Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Yeh Sawal Hai Mushkil : Should Indian Movie Makers Say No to Pakistani Actors, As a Sign of Patriotism?

      Fawad Khan is a Pakistani actor who has a special appearance in an Indian movie Ae Dil Hai Mushkil, made for screening just ahead of 2016 Diwali. It features well-known Indian actors Ranbir Kapoor, Aishwarya Rai and Anushka Sharma in lead roles. Shah Rukh Khan too has a cameo appearance.

      The Pakistani artiste is suddenly lucky to get loads of extra spotlight on him.  He will say hearty thanks to Raj Thackeray of Maharashtra Navnirman Sena who demanded a ban on the multi-starrer and made every one look forward to the movie and know its Pakistani actor for sure.  The MNS leader asked for the ban since Pakistani terrorists had been infiltrating into Indian territory and had recently made a dastardly attack on an Indian army base in Uri town of Jammu and Kashmir, while the movie’s producers and many actors felt he was mixing up issues.  Now that stand-off is over and the movie will hit the screens as per schedule, on a compromise struck between its producers and Raj Thackeray – and the public will never know the minute details of the deal.  Let us keep out all these names and ask ourselves, “Should Indian movie makers say no to Pakistani actors, as a sign of patriotism?”   A difficult question.

      A sense of patriotism among any people may well up if their nation has an enemy country on which that sentiment is directed.  That way, the mindless leadership of Pakistan which spurs and sponsors terrorism has kindled patriotic fervour in many other nations – more in India where Pakistan's evil men sneak in often and spread terror, death and destruction.  So it is natural for most Indians to believe that when Pakistan does havoc in India, the least we may do is not allow Pakistani actors or other artistes to perform and earn in India as if all is fine between the two countries.  In fact a message doing its rounds in mails and messages between friends poses a question: if artistes have nothing to do with terrorism and if singers, writers, performers, journalists, businessmen, doctors and other professionals too have nothing to do with terrorism, for whom are Indian jawans sacrificing their lives? This question, anyway, distracts us because the artistes and others it lists - when speaking in clear reference to Ae Dil Hai Mushkil which features Fawad Khan - as innocent work-minded professionals are Pakistani professionals, while our troops are battling in defence of India and Indians. 

      We know that the political leadership of Pakistan is a prisoner of its military leadership which has the wherewithal to train and direct terrorists.  Anyhow, both of them are not accountable to Pakistani citizens.  A vast majority of ordinary Pakistani people are not terrorists and are not sympathisers of terrorism.  They are themselves poor victims of terrorism and ill governance.  We may safely assume that Fawad Khan is not himself a supporter of terrorism.  He and most citizens of Pakistan cannot openly speak against terrorism thriving in that country since they have to survive.  Just as many political leaders in India's Kashmir do not come down on terrorism, and also sing plain or disguised love-songs to terrorists once in a while (but those leaders need not fear the protective Indian army patrolling Kashmir and may fearlessly deride their army – though poor Pakistanis have to fear both their army and their terrorists). 

      If terrorists groomed in Pakistan arrive in India and shoot and throw bombs, it is all the work of a handful of rulers in Pakistan.  Those invading terrorists would have been brainwashed to go on a rampage in India.  Yes, they have to be checked, caught or killed for safeguarding our people, which is a different issue.  But if we ban the entry of innocent Pakistanis too in India, does it help or hinder our object in countering Pakistan’s malicious actions against India?

     One of the ways of  moving against  Pakistan is  isolating that  country  in the international arena.  In today’s inter-dependent world, it is not easy for a country to remain in isolation, and if isolated that country is forced to check its ways to behave better with other nations.  Another option for India is isolating Pakistan's leadership from its population.  This is not as easily possible and can only happen slowly, but this sort of domestic isolation is not to be given up since anything short of an armed conflict in a nuclear world is always desirable.  If any such domestic isolation of Pakistani leadership is to be attempted, India should act just and fair towards Pakistani citizens which alone could touch the heart of Pakistani people and make them feel shamed by their own rulers. Welcoming innocent citizens of Pakistan to work in an Indian project, subject to due cross checks and verification, is a good way to appeal to the hearts and minds of Pakistanis. Movies do it hundred times more than other collaborations. If Indian theatres are forced or threatened into not showing an Indian movie that features a Pakistani actor, that movie – and perhaps all other movies made in India – may not be screened in Pakistan or shown on their television channels, which is a greater blow to our country commercially and in other subtle ways. 

