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'Modi has no stomach for dissent'

May 14, 2014 10:19 IST

'Modi has no stomach for dissent, even his own people say that'

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Syed Firdaus Ashraf/Rediff.com

'The real leader is not the one who builds flyovers and bridges. The real leader gets into the space of the human hearts which are at war and brings them together.'

'Gandhi did that. There cannot be a nation which is vibrant and strong where there is hatred which is tearing you apart,' filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt tells Syed Firdaus Ashraf/Rediff.com

The choice of Narendra Modi as the Bharatiya Janata Party's prime ministerial candidate divided Bollywood.

Such is the division that filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt, a fierce opponent of Modi, finds his younger brother Mukesh Bhatt rooting for Modi.

Mahesh Bhatt tells Syed Firdaus Ashraf/Rediff.com why Narendra Modi is dangerous for the 'Idea of India.'

Almost the entire country has fallen in love with Narendra Modi and you say he is dangerous for the 'Idea of India'. Can you elaborate?

As a child, I used to see this advertisement stating that 4 out of 5 doctors recommend Anacin. I used to ask my mother why the fifth doctor did not recommend Anacin, let's listen to him because the person who does not recommend that should be taken more seriously.

Assuming for a moment that even if a majority is rooting for him, the idea of democracy gives me the right to stand up fearlessly with my head held high to dissent against those who think that he (Modi) is a messiah who is going to wave a magic wand and deliver the dream that they have been promised.

This has been an age-old tactic of promising a dream and saying, the other side, they are the cause of decay, eliminate them. The discourse, rebirth through elimination, has been the theme song of the fascist ideology since the dawn of time.

The slogan, 'Congress mukht Bharat is the same, 'Eliminate these people'. You will have heaven at your door and then through that encourage the discourse of hatred -- almost legitimise it. All this makes me very worried.

There is no one idea of India, but ideas of India. This nation of 1.25 billion people has innumerable ideas from North to the South and from the East to the West. Plurality doesn't promise you harmony.

In fact, when there is plurality there is conflict and in such a situation you need the State to be a referee. I don't see him (Modi), in my experience, to be that.

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Image: Narendra Modi, left, with Harin Pathak, the MP from Ahmedabad East, who was denied a ticket.
Photographs: Kind courtesy: Harin Pathak's Facebook page

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'Because I took on Modi's ideology, I was being taught a lesson'

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Syed Firdaus Ashraf/Rediff.com

People are voting for him for development and not Hindutva. Even the Supreme Court has given him a clean chit in the 2002 riots case after the SIT gave him a clean chit. So what is wrong in Narendra Modi?

I have no means of ascertaining his personal role in the carnage of the 2002 Gujarat riots. I am willing to believe what his admirers say, that he did not have a direct role to play.

You can accuse him of not being able to execute his power efficiently, but you cannot possibly accuse him of complicity. I am willing to concede that, because to say, 'No, he had a role to play' would be unfair.

Narendra Modi himself admitted in an interview that it was his moral responsibility to stop the carnage.

I am not even stuck in the 2002 narrative. He (Modi) had called me personally in 2003 when I had attacked him on the platform of the Jamait (Muslim organisation) in Surat for not being able to deliver relief to the victims of riots.

He called and said he had immense remorse for what had happened (the 2002 riots). He was willing to solve the problem provided somebody brought it to his notice.

I said the Jamait had this knowledge and I would bring that to their notice. However, the Jamait refused to approach him. So the failure was from the Jamait and not Narendra Modi.

At that moment, he demonstrated that he was more than willing to resolve the problem. But that is not what is weighing me down.

When my son Rahul Bhatt was alleged to be involved with David Headley (the Lashkar-e-Tayiba terrorist who played a key role in plotting the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks) and was said to have played a role, it wasn't true. In fact, his friend Vilas Varak had gone to the Mumbai police and helped. They gave more insights about Headley.

But just because I had opposed Modi's politics, Tum Mile, my film, was pulled down from Gujarat theatres. This is the Gujarat model of efficiency and governance that you keep talking about, the absolute perfect model.

The chief minister despite me having access to him through a very dear protege of mine, Anupam Kher, who was very close to the whole group, nothing could be done. Because I had taken on his (Modi's) ideology, there was a lesson being taught to me.

Is this the sign of a compassionate leadership?

But your brother Mukesh Bhatt is supporting Modi, isn't it?

Hold it. Hold it. Let me get this straight. I want to ask all the admirers and lovers of Modi, the chief minister of Gujarat could not even take the dissent of one individual called Mahesh Bhatt. I am a mere filmmaker, I am not even aligned to any political party. I vote for the Congress party and I root for the Congress ideology, but I am not subject to the Congress party.

Modi demonstrated that he did not have a mindset for dissent.

Now, Mukesh Bhatt, my brother, chooses not to hold this against Narendra Modi. Well, my brother always had his leanings, even before Narendra Modi, towards right wing BJP ideology.

That is the beauty of my home. I am an absolute atheist. He is a devout man. That is the beauty of my home. We all live with extreme views and co-exist in harmony.

