Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, was the research worth it?

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Theatrical Poster of Bhaag Milkha Bhaag. (Wikipedia)

Bhaag Milkha Bhaag as a movie not merely charmed the audiences but it also managed to strike a chord with the critics, something which is quite extraordinary when compared to the lasting trend in Bollywood ie the Hindi Film Industry. So far, the movie has managed to garner over 100 crore rupees at the box office which is worthy enough of being called a statistical spectacle.

Over the past one decade, sports as a film genre has been portrayed quite consistently on the big screen. We’ve had a number of film productions including Lagaan, Iqbal and Chak De India which managed to pull off a double whammy in terms of commercial and critical success. On the other hand, some experiments like that of Dhan Dhana Dhan Goal and Patiala House not only left the critics fuming but also failed to generate any buzz at the Box Office.

Coming back to the core issue, Bhaag Milkha Bhaag as a movie has got governmental recognition. Various state governments including that of Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Delhi have exempted the movie from being subjected to any kind of entertainment tax. Such steps of these state governments can be viewed as forms of moral compensation in a nation which has a habit of ignoring all sporting greats besides the ones who are a by-product of the game of cricket.

Taking into account the recognition which Bhaag Milkha Bhaag has received, one would certainly think very highly of the movie in terms of research since it is a sort of a biography, if not an entirely original one. However, the team behind Bhaag Milkha Bhaag has committed a very small yet significant error during the course of the movie. The error in itself is meaningless but it raises quite a few fundamental questions which more or less make us believe that Indian filmmakers are indeed very causal researchers.

The said error occurs when the movie is nearing its killer moment. Milkha Singh is in Pakistan to compete against Pakistani athletes in a goodwill tournament which has been organized by the Government of Pakistan in collaboration with the Government of India. As the final race is about to begin, various individuals including Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Milkha Singh’s sister tune in the radio to follow the developments in Lahore live. The radio commentator can be heard as announcing, “It seems that entire Pakistan has settled inside the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore.”

Err, what did you say? Gaddafi Stadium? This race was supposedly held shortly after the 1960 Rome Olympics. There was no place called Gaddafi Stadium at that time in Lahore. The Lahore Stadium which was originally built in 1959 was renamed after Libyan Dictator Muamar Gaddafi in the year 1974. If we historically trace the sequence of events, this race would have allegedly taken place when Gaddafi was in his twenties, his date of birth being in 1940. What is worse is that Gaddafi would have been a nobody at that point in time since the coup in Libya (which Gaddafi was a part of) took place in 1969.

The incorrect usage of the “Gaddafi stadium” is not only comical but it shows how even intelligent filmmakers like Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra show no concern for historical events during the narration of their movie’s plot. It is one thing to dress up events in order to create necessary “movie masala” but to refer some place by a name which was non-existent at the occurrence of the said event is pure stupidity and dumbness.

Subramanian Swamy to intensify saffronization of BJP

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Subramanian Swamy with Senior BJP Leaders while merging his party with the BJP. (HT Photo)

Janata Party President and Legal Activist Subramanian Swamy has merged his party with the BJP in the lead up to the 2014 General Elections. The merger took place in the presence of BJP President and Former UP Chief Minister Rajnath Singh. Speaking on the occasion, Dr Swamy stated, “As Rajnath Ji correctly said, the country is passing through a difficult time.. for unity, for nationalistic purposes, the party is needed by the country today because of all the problems that we are having.” What we need to keep in mind over here is the usage of terms like “unity” by a person like Dr Swamy who is in reality an epitome of divisiveness and communal poison coupled with opportunistic politics.

