An appeal by some members of the Hindi film industry, asking people to vote for a “secular party”, has left the fraternity divided. The appeal, an initiative by screenwriter Anjum Rajabali, has been signed by nearly 60 people, including filmmakers Vishal Bhardwaj, Imtiaz Ali, Zoya Akhtar and Kabir Khan.
Stating that the “need of the hour is to protect our country’s secular foundation”, the appeal says, “Undoubtedly, corruption and governance are important issues, but we will have to vigilantly work out ways of holding our government accountable… However, one thing is clear: India’s secular character is not negotiable… We appeal to you to vote for the secular party which is most likely to win in your constituency.”
While it does not name any party, Rajabali said, “It’s absolutely clear that we are referring to any party that does not have a secular approach, which means the right wing BJP and its allies.” He said a party that does not support cultural diversity and pluralism can pose a threat to artistic thought and expression.
A section of the film industry has condemned the appeal, viewing it as propaganda against BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi.
“Shocking to see some colleagues, under the garb of stopping so-called divisive forces, are themselves dividing a secular place like Bollywood,” tweeted director Madhur Bhandarkar.
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“Launching a personal attack on a man who has done more for his state than any other leader reeks of conspiracy and unwarranted paranoia… Let’s hope better sense prevails and our film industry elects Narendra Modi with a thumping majority. It’s time India got a visionary leader,” he tweeted.
He was supported by Jeetendra’s son, actor Tusshar Kapoor, and film producer and analyst Ashoke Pandit among others.
Actor Anupam Kher, whose wife Kirron Kher is the BJP’s candidate in Chandigarh, tweeted, “Since few of my colleagues are telling people who to vote for, it is also important to tell people to vote for Narendra Modi for the betterment of India.”
While Mahesh Bhatt supported Rajabali’s appeal, his brother Mukesh, who is also the president of the Film and Television Producers Guild of India, objected to the way the letter was being made out to be the industry’s voice. “We, as an industry, are apolitical and such a letter can hold sway over people one way or the other,” he said.
But Rajabali clarified that the appeal does not officially represent the industry. He said the letter, which has been sent to 350 people from the fraternity, also does not seek support for any party, especially the Congress.
“I knew some people may find themselves in a vulnerable position, but it’s commendable that people who have mostly remained silent on the issue have now chosen to voice their concerns. The fact that the count (of signatories) has already reached 60, when I have only been able to reach out to a limited number of people, indicates that the fraternity is concerned about what may unfold if the BJP comes to power,” he said.
One of the signatories, director Hansal Mehta, who bagged a National Award for his film Shahid on Wednesday, said he supported the appeal as the secular voice of the arts may be lost. “I support the AAP, so the argument that the letter is a Congress propaganda does not stand,” he said.