UPA Orders Cuts in Prakash Jha’s Film on JP:

Laloo Hails Emergency for Upholding Discipline

-- Radhika Menon

The UPA government’s claims of restoring democracy damaged by its predecessor NDA regime already seem to have taken a beating. Taking a cue from the RSS and Shiv Sena style of cultural policing (governing the censor board with a sledge-hammer, banning films, burning books, tearing up paintings, vandalising film sets…), the UPA government has already begun to dictate as to what will pass and what will not. The Prasar Bharati, supposedly an autonomous body, wants to purge Prakash Jha’s film on Jayprakash Narayan of all references to the mother of all censorship – the Emergency – and the authoritarian clampdown on political opposition by Indira Gandhi.

Is not the Prasar Bharati’s insistence on “a balanced presentation of the events of the time” as outrageous as Advani asking us to “take a balanced view of the demolition of Babri Masjid” or Modi ordering ‘a balanced presentation of the Gujarat genocide’? The BJP pursued the agenda of rewriting history to suit its Hindutava agenda and witch-hunted dissenters. Today the Congress is all set to whitewash its equally black history of the Emergency, when the entire political opposition was dragged out from their homes and offices and jailed, films banned, books burned, black laws glorified and fake encounters hailed even as news papers and other mass media were prevented from publishing any of this. 

While the knee-jerk reaction of the Congress to the JP film is not difficult to understand, the controversy has also held up an interesting mirror to some of the leading lights of the JP movement or the anti-Emergency campaign. Incidentally, the ministry that is now ordering cuts in the JP film is headed by none other than the irrepressible Jaipal Reddy, a hero of the anti-Emergency brigade. And he has found his biggest defender in another hero of the 1974 movement, Mr. Laloo Prasad Yadav, who has gone on to joke about how it was forcible sterilisation rather than the Emergency that had led to the ouster of Indira Gandhi and how Emergency actually helped in bringing “discipline”. Laloo’s new-found love for authoritarian discipline may raise a few eyebrows among his intellectual admirers, but the rural poor in Bihar who have seen him use the TADA to suppress their just movement will certainly not feel surprised. Laloo Yadav is obviously charting yet another course of opportunism much like the other stalwart of the JP movement, George Fernandes, who set out to please his BJP bosses with his loyalty to their agenda, including the dreaded POTA.

The Congress of course has its own chequered history of cultural policing. While Emergency itself was the mother of all censorship and Gulzar was made to bear the cross for making the film Aandhi, in more recent periods the Congress has not refrained from using the likes of Sambhaji brigade for vandalising James Laine’s work, the municipality bulldozers for levelling down Wali Gujarati’s tomb for building a road over it after the Gujarat genocide or in leading the crowds to burn Rushdie’s Satanic Verses.

Today, Final Solutions, after its two year battle with the Censor board has been cleared but several other films continue to face the cuts, like the Chords of the Richter Scale on discrimination against dalits, minorities and underprivileged during Gujarat earthquake and In the flesh, a film on the life and conditions of women in prostitution. Earlier the Left front government in Bengal had banned Taslima Nasreen’s Dwikhandita. The film on JP has only joined this lengthening list. The fact remains that both NDA and now the UPA seek to bury uncomfortable economic and political questions with autocratic measures.

The Prasar Bharati’s insistence on a balanced presentation on Emergency and the subsequent justification, clarifications and jokes only go to show that the UPA government’s ‘detoxification’ drive is becoming a case of the pot calling the kettle black. It is rather indicative of the UPA’s commitment to democracy that just after four months of UPA rule, Emergency has been called a necessity with some excesses – much like the BJP’s patronising dismissal of the ‘misuse’ of POTA.

The final piece of irony is that the people are being told by the enthused Left Front partners of UPA driven on by the detoxification drive, that the problem of free expression is all about the removal of this or that individual even as they are vigorously defending the policies on the clampdown of democratic rights and free speech, laws on censorship of political dissent, state terror in the North and the North East and being partner in the rewriting of another period of India’s black history – the Emergency.