Uttar Pradesh [ Images ] Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav's [ Images ] decision to honour actor Abhishek Bachchan [ Images ] with the state's highest cultural honour -- Yash Bharti award -- has evoked sharp protests from political parties, cultural groups and students.
The award is to be conferred on the actor on November 20 in Lucknow [ Images ].
Abhishek's father Amitabh Bachchan [ Images ], grand-father Harvansh Rai Bachchan as well as mother Jaya Bachchan have, in the past, been honoured with the same award.
While political parties have termed it as an undue favour, cultural groups see it as discriminatory towards others more deserving artists, while students termed it as advance quid pro quo towards future participation in the Samajwadi Party election campaign at the time of state assembly poll early next year.
While staging a protest demonstration on the Lucknow University campus, students not only burnt effigies of the chief minister, but also those of Abhishek.
"This is not Mulayam's private fiefdom; the award of Rs 500,000 is out of the tax-payer's money. It cannot be squandered like this," said Bajrang Singh, president of Lucknow University Students Union.
"I wish to know what is Abhishek's contribution to UP?" he asked, adding, "It appears that the award has become a family right of the Bachchan family. So many other talented artists are not even considered for the award."
State Bharatiya Janata Party [ Images ] president Keshri Nath Tripathi said, "The basic criteria for selecting a Yash Bharti awardee is that the person must have been born in UP and that he should have contributed to the state in some manner; and Abhishek does not fulfill any of the criteria."
A prominent writer from the state, who did not want to be named for this report, wonders, "Why have these politicians become so obsessed with film actors?
"It seems all they are interested in is to use these actors in their election campaign, so they are willing to dole out anything -- money or honour -- to appease them, while so many other talented artists and literary persons go unsung."
Confronted with a query in this regard, Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav said, "Abhishek is a talented actor. So we have decided to honour him. After all, originally he belongs to Lucknow. I don't see anything wrong with him being selected for the honour."
Despite what Mulayam says, many feel that the government does have a special regard for the Bachchan family.
Jaya Bachchan was inducted into the Rajya Sabha in gross violation of all rules following which her nomination was cancelled by the Election Commission. But Mulayam got her a berth in the Upper House again.
Meanwhile, Amitabh Bachchan was appointed as the brand ambassador for Uttar Pradesh, though no one knows what he has done for the state in that capacity.
Most Amitabh-starrers, including a typical Bollywood blockbuster like Bunty Aur Bubbly enjoy tax concessions in Uttar Pradesh.
A Cabinet meeting on Wednesday approved a tax exemption for the Amitabh-starrer Ganga, which is to be released shortly.
A look at the entertainment tax records of the state reveals that out of the 30 films declared tax-free by the Mulayam government in the past year, as many as 16 had either Amitabh or his son Abhishek in the lead.
Even a film like Bose, the forgotten hero, which focused on the life of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, did not attract the UP cabinet's attention to be considered for a tax-free status.
Likewise, Lage Raho Munna Bhai, which has given a new boost to Gandhian ideology, was also not considered for tax exemption until a couple of other states declared it tax-free.
Mulayam's critics were of the view that Bunty Aur Bubbly did not even foot the bill for tax exemption.
"One of the important criterion for tax exemption is that the particular film should convey a healthy and positive message to society; but in this case, Bunty aur Bubbly has a totally negative theme -- use the wrong means to get quick rich and you will get away with it, pointed out Congress state chief Salman Khurshid.