Is Bollywood re-considering its slavish aping of Modi’s Hindutva agenda?

31st Jan 2020
Is Bollywood re-considering its slavish aping of Modi’s Hindutva agenda?

A-lister Deepika Padukone takes a rare political stand and joins India’s student protesters (Credit: Bollywood Hungama/WikiCommons)

Mohamed Hassan

Deepika Padukone, the famed Bollywood actor caused a stir when she visited the Jawaharlal Nehru University campus after its students had been brutally attacked by Hindu thugs in front of the police.

The students’ union and the teachers’ association has blamed the attack on members of the BJP-liked student body Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), a claim the ABVP deny. In a script now familiar since the advent of the BJP governments, call for a boycott of her films have started to do the social media rounds. Some BJP thugs have even demanded to decapitate her for her great betrayal of the “Hindu” cause.

However, Padukone’s fans, peers and student leaders lauded her for her “brave support” for the embattled students of the university, which has long been in the crosshairs of right-wing groups supporting Prime Minister Modi’s Government. Even those who usually scoff at Bollywood declared that they would watch her new film several times, a feature on an acid attack victim which Padukone has produced and acted in.

Padukone was risking a lot by her brave gesture. The 34-year-old actress of nearly three dozen films is truly a megastar in the world’s most thriving film industry. She has an imposing social media presence – 26 million followers on Twitter and 42 million on Instagram.

This was thus a wakeup call to Bollywood and its slavish aping of the Hindutva agenda.
Over the last five years, the bullying tactics of BJP thugs, and fear of the popular backlash against performers not toeing the line, has been quite effective in keeping Bollywood fully tuned to the Hindutva agenda. Indeed, during a recent flight to the Far East, I happened to watch a Bollywood movie and was shocked by the anti-Muslim theme of the movie.

Having known Bollywood as composed of artists, many of whom were Muslims, I was surprised at the anti-Muslim slant of the movie. Just to reassure myself that this was a one-off pandering to the Hindutva agenda, I watched four other Bollywood movies on the long flight. To my horror, all of them had distinct anti-Muslim themes.

It became clear to me that patronage and political pressure had turned Bollywood as propaganda medium for Modi’s toxic Hindutva agenda. With leading films cornering audiences of 200 million or more, this was a very big coup for the BJP and its stalwarts. Pressure had also begun to mount to produce anti-Muslim epics and engage in revisionist history to caste Muslims as invaders of historic India.

This Bollywood slavishness tied in with other developments in the country, like changing names of cities like Allahabad to PrayagRaj. The Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh (UP), Yogi Adityanath, mooted the idea of leaving the world-famous Taj Mahal from tourist information literature. Attacks of “secular” universities became common and demonising Muslims became a thinly disguised policy of the BJP Government.

It would appear that opposition inside the country was ruthlessly suppressed and the Indian Diaspora had fallen firmly under the spell of Modi and the Hindutva agenda. Having dispensed with the status of Jammu and Kashmir and got the Supreme Court to rule in favour of the Ram Temple on the historic site of the Babri Mosque, Modi and his cohorts turned their sights of the Muslim minority. The citizenship status of Muslim refugees, particularly in Assam, was called into question in blatantly discriminatory legislation.

This was combined with the National Citizenship Register (NCR) which would require people, mostly Muslims, to produce paperwork to prove their Indian nationality. Many would fail by default, and the BJP Government is in the process of preparing internment camps for such unfortunate victims of the discriminatory law.

This was perhaps a step too far for Indian civil society. The flames were lit when police brutally attacked the students at Jamia Millia Islamaiyya (JMI) in Delhi. Protests spread across the country against the legislation and question began to be asked about the impact on the secular constitution of India of the Hindutva agenda. Again, when the students at the prestigious JNU, protested they were brutally set upon by Hindu thugs.

The Indian Diaspora has also begun to wake up. Students and professionals in the US have started to make their abhorrence of the BJP policies only a couple of months after giving Modi a hero’s welcome when he was hosted by his soul-mate Donald Trump in the US.
It would appear that the BJP’s spell has broken and Indian civil society is beginning to shed its fear and take a stand against the Hindutva brigade.

As the BBC’s India correspondent Soutik Biswas, says in a perceptive comment, “…. is Padukone’s act an inflection point of sorts? Will it encourage other Bollywood A-listers to ‘stand up – and stand in’ as a newspaper described her campus visit? The students’ protest in India against Mr Modi’s government is remarkable because it is has been led by civil society and not political parties.

‘In a sense, Padukone had captured the spirit of the moment. This is the politics of solidarity beyond ideology. So her presence in JNU was important,’ sociologist Shiv Visvanathan told me.”

The Indian Diaspora in the UK still seems firmly wedded to the toxic Hindutva agenda. One hopes that the fast-moving events in India may force it to champion justice after a long period of nurturing the BJP’s anti-Muslim agenda.

 

 

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