Emergency, BJP style

The Bharatiya Janata Party’s jihad against Tamil superstar Vijay is symptomatic of its latent fascistic proclivities. Like its literal, Islamic manifestation, the anti-Vijay jihad is against everything a liberal democracy upholds—freedom of expression, the rule of law, tolerance, decency.

The BJP’s Tamil Nadu unit—so competent and strong that it could win just one seat in the Modi wave of 2014—is flaunting its muscles against a moviestar. Its leaders are flaying him for his “false criticism” of the Central government’s programmes like Digital India and the general goods & services tax (GST) in his latest offering, Mersal. But what, pray, is false criticism?

To begin with, as far as politicians are concerned, whether of the ruling dispensation or in the Opposition, all allegations hurled at them are not only false but also—to employ the commonly used words—‘misleading,’ ‘baseless,’ ‘mischievous,’ etc. There hasn’t been a single leader who has gracefully received, let alone accepted, even benign criticism.

Second, what is true or false is often the product and function of a person’s core beliefs and ideas. For a devout Hindu, cow slaughter is a sin; for non-Hindus, and many Hindus, it isn’t. For most Muslims, criticism of the Prophet Muhammad is hate speech, deserving capital punishment; for the votaries of liberty, including this writer, there is no such thing as hate speech.

Third, the right to freedom of expression, as also enshrined in our Constitution, includes the right to false criticism, as it also includes the right to write bad novels and make atrocious cinema.

Fourth, Mersal, like every other film, was cleared by the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC), which is often seen as a bhakta-infested body. If even the CBFC doesn’t find anything objectionable in the movie, Tamil Nadu’s BJP leaders are just trying to score brownie points at the expense of freedom of expression.

Tamil Nadu BJP leader H. Raja’s comment makes no sense. Everyone has the right to criticize the BJP government on any medium, he told the media, adding the caveat that the criticism should be based on facts. But, as I mentioned, several conclusions, even mutually exclusive ones, can be drawn from the same set of facts. Which means that any conclusion not laudatory to the government will be outlawed. Is this the BJP’s definition of a democracy?

If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear, said George Orwell. In the BJP’s scheme of things, liberty means saying everything that its grandees love to hear—and everything else is slander, libel, calumny, canard, anti-national, and irresponsible. The last one is especially applied to the uncompromised media—that is, the news organizations that don’t follow the line given by the powers that be. Evidently, quite a few such wild spirits roam in the land ruled by Vasundhara Raje, so her government wants to tame them by introducing a piece of legislation that would make reporting of scams and wrongdoing a criminal offence. It is life imitating art: in the cult movie, Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron, the corrupt go scot-free, while the duo that exposed them is thrown behind bars.

BJP leaders are not just being illiberal but also uncouth and uncivilized. So, Raja, who is also a national secretary of the party, not only maligns Vijay but also adds a communal angle to the row; he refers the filmstar by his rarely used Christian name: “Joseph Vijay’s hate campaign against [Prime Minister] Modi.” He also said, “Vijay dared to say that we should build hospitals instead of temples, will he say the same about churches too? Why are only temples being referred to? In the last 20 years, some 17,500 churches and some 9,700 mosques were built in Tamil Nadu compared to just 370 temples built during the same period.” For Raja, decency is an outdated virtue.

Propriety and fair play are also useless virtues for BJP leaders. Hence the raid by the GST intelligence wing on Tamil actor Vishal’s film production company, Vishal Film Factory, in Chennai. Vishal had supported Vijay, so the raid just a day after a word war between Vishal and Raja seems to be an act of reprisal.

In short, the spirit of Emergency seems to be entering the minds and souls of BJP leaders, for they have just discarded the principles and values that a major political party in a democracy should uphold.