      An example cited in favour of banning work for Pakistani actors is USA boycotting Moscow Olympics in 1980 to protest the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan the previous year, and USSR keeping away from 1984 Los Angeles Olympics as a tit for tat.   But there is a difference.  Olympics is viewed as an event of the government of a country hosting it, and the competing sportspersons are seen as representing their respective countries.  So a country boycotting an event organised by another  is understandable,  when their military objectives clash or when they have turbulent cross border issues.   India pulling out of a SAARC Summit that was slated to be held in Islamabad within a month of the Uri attack is a right move which helped in isolating Pakistan.  But disallowing Pakistani artistes to work in India’s private enterprise, i.e., movie making, or protesting the screening of an Indian movie featuring any of them does not work in our favour.

      Pakistan was a part of India before the partition of August 1947, when it was created to become our neighbour.   When its leadership acts against Indian interests, or disturbs our peace, India must give a firm and fitting response, and there is no doubt on that.  At the same time, we must keep in place people-to-people bridges.  It is like two brothers getting estranged, but one or both keeping good relations with children of the other household.

      India has done it earlier with Pakistan on a historic scale, not equating the official government of Pakistan with its oppressed people.  That was in 1971, when Indian troops aided Bangladesh for its liberation.  Now India can put out a friendly hand to harmless Pakistani artistes, or other professionals, even as it deals resolutely with its rogue government and and its forces.  It helps us too, and our disciplined defence personnel know the difference.

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Copyright © R. Veera Raghavan 2016

Friday, 21 October 2016

Can We Defend Bandhs? No. Can We Regulate Them? Yes.

      Like elections, an event that everyone in town knows happening is a bandh.  A good number of bandhs are a near-total shut down with all shops closed in town.  Their success is guaranteed if major political parties are behind the bandh call.

     Last September States of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu witnessed well-enforced bandhs over the issue of sharing of Cauvery water, and Andhra Pradesh went through one because the Centre had not granted ‘special category status’ to that State.  Kerala experienced a full-scale bandh this month to protest the murder of an activist of a political party.  During the bandh days, obviously traders in the four States were affected, and the public too had their enormous woes.  

       Can  bandhs   be  justified  as  a  means  of  voicing  a concern publicly or a condemnation loudly?  There is an argument that bandhs, or hartals, and fasting are methods of public protest that Mahatma Gandhi had espoused powerfully against the then rulers, and hence they have a sanctity and utility in the post-independent democratic India.  Let us have a look.

       Hartal in  the  hands  of  Gandhiji  was  a  different weapon - a creative and constructive one.  But in the hands of today's politicians, bandhs are instruments of causing misery for traders and common people.  Gandhiji was fighting the British, an alien power that had colonised India.  He could not go to the courts, in India or in England, to make the British quit.  As all know, the great leader did not use threat or force on traders to shut down.  Traders voluntarily responded to Gandhiji's call and participated in hartals. He had captivated Indians, including industrialists, by the force of his personality and through a righteous and noble cause.  Anyone else would have found it too daunting to make the traders and people rally behind him on a hartal call.  Gandhiji was unique.

      We also know that it is by sheer threats, direct and indirect, that a bandh is enforced today – more surely when a ruling party is behind a call for a bandh.  In that case, if various traders' associations do not message their members to shut down as resolved by their governing bodies, then traders may face harassment from government agencies for even minor or technical violations of regulatory laws.  So, when a ruling party favours a bandh, traders do not question the governing bodies of their associations about any call for a bandh issued by those bodies. That is why we see a near-total shut down during such a bandh.  Some State may have a tradition of bandhs fostered by all political parties, and there traders readily respond to a bandh call given by any political party in that State rather than risk facing arsonists and an indulging police administration.  So a present-day bandh is different from a hartal enacted on a call given by Gandhiji, when traders willingly participated on a large scale.  If at all, government agencies of those days might have harassed traders for joining in a hartal - which perhaps traders did not mind or the British government did not do.

       Fasting was another method of protest Gandhiji employed.  If he fasted for a public cause, Indians felt guilty and rallied behind him even more.  But today's political leaders know they have not won such hearty admiration from the public, and people know it too.  So, at the present time, if a political leader goes on a fast that will not evoke any greater sympathy or support among people than what he or she already has. That is why there is much less of fasting by political leaders today.  Further, the Mahatma fasted for days and days, but our political leaders cannot do it for more than twelve hours or so, which millions of poor Indians do on many days due to poverty and penury.  Hence a miniature fast by a political leader has no attraction or effect, except getting a mention in print and electronic media.  But then if a present-day political leader wants to fast, let him do it.  That is not objectionable like calling for a bandh. 