Just a couple of weeks back, Dr Swamy gave an interview to Rahul Kanwal of India Today Group. In that interview, Dr Swamy articulated upon the strategy which the BJP should adopt in the coming elections to defeat the Congress Party and its allies. He stressed on the need for the BJP to unite the Hindus and divide the Muslims. He opined that sectarianism among Muslims has lead to a large chunk of support for the BJP from groups like that of the Shias. Headlines Today organized for a panel discussion on the communal strategy which had been proposed by Dr Swamy on its sister channel. The spokesperson who represented the BJP’s viewpoint on the show clearly distanced his party from the views expressed by Dr Swamy. When pressed upon by Congress representatives on the show, BJP’s emissary chose to defend his party by bringing up the equally hateful case of Akbaruddin Owaisi. He rhetorically asked whether the Congress agrees with whatever has been said by its former allies, a veiled reference to MIM and Akbaruddin Owaisi. Taking this line of argument, BJP got away without having to face massive embarrassment as competitive communalism ruled the roost.   

Over the past few years, specifically after he gained prominence following his role in exposing the 2G scam, Dr Swamy has fashioned himself as a Hindutva ideologue. He has also authored a book titled “Hindus Under Seige: The Way Out” in which he has highlighted the threats faced by Hindus by Islamic aggressors. These fierce steps have helped Dr Swamy in achieving for himself a massive fandom which primarily consists of Internet Hindus, bulk of whom are based outside India and are enthusiastic about liberating Bharat from the “mlecchas” whom the Congress Parts keeps on appeasing all the time. The terror attack on Mumbai on July 13, 2011 was followed by a pernicious article by Dr Swamy in which he more or less suggested a sort of state terrorism to subjugate the Muslims of India. The article published in DNA under the heading “Analysis: How to Wipe Out Islamic Terror” on 16th July, 2011 mentioned “Remove the masjid in Kashi Vishwanath and the 300 masjids at other temple sites”. Dr Swamy also wrote in that article, “Declare India a Hindu Rashtra in which non-Hindus can vote only if they proudly acknowledge their Hindu ancestry.”

Concerned about the vitriolic nature of Dr Swamys writings, a law student at Delhi University sued him in court on charges of hate speech. Even though Dr Swamy was acquitted but that was only after he gave a written statement in court promising not to make any more of such provocative statements. However, that undertaking of his is being violated day in and day out as he continues to spew venom and hatred through his speeches, interviews and writings. When MIM goon Akbaruddin Owaisi threatened to finish off 100 crore Hindus of India in less than 15 minutes, Dr Swamy responded to him on Times Now’s Newshour by stating that we saw what exactly happened in Gujarat when the police was removed for 15 minutes. Communal bigots like Swamy and Owaisi should be locked up in a single room and made to hear each other continuously for days. Only then will they realize the kind of nonsense which the people of India have to tolerate because of them.

Coming to the core issue, Dr Swamy’s entry into the BJP is going to strengthen the Hindutva plank of the saffron party. By way of recent news reports, we came to know that the RSS top brass in Nagpur has given Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi a go ahead to raise the Ram Temple issue in a big way during the 2014 General Elections. With Modi’s confidante Amit Shah already entrusted with the responsibility of managing the most crucial state of Uttar Pradesh, Dr Swamy’s open Hindutva bent is going to come in handy for the BJP in fundamentalist constituencies where backwardness remains high and elections are fought on grounds of religion. Dr Swamy can also play a very prominent role in reviving the fortunes of the BJP in the southern part of the nation. While Narendra Modi might try and woo back BS Yeddyurappa into the party as Yeddyurappa is considered close to Modi since he openly endorsed him for Prime Ministerial candidacy, Dr Swamy on the other hand might use his Tamil following to win the BJP a few seats in Tamil Nadu. Narendra Modi’s friendship with Jayalalitha will also help the BJP in Tamil Nadu.

