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How an old Soviet joke explains Bollywood’s stance on free speech

So here is what all this Bollywood lecturebaazi on “speaking truth to power” comes down to. Their idea of free speech in Maharashtra is going to the Maharashtra CM’s office to say “Mr. Chief Minister, I don’t like the way PM Modi is running the country.“

While Maharashtra may be No. 1 in COVID cases, with a test positive rate around 20%, here is the No. 1 priority of the state government. How dare someone disrespect Mumbai Police? That person has no right to live in Mumbai or anywhere else in Maharashtra. You heard it from the Home Minister of Maharashtra, the secular and liberal Shri Anil Deshmukh.

Article by The Times of India

This raises all sorts of questions. First of all, Article 19 of the Indian Constitution gives Indian citizens the fundamental right to “reside or settle in any part of the territory of India.” Is this right subject to an ideological test?

Who do I ask? Perhaps Madam Sonia ji or Rahul ji can clarify this? Sorry, as Rahul ji has explained long ago, he is not responsible for the Govt of Maharashtra. He only has 10 Cabinet ministers in it.

Perhaps some eminent activist lawyer can clarify this point? But seems no PIL has been filed in this matter. I guess they are not interested.

Journalists know everything. We could ask them. But they are not speaking on this either. Then, there’s intellectuals and comedians. Same thing really. They also know everything. Why don’t they tell us?

There are always poets who have got Sahitya Akademi awards for stuff like “Kisi ke baap ka Hindustan thode hai.” Help us, please!

Anyway, another question. Now that we know that those who disrespect Mumbai Police have no right to live in Mumbai, what can be said about people who call India as intolerant, Nazi and Fascist? How about those who label the Indian Army as occupiers in Kashmir? How about those who go to global newspapers and accuse Indian Army of attacking innocents, raping women and blinding children? Do those people have a right to live in India or not?

Most of all, dear Bollywood, I am talking to you. Earlier this year, you were selling this rhetoric of “kaagaz nahin dikhayenge“. Remember? Why so silent now? What happened to the highest values of constitution and civil liberty? Will not show papers to prove citizenship, but we all need to have our tweets approved by Maharashtra Home Minister before traveling to the state?

Therein lies the hardcore cowardice and intellectual dishonesty of the showbiz crowd. Have you seen any of the glitterati dare to say one word against the policies of the government of Maharashtra? Of course not. They know which side is really intolerant. So they pander to it.

An old joke about the Communist Soviet Union, best told by Reagan himself, explains how Bollywood is behaving right now. Listen in.

An American and a Russian are arguing about freedom in their respective countries.

The American says proudly, “In my country, I can walk into the Oval Office, I can pound the president’s desk, and I can say, Mr. President, I don’t like the way you’re running our country.”

And the Russian said, “I can do that.”

The American says “You can?”

Russian: “Yes. I can go into the Kremlin to the general secretary’s office, I can pound his desk and say, Mr. General Secretary, I don’t like the way President Reagan’s running his country.”

So here is what all this Bollywood lecturebaazi on “speaking truth to power” comes down to. Their idea of free speech in Maharashtra is going to the Maharashtra CM’s office to say “Mr Chief Minister, I don’t like the way PM Modi is running the country.

One last question. Now that Indian liberals have established that you cannot disrespect the police, how are they going to explain this to their bosses in America? Right now, American liberals despise the police. They are calling to defund the police all across the United States. They are calling to disband the police.

Our own liberals were so inspired by this movement in the US. They wanted something similar in India. Now they have to explain to their American bosses that you can’t disrespect the police. That should be an awkward conversation, no?

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Abhishek Banerjee
Abhishek Banerjee is a math lover who may or may not be an Associate Professor at IISc Bangalore. He is the author of Operation Johar - A Love Story, a novel on the pain of left wing terror in Jharkhand, available on Amazon here.  

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