Is it ‘Patriotic’ for MNS to demand Karan Johar pay Rs 5 cr?

Raj Thackeray is Bollywood’s Joseph McCarthy.

ByMadhu Trehan
Is it ‘Patriotic’ for MNS to demand Karan Johar pay Rs 5 cr?
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Would it be inappropriate to ask, “Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?” This question was directed by Joseph Welch to Senator Joseph P. McCarthy in 1954, during the Army-McCarthy Hearings in Washington. I ask the same question to Raj Thackeray, president of the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena. 

It took a while for this question to be asked of McCarthy though. When he began his campaign to weed Communists out of America, the senator was considered the pole star of patriotism. The Cold War was at its chilliest and Americans were convinced Soviet-backed Communists were trying to take over their country. McCarthy emerged as the champion of that paranoia.

Is it fair to compare McCarthyism to MNS-ism? McCarthyism is defined as: “the practice of making unfair accusations of subversion or treason without proper regard for evidence”. 

What are the similarities between Joseph McCarthy and Raj Thackeray? 

  1. Both created an atmosphere of suspicion of being a traitor to their country around any person they choose. 
  2. Both targeted actors, producers and writers, in the film industry.
  3. Anyone who held dissenting views was labelled a Communist and a traitor by McCarthy. Anyone who dissents from Thackeray’s views is labelled a traitor to his country.
  4. Two years after Richard Rovere wrote his book, Senator Joe McCarthy, he said that, “like Hitler, McCarthy was a screamer, a political thug, a master of the mob.” Ring a bell?
  5. “Where grievances and anxieties were the strongest and the least grounded in reason; where the passion for authoritarian leadership was greatest; where the will to hate and condemn and punish could most easily be transformed into political action.” Ring another bell? 

Targeting Hollywood, McCarthy picked out writers, directors, actors and producers with dramatic randomness. Initially, the people of America supported him and believed Communists were trying to take over their country. Paranoia ruled the country. Charlie Chaplin was informed that he was guilty of Un-American Activities and would not be allowed entry into America while he was travelling on a ship to the country. He settled in Switzerland and never returned. Many other famous names – Dalton Trumbo, Pete Seeger, Orson Welles, Lena Horne, Lee Grant, Dashiell Hammett – were hounded. Hundreds of lives were destroyed, families ruined and some jailed. It was only after McCarthy attempted to weed out “Communists” in the US army, that President Eisenhower had had enough.

The legendary journalist Ed Morrow investigated Joseph McCarthy and attacked him in what would become an iconic programme See It NowThat was the beginning of the end for McCarthy. Morrow said, “We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason, if we dig deep in our history and our doctrine, and remember that we are not descended from fearful men — not from men who feared to write, to speak, to associate and to defend causes that were, for the moment, unpopular.”

McCarthyism had the Hollywood Ten. Bollywood too had their Ten. Anurag Kashyap, Zoya Akhtar, Abhay Doel, Kalki Koechlin, Vijay Dhawan, Sajid Nadiadwala, Salman Khan, Ajay Devgn and Alia Bhatt. Okay, so we have to make it nine. Think about it. Nine film people spoke up from a film industry where millions are employed.  Is it surprising that actors Shah Rukh Khan, Aamir Khan, Amitabh Bachchan have pointedly stayed away from any statements? Actor Imran Khan told reporters, “I have many views but my concern is if I voice those views, I am going to have people come and try to burn my house. I don’t want people to threaten me or beat me up, I want to avoid these things. I will keep my opinion to myself”. We walk in fear of one another. 

Thackeray has been a virtuoso conductor of bullying. Since 2008, his list of antics is long and filled with vandalism by Maharashtra Navnirman Sena thugs and crawling apologies from victims. With Johar in particular, Thackeray has had two prior run-ins. Before the releases of Wake Up Sid (produced by Johar) and Bombay Velvet (starring Johar), Thackeray rained fire and brimstone upon the films for the use “Bombay” (and not “Mumbai”) in them. Director of Bombay Velvet, Anurag Kashyap, dismissed Thackeray’s demand, saying his film was set in the 1960s, when the city was known as Bombay, and that if MNS becomes unreasonable, then we’ll resort to a legal recourse. The film released uneventfully.

