Two of the Devendra Fadnavis government’s recent decisions have come under fire. One, the extension of the ban on cow slaughter to bulls and bullocks and the criminalisation of the possession of beef, and, two, making the screening of Marathi films in Mumbai’s multiplexes mandatory. Both decisions were taken with an eye on the party’s vote bank. But while the former is an absolute disaster, the latter is certainly not as bad as it’s being made out to be.
A large section of the Hindutva brigade believes in vegetarianism. This has nothing to do with history. Hinduism doesn’t demand the shunning of meat. In fact, many Hindu sects propagate meat-eating and even offer alcohol to their deities. Animal sacrifices, including of cows, were not uncommon. The glorification of vegetarianism may have started as a result of the caste system, whereby Brahmins and Vaishyas became vegetarian.
Only 3.5 per cent of the population of Maharashtra are Brahmins, so it’s rare for one to make it to the CM’s chair. Since the state’s formation in 1960, Fadnavis is only the second Brahmin to have occupied the office — the first was Manohar Joshi of the Shiv Sena. This could explain his decision to ban beef. Besides, currently, Fadnavis is a lonely warrior, with no support within or outside the party. He is paying the price for antagonising the BJP masters in Delhi who were keen on an arrangement with the Sharad Pawar-led NCP, instead of the party’s age-old ally, the Shiv Sena, which was Fadnavis’s choice. Fadnavis fought the state assembly elections demonising the Pawar-led outfit. The various scams that had taken place during the CongressNCP rule were political fodder for the state BJP. Naturally, he was uncomfortable with the idea of sharing power with the NCP. He stood his ground and finally the BJP’s central leadership had to give in.
This has resulted in Fadnavis being left to fend for himself. He chose the easy route of pleasing his vote bank by announcing the gau raksha mission.
Add to this another compelling fact. The BJP is currently led by two Gujaratis, Narendra Modi and Amit Shah, who are from western India’s vegetarian mercantile communities. The mercantile community forms an important part of the BJP’s support base. This ensured that the party leadership did not step in to resolve the row around the regressive decision. It is undoubtedly imprudent for the state to decide what people should eat. The beef ban, accompanied by the opening of cow shelters, also lacks economic good-sense.
However, the same cannot be said about the state’s decision to make the screening of Marathi films mandatory in Mumbai’s multiplexes. Almost all multiplexes have been built on land offered by the state at concessional rates. Floor space index requirements were relaxed for them. Further, the entire multiplex industry was exempted from paying entertainment tax. All this was in lieu of written commitments to screen Marathi films. But like many other business entities, such as hospitals and schools that promise concessional rates for poor/ local people in return for free or concessional land, the multiplexes also went back on their promises. In 2010, the issue landed in the Bombay High Court, which upheld the state’s decision. Multiplexes will have to screen a minimum of 44 shows every year for four weeks between 12 and 9 pm, the court ruled.
Despite the clear order, multiplexes kept avoiding screening Marathi movies in the prime-time slot. Instead, they were given early-morning slots. This, at a time when Marathi films have, in the recent past, been consistently proving their mettle, not only at the national but also at the international level. No doubt, they aren’t as glamorous as their Hindi counterparts.
Many champions of the free market criticised the state government for its “anti- market” policies. But where were these freemarket ideologues when the industry was seeking doles and freebies from the state government? Why didn’t they turn down the state’s generosity, saying, let the market decide our fate? Could these multiplexes display similar courage by turning down Bengali films in West Bengal or Tamil films in Tamil Nadu? Mumbai, and Maharashtra, too, are victims of being genuinely multicultural. But multiculturalism doesn’t mean ignoring or insulting local culture.
The writer is editor, ‘Loksatta’