolerant, Abhijeet said: “It is our tolerance that we have not yet thrown Arundhati Roy, who moves around with Yasin Malik, Naxals, to the other side of Wagah border. The writers have been given money to protest. This country has given them food, awards. Still, they defame this country. We won’t spare them.”
Co-organiser Solanki claimed that many national award-winning filmmakers, writers, artistes had participated in the march. Those present included Hindi filmmaker Priyadarshan, Manipuri filmmaker Imo Singh, flutist Ronu Majumdar and lyricist Sameer.
Many admitted they came on the call of friends, and while they opposed the “award wapasi”, they also dissociated themselves from the loud slogans of the protesters. “Anupam Kher asked us to come. Filmmakers should not have returned the awards, but we are here only to oppose them. We are not into any politics,” said Mala Dey, who won national award for Hindi film Rudali.
A woman journalist of NDTV Bhairavi Singh was abused and heckled by the angry mob at the rally. She later tagged Anupam Kher in a series of tweets. “First was called a prostitute, heckled, chased just for saying that the Indian creative world is divided on this issue… Now of course being terrorised on tweeter as well… just for giving my point of view.”
First was called a prostitute, heckled, chased just for saying that the Indian creative world is divided on this issue @AnupamPkher
— Bhairavi Singh (@Bhairavi_NDTV) November 7, 2015
Kher said: “If any individual has done this, I apologise as there is no place for such intolerance.”