May 25, 2006 1:41:50 am
The decision of cinema owners to not screen Fanaa proves just how acute the politics of intimidation is in Gujarat. They say they are fearful of attracting violence. Ever since Aamir Khan, who stars in this week’s big release, participated in a Narmada Bachao Andolan protest, he has been targeted with a virulent form of Gujarati nationalism. This intolerance is made many times more reprehensible by its being supported — if not actually stoked — by the ruling BJP in the state. The anti-Khan sentiment has, since that NBA agitation last month, been kept on the boil, with assorted party leaders demanding that he apologise to the people of Gujarat. The threat in those ultimatums was always clear: or else, his films would not be screened in the state.
It is not just for the Gujarat government to consider the consequences of this extreme strain of regional chauvinism. The BJP’s national leadership must know that it does not escape untainted either from such hyper-sensitive aggression. A state being ruled in the party’s name is effectively being withdrawn from established norms of liberal governance. Where freedom of speech and frank debate cannot be guaranteed, democracy cannot fully prevail. The BJP leadership cannot avoid taking cognisance of the Gujarat government’s abdication of duty to protect the rule of law.
The state unit has been visibly prone to taking a narrow view of such niceties. Its gaze is firmly on the immediate electoral dividends of shrill Gujarati nationalism. BJP President Rajnath Singh does not share that luxury. The longer he puts off intervening and asking the Narendra Modi government to crack down on threats against anyone who criticises Gujarat, the more he associates Brand BJP with this sort of mobocracy. At stake, for the party, is its commitment to constitutional rights and freedoms. At stake, for Gujarat, is the opportunity to enjoy an entire spectrum of cultural goods — not merely those produced by men and women in emphatic agreement with an absurd notion of what is in Gujarat’s interest.
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