However, Dr Swamy’s can also create a host of problems for the BJP since he is a maverick and loose cannon who can hardly be expected to toe the party line. Throughout his political career, Swamy was at loggerheads with BJP’s Bheeshma Pitamah Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Not only did Swamy mastermind the fall of Vajpayee government by hosting a tea party for Sonia Gandhi and Jayalalitha, he also accused Vajapayee in later years of being hand in glove with Sonia Gandhi. Dr Swamy also criticized the RSS in one of his controversial articles published in Frontline (Jan 22 – Feb 04, 2000). He wrote, “Today the creeping fascism of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) is coming upon not as gradually as imperialism did nor as suddenly as the Emergency did.” He further mentioned in that article that RSS’s concept      of Hindutva justice revolves around liberation of minorities through mercy killing. Just last year, Dr Swamy surprised many in Delhi by drumming up support for the Presidential candidacy of Purno Sangma. In one of the Press Conferences, he hit out at the Congress for opposing Sangma’s candidature merely because he was a tribal and a Christian.

A careful scrutiny of Dr Swamy’s words and actions would show that he happens to be among the most opportunistic politicians of India. From being an anti-Hindutva activist, he has gone on to become the poster boy of Hindutva. Narendra Modi at present is carefully crafting a campaign which he believes will open the doors of 7 Race Course Road for him but the fact of the matter is that Dr Swamy with all his eloquence might play spoilsport for the man from Gujarat. Modi is currently undergoing an image change whereby he is positioning himself as a leader of not merely the Hindus. Dr Swamy has been high on the Hindutva agenda since quite some time and during the campaign trail, he might explode anytime with exaltations of converting the country into a Hindu Rashtra. That sort of a blunder would alienate liberal Hindus and minorities in totality from the BJP. We must not forget that some BJP leaders still blame Varun Gandhi’s hate speech in Pilibhit for the debacle which BJP faced in 2009 despite Advani being their Prime Ministerial candidate.

I can say for sure that many BJP leaders would not be willing to fight elections in 2014 on a solid Hindutva plank. While discussing about sedition laws on NDTV’s We The People, I asked Meenakshi Lekhi (BJP Spokesperson), about the concept of Hindu Rashtra as articulated upon by the likes of Dr Swamy. She did not answer the question and when Barkha Dutt pressurized her further, she chose to brush aside Dr Swamy’s remarks since he wasn’t a party member. But now the situation has taken a u-turn with the BJP no longer in a position to keep its hands off Dr Swamy. Modi has definitely turned softer by not directly attacking minority groups but his speeches are still feeding fundamentalists as they are laced with puns meant to excite the imagination of the mob. It will be interesting to see how Modi exploits Dr Swamy’s expertise both in terms of activism and an unabashed Hindu nationalist. Will Modi allow Swamy to go completely haywire during the campaigning by effectively raising Hindutva issues like Ram Tample in Ayodhya, Enactment of Uniform Civil Code and Abrogation of Article 370 or will he utilize his ability of churning our conspiracy theories to discredit and expose his political opponents like Sonia and Rahul Gandhi?     

Linguistic Chauvinism in 21st Century India

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                                                  “Ae Ram-Rahim ke matwaalo
                                                  Bhasha ke liye kyun ladte ho,
                                                  Allah bhi Hindi jaane hai,
                                                  Bhagwan bhi Urdu jaane hai!”

BJP President and Former Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh Rajnath Singh courted controversy last month by stating that the maximum damage to Indian culture had been inflicted upon by English language. His comments invited wrath from various sections of the media and intellectual class. Party spokespersons of the BJP tried to defend their exposed party President by stating that he spoke against Anglicization of India and not against English as a language. The point which needs to be addressed over here has wider implications and appeals to the idea of a diverse nation where linguistic chauvinism doesn’t come in the way of ensuring egalitarianism and justice to all.

The principle problem with 21st century India is that we have confused English with education and Hindi with nationalism. In the former case, we tend to opine that since English is a universal language, it is but necessary for everyone to have fundamental knowledge of the language as it serves as the link between persons belonging to different countries. Press Council Chairman and votary of English language in India, Justice Katju believes that since all the knowledge of the world is tightly concealed in books written by English speaking people, it is imperative for a seeker of knowledge to know English.

