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Politics through a film script

THERE was a Bombay movie in 1964, a few weeks before Nehru’s death. It was called Leader, the only film for which the late actor Dilip Kumar wrote the story. Legend has it that he ghost-wrote stories for some of his other movies, but this was the one he took credit for. He was a politically active filmmaker who greatly admired India’s first prime minister, as Nehru did him. The way India’s democracy is being hollowed out by a venal plutocracy, the story of the Leader becomes prescient.

Truly fortuitous that Dilip Kumar could see the denouement quite vividly six decades ago. Take a particularly relevant scene. Dewan Mahendranath (played by late character actor Jayant) is holding a secret meeting where Mr Ghatak is being set up by a business cabal to be their candidate against a Nehruvian leader called Acharyaji.

Jayant’s lines nicely describe the seeding of plutocracy in India. “Agreed that Acharya is a very great leader. He has the complete support of the people, but, and a big but, he doesn’t have the power of money. And money is God, Mr Ghatak. Today, everybody worships money not idealism.” Ghatak moans that it would still be impossible for him to defeat Acharyaji, and to win the election.

“We are not planning to win the election, Mr Ghatak,” Jayant interrupts. “We have to buy the election with our money. We’ll spend whatever it takes to buy the votes. And the corpse of socialism that Mr Acharya propagates will be carried on your shoulders, Mr Ghatak. Politics has become a lucrative business, Mr Ghatak. Billions of rupees are at stake. Factories and mills our forebears left us, the government is imposing tax, super-tax and countless penalties on them. Commissions are investigating our government tenders. Our trade licences are threatened with cancellation at the slightest excuse. Since Acharya is involved in this, we’ll have to cut that hand.”

Where do we stand in the corporate management of India’s democracy that increasingly serves the interests of private profit?

Another tycoon growls: “We have to keep the government on a very short leash.”

Dewan Mahendranath was handed a windfall with India’s free-market reforms. The result is out in the open.

Six decades on, Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi would become prime minister in 2014, riding his campaign for a Hindu temple on the rubble of a mosque he worked to destroy in Ayodhya. A cabal of business heads then called a meeting to anoint him their candidate in the 2014 polls. The outcome was a brew of corporate muscle power and a party using its mega coffers to ply and project religiously driven street power.

Mr Modi arrived to take the oath of office in the private plane of one of his key backers, the business tycoon Gautam Adani. Their friendship would be called into question with the Adani affair breaking out.

There were other fallouts from money power. Three major states the BJP rules today and several smaller ones where it has taken the support from opposition ranks bear the stamp of corporate hold on politics. Opposition governments in Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Karnataka were toppled by defections. It was evident that the BJP, which rules these states, alone or with allies, did not win them clearly, a blessing in disguise for opponents. Karnataka is to test the perfidy in assembly polls on May 10.

So where do we stand in the corporate management of India’s democracy that increasingly serves the interests of private profit?

According to a former associate who Mr Modi made governor of Jammu and Kashmir, the prime minister is perpetually self-absorbed and seems unbothered by the daily problems of the republic. The phrase Satya Pal Malik used in his bold interview with Karan Thapar was “Modiji mast hain apne mein, to hell with it!” He has little or no real knowledge of the raging issues in Jammu and Kashmir. Informed about a security blunder that led to a terror attack, killing dozens of paramilitary men, his response was to keep the matter quiet. He used the massacre to woo young voters for his 2019 election campaign. “Mr Modi has no particular dislike for corruption either,” Mr Malik said.

In any functioning democracy the government would be on the mat on many or any of the charges Mr Malik levelled at the prime minister, on his government and his key aides who he named in what would have been a game-changing interview in another country. There was a time in Indian democracy when a routine train accident would prompt the railway minister to take moral responsibility and quit. One of Nehru’s finance ministers was made to resign over charges of favouritism in a business decision, levelled by the prime minister’s own son-in-law. Those were indeed halcyon days of India’s unexpectedly vibrant democracy.

The former governor of Jammu and Kashmir has thus publicly accused the Modi government of corruption and incompetence in running the security of the sensitive region. The massacre of 40 paramilitary men could have been avoided had the government not refused to provide the aircraft that were requisitioned to ferry the forces.

Neither the government nor the gaggle of fawning journalists seemed interested in even touching the interview. This is not surprising.

Consider the shrieking silence of the government over the alleged manipulation of his company’s share prices by Gautam Adani, a friend of Mr Modi. It was in his private plane that Mr Modi arrived in Delhi to take the oath of office in 2014. Not a squeak from the prime minister, not from the media on the international scandal.

Worse, Sharad Pawar, a senior opposition leader, hitherto regarded as the pivot to opposition unity for 2024 elections, took a stand to praise Adani, and oppose a parliamentary probe. Dilip Kumar had a line for him too. “Kulhadi mein lakdi ka dasta na hota/ To lakdi ke katne ka rasta na hota.” (But for the wooden handle in the axe, there would be no way for the axe to harm the trees.)

email: jawednaqvi@gmail.com

Jawed Naqvi, "Politics through a film script," Dawn. 2023-05-02.
Keywords: Political science , Political issues , Political aspects , Political parties , Political leaders