Shaheen should not be alone, Mr Chavan

Please don’t allow the Shiv Sena to win this one

bvrao

BV Rao | February 13, 2010



The expected has happened. My Name Is Khan opened across the country this morning but in its place of birth, Mumbai. Shamefully, Bal Thackeray had his way this morning.

The Congress government in Maharashtra showed it has no steel in its spine to uphold the rights and freedoms of its citizens guaranteed in the constitution.

Chief Minister Ashok Chavan has paid lip service to the cause by promising security to all theatre owners. He said the state will protect their premises if they showed the courage to screen the film.

That is, of course, missing the point completely. The one entity that needs to show courage, and put away the goons once and for all, is the state and state alone. But beyond the regular "nobody will be allowed to hold the city to ransom" kind of platitudes, the government has done nothing to bolster the confidence of the cinema owners or cinema goers.

For forty years, the Shiv Sena has been doing this to Mumbai and the Thackeray's have not gone to jail even once. That indicates the state has been complicit in building the Shiv Sena's brand as the goon overground. Stuck between the city's criminal underworld and this political overlord, the average Mumbaikar has lost all confidence in the state's willingness, not its ability mind you, to meet the Shiv Sena's challenge squarely.
That is why, Mr Chavan has to do better than to exhort others to show courage and take the risk of damage to their life and limb. He has to take courage, he has to take the risk, this time. It is up to him to feel and put to good use the power the people have vested in him.

The lamp burns brightest when it is about to die. This is evidently the Shiv Sena’s desperate gamble to stay relevant in the political scene in Maharashtra and if the government takes it on squarely, there is every chance it will blink. But for that to happen Mr Chavan has to do a few things first:
•    Show courage and take a few top Sena leaders into custody for threatening, intimidating and preventing the right to freedom of expression and livelihood of Shah Rukh and everybody involved with the making and screening of the movie. If he does not have the stomach for the big one (arresting Uddhav), there is every reason to arrest Sanjay Raut, the editor of Saamna who has openly threatened Shah Rukh (he is giving statements from abroad, let him come to Mumbai and talk, he said on one of the channels) and used his paper to intimidate theatre owners and movie goers.
•    Mr Chavan said that it is not the job of the government to promote the film. He is right. But this is the best opportunity to demonstrate in the strongest terms that the government has had enough of this politics of coercion. The screening of the movie is just a symbol to tell the Shiv Sena that the rights of the individual are paramount to the state.

That's why, Mr Chavan, we suggest you take your entire council of ministers to a cinema near Mantralaya to see My Name Is Khan.

You are the representative of the people of Maharashtra. You lead the defiance of the Shiv Sena and watch how you will set off a revolt against the thugs. If you are a little short on the courage you expect from the cinema owners, draw inspiration from this little girl on NDTV, Shaheen. She turned up, all alone, at the Cinemax, Kalanagar, not far from the feared Matoshree of the Thackeray’s, to watch the first day, first show. Not because she is mad after Shah Rukh, but because she wanted to defy the Shiv Sena. Shaheen did not get to see the 8 am show, nor the 9.30 am show because the theatre like hundreds of others, chickened out. But Shaheen was not bothered. “I came here to show my defiance. We cannot let these people get away with this. I came alone, but that does not scare me,” she said.

Shaheen should not be alone, Mr Chavan. If some multiplexes do really open this afternoon, take Shaheen to the movie with your ministers. Don’t allow the Shiv Sena to win this one.

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