I think I am questioning whether the prime ministerial candidate of the BJP is neutral. Because the Hindutva idea talks about majoritarianism, which is at loggerheads with the multiple ideas of India.

Even in a street cricket match in any part of the country, you require one elderly neutral umpire. I am saying I have seen him in the past being incapable of handling the situation. In fact, with Jism 2, the government of Gujarat helped me run it smoothly because perhaps they were trying to make up where they had failed me in Tum Mile.

Perhaps they wanted to get their house in order. I put it on record that on the intervention of Zafar Sareshwala (a Modi supporter) with the Gujarat government Jism 2 had a very smooth run. But then I called and said, look the Supreme Court says that if a film is cleared by the Censor Board then you better give it a chance to screen it freely. And he does not do me a damn favour.

What about Fanaa? Yash Chopra did not go to the Supreme Court, Aamir Khan did not go to the Supreme Court. I went to the Supreme Court. Why did I go? Because I felt what will hit the film industry today will hit me tomorrow. So, I have seen intolerance.

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Image: Actor Anupam Kher, left, whose wife Kirron Kher is the BJP candidate from Chandigarh, with his mentor Mahesh Bhatt.
Photographs: Ajay Verma/Reuters

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'It would be a tragedy for democracy if dissent goes away'

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Syed Firdaus Ashraf/Rediff.com

But Bollywood has never been as divided as it is now over Modi.

Bollywood always had diverse views. In 1992 after the demolition of the Babri Masjid, we saw blood flowing on the streets of Mumbai. That is when Sunil Dutt led a march to the Mahatma Gandhi statue at Sachivalya (near the state government headquarters in south Mumbai). That is where polarisation started. Those who were saying don't take on the right wing because you will face their wrath, were tightlipped.

This time everyone has come out in the open.

This is because Anjum Rajabali (the award-winning screenwriter) made a move, realising that there were a lot of people saying privately, behind close doors and there was a huge media campaign. You see, it was like a loudspeaker. You cannot have a discourse with a loudspeaker. So the media is like a loudspeaker and they have bought all the loudspeakers. They are just bombarding you with one narrative.

He (Rajabali) wrote, vote for the secular brigade. Saeed Mirza is a leftist, Hansal Mehta is an Aam Aadmi Party supporter and I support the Congress. In fact, I said this is not representative of the film industry. There soon will be a group that will stand up and take an opposite view. And that is what happened. Ashok Pandit, Madhur Bhandarkar and Anupam Kher took an exactly opposite view (they support Modi).

Didn't you feel bad that your protege Anupam Kher agreed to support Modi?

Why? Why should I feel bad? I don't believe in your god, that does not mean I force my atheism on you. Why do you force your god on me?

I don't have a problem when you don't follow me, so why should you feel intimidated when I don't follow you.

I am saying if 4 out of 5 doctors recommend Anacin and 1 does not recommend, why does it disturb you so much?

Why do you want me to be like that majority which does not question?

In the future do you think films will be made in Bollywood where the pro-Modi camps and anti-Modi camps will work together?

I don't think your political beliefs determine your professional relationship. When Paresh Rawal (the BJP candidate from Ahmedabad East) stood for elections, I wrote to him, though I don't agree with the views of your political party, I wish you all the best. I know, individually, you will fight for liberty and justice for everyone, even your dissenters.

Even people who are dissenting and against you should be given a dignified space to express their views. You cannot legitimise hate because I disagree with you.

It would be a tragedy for democracy if dissent goes away.

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Image: Demonstrators at a protest against Narendra Modi outside a New Delhi college.
Photographs: Reuters

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'India has to be India and unfortunately the Hindutva ideology imitates Pakistan'

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Syed Firdaus Ashraf/Rediff.com

Do you think secularism will be under threat if Narendra Modi comes to power?

This country, which has existed with such diverse views for centuries, cannot be destroyed by one political party after one election.

You are seeing this election as the be all and end all of the nation. I am seeing something beyond that. What will see India's growth? And that is Gandhi's thought -- unity through diversity.

Is it not surprising that thinking actors like Anupam Kher and Paresh Rawal are praising Modi?

I don't think Anupam or Paresh have something against those from a different faith. Plurality cannot be reduced to Hindus-Muslims. It also means Sikhs, Parsis, Jews and Christians.

If I am making a film on the Sikh persecution of 1984 and though I am rooting for the Congress, it does not mean I am turning my face away from the failures of the Congress party for 1984.

When you talk about plurality and secularism, unfortunately it is only in the Hindu-Muslim context, which is a very flawed view. Even in the Hindu faith and the Muslim faith there are so many sects. I think we must talk about plurality.

I know there are so many bigots within the so-called secular parties who are communal. And I know there are so many secular people in a communal party.

Individuals are either communal and bigots, you cannot see the party as a whole.

Will you call Modi communal?

As long as his (Modi's) umbilical cord is connected to the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh), which has the view of Hindutva and majoritarianism, as long as he is connected with that, he is not going to get my vote.

What is going to get my vote is the icon, which is in his own backyard. My father comes from Porbandar and he fought for the freedom of the country with Gandhi. He got a lash on his head from a British sergeant when he went to protect Gandhi during the freedom movement.

