By Bala Sai:
Perhaps we are a fragile country, an inchoate, albeit delicate assembly of ideals and beliefs that could collapse at the slightest disturbance. Perhaps we are a country simmering with anarchy, on such a brink that it can be swiftly undone by a Bollywood movie. Merely weeks after PK rode its controversies to the Box Office, here’s another movie that is supposedly poised to threaten our democracy, and make a fortune out of it.
But this time, the issue runs deeper than the generally accepted ‘Secularism-hurting’ levels. The controversy surrounding Messenger of God has revealed a ghastly truth about how our country is run, and the implications seem terrifying.
After the Censor Board decided against allowing the movie to be shown in public, fearing backlash from various sections of the society, the decision was promptly overturned by the Film Certificate Appellate Tribunal (FCAT), leading to immediate resignation of two high-ranking officials of the Central Board of Film Certification, including its chief Leela Samson and member Ira Bhaskar, citing “interference, coercion and corruption of panel members and officers of the organisation who are appointed by the (information) ministry”.
MSG (Messenger of God) is a curious case. It isn’t your usual movie with a hard hitting social message or a controversial take on a delicate issue, which generally warrants such widespread opposition. MSG, according to the Censor Board, falls into the ‘ridiculous self-advertising masquerading as a movie’ category, where the Dera Sacha Sauda chief and controversial Godman Gurmeet Ram Rahim plays himself in an immensely larger-than-himself role, claiming to be a messenger of God, thereby inviting the ire of an entire community of Sikhs he has a hefty record of offending.
In 2007, there were clashes between the Sikhs and Dera followers in Bathinda after an advertisement appeared in which Gurmeet Singh was depicted with a Guru Gobind Singh kind of persona, the tenth and last guru of the Sikhs. Allegedly, MSG projects the Dera chief as a Guru who performs miracles, which goes against the essence of Guru Nanak’s philosophy. That he has a past involving criminal offenses, charges of sexual exploitation, and allegations of manipulating hundreds of devotees into castrating themselves doesn’t help bring him any closer to God either.
Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, who exercises a strong army of supporters and a sizeable political clout, was known to be a Congress supporter but had switched his loyalties to the BJP just before the 2014 elections. The quick clearance given to the movie is seen as a BJP payback to the Dera chief.
The controversy that has been brewing for a few months now reached fever pitch last evening, the circus finally spilling out into the streets on the day of the movie’s slated release. The SAD, the Indian National Lok Dal and various Sikh outfits protested actively in Delhi, Haryana, Punjab and Chandigarh, even as the Dera chief thanked the almighty for His divine sleight of hand that apparently led to his movie being cleared for release by the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal (FCAT).
We need to understand that this is not to be dismissed off as yet another show-down between the Akali Dal-led Sikh groups and the Dera supporters. This is not even to be seen merely in the context of freedom of speech and expression. Two high-ranking officials of the Censor board have quit their jobs in the light of the controversy, citing ‘excessive interference’ from the government in its performing of its duties. The out-going chief alleged that the ministry was planning to exert disproportionate influence over the Board by appointing ‘an additional charge CEO’.
She revealed that this is not an isolated case of Government pushing its agenda on the body, as the Board recently had to put up a strong stand to defend the movie PK, even as they were under pressure to force certain changes to it. To not consider the ramifications of these statements is a blind denial of a cancer that has slowly been eating into the very fabric of our democratic ideals.
It has happened before and it has happened yet again. Cracks have once again appeared on the surface of the Modi sarkar’s ‘acche din’ apparition, as we find politics steadily seeping into governance, the sovereignty of independent organizations breached blatantly by a government that believes it has the right to wield the whip, and use it towards furthering its own political gains.