      A fasting political leader does not compel shop keepers, auto rickshaw drivers, hoteliers and common people to do the same.  When he fasts, no one else is inconvenienced, and others are not harassed.   Here it is only the fasting leader who must suffer a tiny bit, at the most for twelve hours – and for still less time if he has a secret breakfast before going on a fast.  But during a bandh he does not suffer in any way, and it is the innocent public who are forced to take the beating and feel the pangs. So, as a means of protest, fasting is different from a bandh and is harmless.

       A  bandh  announced or  supported by a political leader and enforced by anyone with threats and rampage would also infringe on the Constitution-given fundamental rights of traders and of the general public.  Since bandhs are mostly enforced illegally with force and threats, violating the fundamental rights of traders and lakhs and lakhs of the general public, law itself may prevent any sort of compulsion on anyone when bandhs are called.  How?

-  An empowered body with a name like “Bandh Regulating Committee” should be created for each district in India.  The Chief Electoral Officer for the State, the District Collector of that district and the Superintendent of Police for that district could be members of the Committee.

-   Any group or political party that intends to call for a bandh on a particular date in a district should give prior notice of its intention to the appropriate Committee at lease fourteen days in advance.  Four days before the date of the proposed bandh, the Committee should take a poll by secret ballot among traders and shop-keepers, through electronic voting, to find out if they are “for” are “against” the bandh.  Those who do not vote shall be considered voting against the bandh.

If at least 75% of the number of traders and shop-keepers in the district vote in favour of the proposed bandh, it will be allowed.  If not, that bandh shall not be allowed to take place.

-  No one may give a bandh notice to the Committee for fun.  So, it should be a rule that any person who files a prior notice with the Committee for a bandh should also submit simultaneously forms of support signed by 5% of the number of traders and shop keepers in the district who would be for the bandh.  Seven days before the date of the proposed bandh, the Committee shall take a poll by secret ballot among these 5% of the voters, through electronic voting.  If at least 4% among them vote in favour of the bandh, then polling will be held for the remaining traders and shop-keepers in the district.  If there is no such 4% qualifying support, there will not be any second-stage polling in the district, and the proposed bandh cannot be held.

-  Any bandh held in this manner can last for only four hours in a day, from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.  Since a bandh is just a symbolic show of support, and is not an instrument of harassment of people, a display of support for four hours will do.  Hospitals, medical shops, hotels and all transport services shall always remain exempt from bandhs.

-  When a bandh is permitted, it will still be open to every trader and shop-keeper to decide if he likes to join the bandh or not.  The reason is, a bandh affects the fundamental rights of every trader and shop-keeper, and they cannot be taken away from him even with his consent. 

       India’s  Supreme Court may itself devise the foregoing rules – with any modification it thinks fit, such as who will be members of a Bandh Regulating Committee or in what manner the approval or disapproval of traders and shop-keepers for a bandh may be recorded and known – in a public interest litigation, and issue directions which will be binding on everyone.

       Yes, if the Supreme Court issues directions on these lines, or in any modified form, they may not be implementable without a hitch or with 100% success.  Now there is no law regulating bandhs, and it is a free for all.  Every political party wants to be seen as supporting some bandh or the other, and it does not wish to leave that space to other parties.  But if Supreme Court's directions regulate bandhs, then all parties will have some comfort in complying with those directions, because other parties cannot steal a march over an abstaining party.  Also, if a political party disobeys a Supreme Court direction and calls for a bandh without the needed support of traders and shop-keepers in the district, the top leaders of the party may have to answer a charge of contempt.
       In one or two instances, if a political party or other group gets scarce support among traders and shop-keepers for a proposed bandh, it will not like to expose its unpopularity next time. True, we have to devise ways of taking the votes of traders and shop-keepers, enlisting them for voting, etc.  But traders will co-operate in this rather than yield to bandh calls.  They can rely on Supreme Court’s directions for having to co-operate, and political parties cannot complain.

       As we know, many crimes occur despite a law banning it. Recently when the law made the punishment stiffer for the offence of rape, that has also not stopped the offenders.  Still we should have the law.  Likewise, we should make a beginning in regulating the menace of bandhs, as best as we can, rather than not do anything.  We cannot expect the legislature to pass a law on this.  Since the fundamental rights of traders and the general public are affected by bandhs, and since people have a weak voice in our democracy, the Supreme Court may intervene and issue directions.  Just as that Court did for dealing with sexual harassment of women in workplaces and for regulating BCCI’s cricket administration.  Bandhs affect millions more, and more severely.

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Copyright © R. Veera Raghavan 2016