When it came to Wake Up Sid, the reaction to Thackeray’s rant had been very different. Johar apologised unconditionally and inserted an apology-cum-disclaimer about Bombay/ Mumbai in the film.

Raj Thackeray, in yet another exploitative move, announced MNS would not allow Johar’s film Ae Dil Hai Mushkil to be screened because Pakistani actor Fawad Khan was acting in it. Single cinema owners responded by saying they would not screen it in obvious fear of their cinemas being vandalised. 

This time, to placate Thackeray and MNS’s ire, Johar released a video statement. In it, we saw a grovelling creature, professing his patriotism and promising never to be naughty again by hiring Pakistani actors. No human being should be reduced to such indignity. It is a violation of the basic respect to which a human being is entitled. Should we blame Johar? I cannot. I blame the bullies who reduced him to this mess.

Previously, Thackeray was a lone troublemaker. This time, the Chief Minister of Maharashtra acted as a broker for the surrender eventually negotiated between Johar and Thackeray. Company T was most impressed with itself. Thackeray claimed victory and said he would allow the film to be screened if the producers gave 5 crores to the Army Welfare Fund. But the army brass was not impressed and refused such a donation. They sniffed that they only accept donations that are voluntary and not coerced or through extortion. Now will Company T call the army unpatriotic? The Indian army, determinedly secular, is clearly in no mood for politicisation of their actions or to be used as a pawn in a political game. After the army’s disdain for the deal, Fadnavis rearranged his position and said he had told the producers not to pay. Right.

How does MNS, which has conclusively proved in recent elections that it has no democratic backing whatsoever and next to nothing by way of a vote bank, take policy decisions on Pakistan when it is a political party and not the government? The government has not issued any statement banning the hiring of Pakistani actors. In fact, Home Minister Rajnath Singh has assured the producers of a peaceful release. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has reiterated that India’s fight is not with the people of Pakistan. Speaking directly to Pakistanis, he exhorted them to demand peace and economic development not war. He could well have directed those remarks to Raj Thackeray. 

Thackeray is no doubt hoping to ride on this triumph for months, all the way to the Brihanmumbai Municipal Elections in February 2017.  

Question to consider: Is it unpatriotic to hire Pakistani actors? Is it also unpatriotic to do business in that country? Numerous Indian companies have dealings in Pakistan and consider it a good market for their products. Raymond has a store in Lahore that does brisk business. Is the “complete man” then unpatriotic? Is shouting “Bharat Mata Ki Jai” a gauge of one’s patriotism? How do you assess their sincerity and intensity when they do shout? Should we have a Patriotic Patrol Force that checks levels of patriotism with a breath analyser? Will the indicator have to turn saffron to clear a suspect? Who sets the agenda to decide whether you are patriotic enough? It can’t be Raj Thackeray. It can’t be Anupam Kher. It can’t be lawyers turned goons. It can’t be Internet trolls. We, as a nation, cannot be reduced to unreason at the mercy of bullies and thugs. 

In this consumer-oriented culture, patriotism has become just another product to be used for personal profit and political gains. Did we forget patriotism is a feeling? It cannot be put in a box and marketed. Subverting it for personal gain is unpatriotic. It is shocking how many people succumb to this marketed, fake concept of patriotism. When we define patriotism, compassion for your country must lie in the kernel of your feelings. Does Company T have compassion for his country? 

Notes:

Renuka Shahane‘s Facebook post 

McCarthy Army hearings begin 

Arthur Miller, Elia Kazan and the Blacklist: None Without Sin

Sandra Oh reads Goldman on Patriotism

Hollywood 10 Placed on Blacklist 

Films on McCarthyism:

Murrow,
The Front,
Good Night and Good Luck,
Trumbo

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