I feel I have to protect that idea of Gandhi in the 2014 election. I am telling Narendra Modi 'Please make the tallest statue of Vallabhbhai Patel, no issues, but you cannot erase Gandhi from this country.'

Gandhian thought is the only thought that will see India through.

As a concerned citizen of this country, I see the answer only through the Gandhian ideology of unity, plurality and inclusiveness. Hindutva doesn't allow you that. It wants to impose.

Go to Benares. Benares is the story of one India. There are so many stories on the ghats of Benares. People from all faiths come and practice their faiths fearlessly.

The Hinduism that I know from my father was broad, was accommodative.

One of my Pakistani friends, who is a brilliant intellectual and CEO of a media house said, 'India cannot achieve its potential by imitating Pakistan.' It means India has to be India and unfortunately Hindutva ideology imitates Pakistan. And that is where it is dangerous.

What about Atal Bihari Vajpayee? His umbilical cord too was attached to the RSS.

I have reasons to believe that he was born in a time, era, age that he was shaped by the events of that time. He was a contemporary of Nehru and Nehru fought communalism, both inside his political party and outside his political party.

So I think there was an accommodative spirit that he (Vajpayee) demonstrated. I have no reason to believe that Narendra Modi will not do it, but as of now he has not.

You cannot put a full stop to a human being. The world is not a static place. People change.

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Image: Volunteers of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh at Shastri Puram, near Agra.
Photographs: Reuters

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'Love me, love my god. If you don't love my god, you have no place in paradise'

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Syed Firdaus Ashraf/Rediff.com

I was asking about Vajpayee.

Even for that matter, (L K) Advani. He was very tolerant towards my film Zakhm. Under that government (the National Democratic Alliance) I did not take the national award too.

When I wanted to pass a shot of a documentary on Nagas in which a child says on a blackboard, 'I want Nagaland to be free from India'. UNICEF was frightened to keep that shot. It was Advani who gave me the permission to keep the shot.

So human beings have the tendency to behave in different ways. So, I cannot arrive at or make an absolute full stop statement.However, as of now, at this particular curve, I don't think Narendra Modi has demonstrated to me or to the people of this country through his actions whether he is capable of being a tolerant compassionate statesman who can deal with dissent.

Because he has shown me in the past that he has no stomach for dissent. Even his own people say that.

I was asking about Vajpayee. His umbilical cord was attached to the RSS. So does that make him communal?

I do not have any personal firsthand experience on Vajpayeeji. But when I had attacked him on the Kargil issue where the people of Kargil were not given financial packages, he immediately responded to it.

There wasn't a feeling that if you rub him the wrong way, you will face his wrath. Now maybe, it is not because of Modi but maybe because of his overzealous supporters, you get the feeling. If you dare to oppose him, then you will have the wrath of that intolerant brigade against you.

Love me, love my god. If you don't love my god, you have no place in paradise.

You have godmen like Ramdev jump into the political discourse and start using the hate discourse.

Now he is a man who is supposed to speak peace. And to whom people go for peace. Look at the discourse. He has almost legitimised the hate discourse by saying, 'Congress Mukht Bharat' as if the problem of this country will be resolved by eliminating the Congress.

So I come back to rebirth through elimination. This narrative is the narrative of a fascist. Narendra Modi has started it. He has been articulating that fearlessly.

He has been promising you this utopian dream that this decay of the country is because of these people. 65 years this country has come from what to what.

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Image: 'If you dare to oppose him, then you will have the wrath of that intolerant brigade against you,' says Mahesh Bhatt.


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'The Gandhian ideology is the only ideology that will see India through'

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Syed Firdaus Ashraf/Rediff.com

But secularism and the Congress party have not delivered. There are no jobs for youngsters. There are power cuts.

(Interrupts) I want to ask you a question. The real leader is not the one who builds flyovers and bridges. The real leader gets into the space of the human hearts which are at war and brings them together.

Gandhi did that. Gandhi said, first your hearts have to come together. There cannot be a nation which is vibrant and strong where there is hatred which is tearing you apart.

This nation has a sizeable number of minorities. And not all in the majority as you would like to believe are rooting for Narendra Modi and the Hindutva ideology.

There are innumerable people in the majority community who have very different political inclinations. It is like a modern home. You can have all the modern gadgets and luxury in your home, but the hearts of the people who are staying in the home are going to be distant, what is going to happen to that home? It is going to crumble in a matter of days.

I would say, great societies come together, come close together, feel a sense of bonding together like the black man and white man resolved their problem in the United States. Nelson Mandela showed you the path which Gandhi sowed.

I think the answer lies in that. I am not dazzled by your growth narratives. It is not about this election. Please get me straight -- it is not about this election or the subsequent election. I am talking about at this particular curve of 2014 where I stand.

I stand by what my father fought for in 1942 to defend Gandhi.

The Gandhian ideology is the only ideology that will see India through whether you like it or not, you will find out in the course of time.


Image: Children dressed as Mahatma Gandhi at a peace march in Kolkata.
Photographs: Rupak De Chowdhuri/Reuters

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