There is no denying of the fact that no language of the world has even come close to achieving the kind of universalism which English has but to say that English books have monopolized knowledge is certainly wrong.  While it is important for one to be aware of basic knowledge of English for the purpose of cross cultural communication, it makes no sense to even claim for a second that persons not having good command over English are worthless. Unfortunately, this kind of snobbish bigotry is more prevalent in former colonized nations as they are busy in their quest of aping their colonizers.

Ever since independence or maybe even before that, considering the fact that it was the Hindi-Urdu controversy in 19th century which caused a communal polarization between Hindus and Muslims of undivided India, language has been a defining factor in setting the tone of Indian politics. Contrary to public perception and general knowledge, Hindi is not the national language of India. Instead it enjoys the status of the official language of India as enacted through legislation inside Parliament in 1950. There are several languages which have been enlisted in the 8th Schedule to the Indian Constitution. Schedules to the Constitution pertain to inconclusive debates held in the Constituent Assembly.

The maximum resistance to embracing Hindi has come from the Southern parts of India. Dravidian leader CN Annadurai was the formidable force behind unifying Tamilians in opposing Hindi. He did recognize the fact that Hindi was spoken by a large number of people in India (approximately 40%) but he reasoned that if we go by this logic then crow and not the peacock should be the national bird of India. We’ve got to realize that a pluralistic society cannot be planked around blatant majoritarianism. By raising populist slogans like “Ek rajya, ek bhasha, nahi chahiye doosri bhasha” we are alienating none except our own people.

We’ve got to realize and recognize the right of every group to speak whichever language they wish to. If we come in the way of this inalienable right of human beings then we inevitably provide them with excuses to turn to separatism and secessionism. In the long run, such kind of a policy can lead to balkanization of small countries and civil wars or at least frequent disturbances in large nation states. The Sachar Committee appointed by the Government of India rightly pointed out that one of the foremost reasons for backwardness of Indian Muslims was because of their inability to acquire education in their mother tongue. A tolerant nation of the size of India should always ensure that it institutionalizes the use of a specific language for official purposes if it is spoken by a minimum of 7-8% of the population in the given state.

The third common problem associated with languages is in terms of them being identified with certain religions. A perfect example of this can be the supposed “Arab nationalism” which prevails among Muslim majority countries. Arabic was not developed by Muslims. The language of Arabic predates the Islamic Prophet yet we see this strange kind of obsession whereby Maulvis insist upon reading the Quran only in Arabic. Why is it that religious leaders at large have remained wary of translations? Isn’t it better to read the scripture in a language which you can understand instead of merely rote learning and memorizing certain passages of the scripture with the intention of repeating them every morning without even knowing their meaning? It is more logical to read the original scripture (if you can) and then interpret or reflect upon it using translations. By this way we can actually implement into our lives what our scriptures want us to.

In India we also see some people jumping upon the anti-caste bandwagon and use the opportunity to bash Sanskrit. A whole galaxy of linguists and Dalit-sympathizing academicians argue that Sanskrit is the language of exclusion. We can never ridicule a language on the basis of such a bizarre proposition. Languages don’t work by themselves. Human beings tend to implement them and the caste Brahmins utilized Sanskrit in a manner to benefit them. They never really allowed Dalits to become proficient in Sanskrit. That doesn’t mean that Sanskrit by its very nature is anti-Dalit. The fact of the matter is that the ones who exploited Sanskrit on caste lines were anti-Dalit. Sanskrit was never actually a religious language. It was a language of the elites, very much as Urdu was the language of elite Indians prior to independence.

Languages are tools for communication and not tools for division. No language can be held to be superior to another as all languages have their own essence. It is our duty to strive and ensure highest possible levels of linguistic diversity by saving the endangered languages of the world. The association of certain languages with intelligence, nationalism or religion is not only unhealthy but is also in contravention of their origins and history.