By M D Nalapat
Hopefully, the I&B Ministry will step in to ensure that the CBFC gets manned by individuals subscribing to the practices and needs of a democracy.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is working towards creating an environment in which knowledge start-ups in India will flourish rather than—as has largely been the case thus far—perish. Freedom of speech is an essential component of such an ambience, and this means the right to say and to write views that will be the reverse of what many others subscribe to. Cinema is a principal method of communication with the public, and countries such as the UK have established themselves for the quality of their offerings. Indian cinema can take on any competitor, including Hollywood, throughout the world, if only those making films had the creative freedoms that are taken for granted in countries such as the US. Such a movie industry would be an important source of both employment as well as soft power, but not if Central Board of Film Certification chairperson Pahlaj Nihalani can help it. Among the less than inspired choices of the NDA II government, there has been a lengthy record of his unfortunate cinematic interventions, allegedly in the service of Indian culture, although a brief taste of some of the films he himself has made would leave an individual bemused as to the Nihalani concept of India’s culture. However, he has set a new record in absurdity by the cuts introduced to a documentary on Amartya Sen, who is known in India as among the most loyal admirers of the Nehru family, and whose devotion to the First Family of the Congress Party has been recognised, including by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh appointing him as the Chancellor of Nalanda University, despite the absence of visible signs of familiarity with global Buddhist traditions and teachings. A well-regarded filmmaker, Suman Ghosh, has completed a documentary on the Nobel laureate. It is unlikely that there would have been traffic congestion close to cinema theatres showing the film, even in Kolkata, but for the publicity that it has received from the CBFC, which has directed that the words “cow”, “Hindutva”, “Gujarat” and even “Hindu India” be excised from the documentary before releasing it for public view.Why should mention of the cow be excised, although it is a reality that several influential individuals proudly and publicly affirm the cow to be their mother? The mother of this columnist was not a cow, but a human being, but he does not have the right to deny to others the right to affirm the opposite. That is the requisite of a culture of free speech, of democracy, of the right to hold and publicly proclaim views of every person’s choice. Morarji Desai was sprightly even in his 90s, and it is difficult to prove wrong his belief that an early morning glass of his own urine was the cause of such longevity And it is not always possible to demonstrate that cow urine has miraculous properties. However, it would be wrong for agencies of the state or busybodies acting in their name to prevent individuals from either affirming or denying the properties of cow urine. As for Gujarat, Chief Minister Modi sought multiple times to get the Army to intervene, but was unable to persuade the Central government to do so early enough. Modi’s inspired stewardship of Gujarat convinced his political opponents that he would be their most formidable rival. There has been a coordinated effort to blacken Narendra Modi’s reputation, and even in 2017, anything that goes wrong in India soon gets pinned to the door of his South Block office, including this latest blooper of a cow bleeper from Pahlaj Nihalani, despite it being entirely a CBFC decision. The Prime Minister of India would not have had the time to intervene in the matter of a documentary about an economist, unless the day had 240 hours, rather than merely 24. This is clearly a Nihalani decision, but it is noteworthy that several of the members of that body are standing by the newly-established “Sen precedent” and defending a CBFC action designed to convince the rest of the globe that freedom of expression is dead in India.
If the members of the CBFC are to be believed, the mere mention by Amartya Sen of what he regards as the “criminality of Gujarat” in the 2002 riots would inflame the state such that there would presumably be fresh incidents of violence. Having gone multiple times to Gujarat, it is safe to affirm that yet another articulation (this time in the documentary) of the same view that Sen has expressed several times in locations across the world would not set the Sabarmati afire. Indeed, it would have passed unnoticed. Hopefully, the I&B Ministry will step in to ensure that the CBFC gets manned by individuals subscribing to the practices and needs of a democracy, or at the least, withdraws the order it is reported to have passed on the Ghosh documentary, before this country becomes a global object of ridicule and scorn.
Prime Minister Modi, now that he is entering the fourth year of his term, needs to ensure that India join the rest of the civilised world in removing such colonial laws as “criminal defamation” from the statute books. The thrust and parry of debate in a democracy will be fierce and often unpleasant, but it is a necessary condition not simply of democracy, but of the culture of freedom and transparency needed for Start-Up India to generate the thrust needed to create tens of millions of additional jobs. Freedom of the internet, the universal spread of the internet, high surfing speeds and a sensible policy towards education, are all needed to ensure that PM Modi’s dream of a youthful and innovative India energised and awakened becomes a reality during the time that he is in office.