'Parzania' blackout is more proof of the mob's sway in Gujarat

Feb 9, 2007 Amulya Ganguli


It is not the best of times for Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi.

First, the poster boy of the Hindutva brigade was summarily shunted out of the Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) parliamentary board by the party's new president, Rajnath Singh, in a move which seemingly had the blessings of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).

Secondly, a film on the Gujarat riots of 2002, "Parzania", which cannot be shown in the state because it has earned the wrath of militant Hindu organisations, has confirmed that the state remains in the grip of these anti-minority groups.

"Parzania" is based on the real life story of a Parsi boy, with the Muslim-sounding name of Azhar, who has been missing since 2002. But the people of Gujarat will not be able to see it because of threats from the RSS-affiliated Hindu supremacist organisations like the Bajrang Dal.

"Parzania" is not the first film to face such a "ban" because of mob rule. Aamir Khan's "Fanaa" also could not be shown because of Khan's support for an agitation in favour of those displaced by the Narmada dam.

Although "Fanaa" has nothing to do with the dam, which is one of the showpieces of the Modi government, the mere fact of Khan's involvement in what is portrayed as an anti-dam movement was enough for the belligerent Hindu outfits to take to the streets, with the police looking on as helpless spectators.

"Parzania", too, depicts this supine role of the police during the riots under orders from the ruling politicians. It is a portrayal too close to the truth for the comfort of the Modi government. Although the government did offer promises of protection to the multiplexes and other cinema owners if they showed the film, they were not convinced, presumably because of their experience during the riots when the saffron cadres vent their wrath on the Muslims with the tacit connivance of the police.

Not surprisingly, the cinema owners have had no hesitations about showing a film, "Black Friday", on the Mumbai blasts of March 1993 carried out by Islamist terrorists. While the heinous acts of the latter can be freely exhibited, the depredations of the Hindu extremists have to be kept from the public eye.

What these events demonstrate is that for all of Modi's claims about a vibrant Gujarat, the prevailing state of affairs is far from normal. The state is not only riven by a tense communal divide, but is also vulnerable to lumpen elements of the saffron brotherhood whose pronouncements on what the ordinary people can see or do cannot be ignored.

The industrialists may have recently evinced considerable interest in investing in Gujarat, having been persuaded by the Modi government to overcome their earlier reservations about the volatile communal situation, but the "Parzania" episode cannot but induce second thoughts.

The unofficial "ban" on the film shows that rabid organisations like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and Bajrang Dal evidently consider themselves to be above the law. They have acquired this arrogance ever since the BJP came to power in 1997 and declared its intention to turn Gujarat into a virtual Hindu rashtra (state) - a dream nurtured by the RSS about the entire country.

The Christians were the first targets in the Dangs area where churches were attacked over a period of more than a year. But these were relatively minor incidents compared to the two-month-long anti-Muslim pogroms of 2002 when 2,000 people were killed. Not only that, there was overwhelming evidence of police inaction both during and after the riots.

If, as "Parzania" shows, the police were in "collusion with the rioters", according to a review of the film, the collusion persisted even after the riots when 2,000-odd cases were hurriedly closed because the miscreants were said to be absconding or because the witnesses turned hostile.

The "failure" of the police to nab the guilty was so blatant that the Supreme Court had no option but to reopen all the cases, apart from transferring some of the more infamous ones for trial outside Gujarat.

"Parzania" is not the only film to have been made on the riots. Another film, "Dev", starring Amitabh Bachchan and Om Puri as the good and bad cops, also shows instances of police complicity at the behest of the politicians.

But if the militant Hindu outfits have found "Parzania" particularly offensive, the reason perhaps is its focus on a single tragic incident - the mob attack on the Gulbarga housing society. Azhar's parents hoped that the film might help them to find their son. But now their hopes have been dashed.

There is little doubt that Modi's inability to let the film be shown will undermine his "strong man" image, which he has been trying to build up about himself. If he has bowed to the threats of the Bajrang Dal, it means that he is wary of a confrontation with it. After all, organisations like these provide muscle power to the BJP during the elections.

And the chief minister's helplessness means that the investors cannot place much faith in his ability to control the situation in case of another communal outbreak.

In either case, the chief minister's efforts to take Gujarat along the path of development, in which he has had some notable successes, will suffer a setback.

For the BJP, the film is yet another example which shows that its association with violent anti-minority acts, such as the demolition of the Babri mosque or the Gujarat riots, will continue to haunt it in the foreseeable future.

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