Past and present artistes, Jayalalithaa and Mamata Banerjee smoothen the art of realpolitik at the cost of Kamal Hasaan and Salman Rushdie
Shantanu Datta | January 30, 2013
J Jayalalithaa and Mamata Banerjee are as different as political leaders as appam is from shorshe-ilish (hilsa cooked in mustard). But at heart, the two could well be conjoined twins. Both strong women with an appetite for a fight, both are known to be tough, no-nonsense leaders, and neither is known to shy away from a decision that could be deemed unpopular for the reasonable.
Both are equally adept at taking decisions that are deemed populist.
The two, though, are having a varied taste of the appam and ilish as they get set for lunch on Wednesday. In Chennai, actor Kamal Haasan served them hot and frying to the Tamil Nadu chief minister, as he alleged that the ban on his film ‘Vishwaroopam’ was part of a “political game” and that he would be forced to leave the state, in fact even the country, if the “harassment” carries on.
"I think Tamil Nadu wants me out. I will wait for a secular place to live in from Kashmir to Kerala, leaving Tamil Nadu,” the actor-director-producer of the Rs 95-crore film told the media.
Drawing a parallel with painter MF Husain, who lived his last days abroad, Haasan said, "If I am unable to find a secular place to stay in India, I might find another secular country. Like the way MF Husain did.
"I want a secular place to live (and) other than Tamil Nadu, is there any place? If I don't get it to live here, I will seek another secular place. But I won't have any debts. I have zero tax arrears — I have no religion, no tribe and now no money either...
"I am being made (pawn) of a political game. I don't know who is playing it. I won't even hazard a guess."
The Jayalalithaa government put a ban on ‘Vishwaroopam’ after some Muslim organisations said it showed the minority community in bad light.
Nearly 1,700 km away, Mamata Banerjee could well enjoy her lunch of rice and shorshe-ilish in Kolkata today. A day after the West Bengal government barred author Salman Rushdie from visiting the city as part of a tour to promote Deepa Mehta’s film ‘Midnight’s Children’, based on his award-winning modern classic, Rushdie would be in no mood to hold any such media conference, it appears.
The reason for this unofficial ban on Rushdie, as reported by The Telegraph newspaper this morning, remains mysterious — much like everything the state’s mercurial chief minister does — but it’s raison d’être remains the same: purported minority appeasement. Only, Banerjee’s apparatchiks went a step further, forcing Rushdie to cancel his Kolkata trip without any Muslim organisation demonstrating or protesting publicly. So all logic (there has to be one, even if the logic of that logic lies in its complete illogic) could only be surmised: Banerjee and/or her government want to a) be seen in the right light before the minority community, who b) might or might not agree with Rushdie’s alleged portrait of the community in his banned book ‘Satanic Verses’, first published in 1988 and which only a handful of people might have read.
Interestingly, both chief ministers are/have been artistes themselves, Jayalalithaa being a popular actor in Tamil film industry before taking to politics, while Banerjee taking to painting and writing poetry — primarily after joining politics, and her touch getting more pronounced after becoming the chief minister in the summer of 2011.
That they have an issue with art and artistes is therefore a little surprising, if not exactly unexpected. Realpolitik has little time for niceties.
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