Millennium Post

Bachchans see what Modi shows

Multiple political affiliations don’t bog the Bachchans down. The First Family of Bollywood is pleased to serve opposing political camps and still live happily together. In the wake of the make or break Gujarat elections, the Bachchan bahu Aishwarya has been roped in to endorse Narendra Modi’s ‘bhavya and divya’ (glorious and divine) Gujarat. Aishwarya seemed only too comfortable parroting, with some improvisations of her own, the same old fried-in the-oil-of- Hindutva tropes of Gujarat as a model state, as she kept insisting how ‘at home’ she felt in Narendra Modi’s home turf.

Aishwarya’s joining the Gujarat bandwagon might not come as a surprise to anyone as father-in-law Amitabh has been the face of Gujarat tourism for quite some time now. The spate of advertorials promoting a Gujarat ‘rich in thousands of years of unbroken tradition (read Hindu religious practices), that the foreign maurauders (‘videshi’) tried to destroy unsuccessfully’, tacitly imply a Gujarat that is coloured by Modi’s version of virulent Hindutva, which does not acknowledge the mixed traditions of several faith and belief systems as well as the cluster of communities that the WesternIndian state has been home to.

Narendra Modi’s Gujarat has been a topic of passionate debate for over a decade now, ever since Modi swept to power in 2002 and won a convincing victory once again in 2007. While the corporate bosses and the rich industrialists consider Modi an exemplar politician and the finest administrator, reports on the ground suggest that the poor, especially those belonging to the religious minorities, might have a very different story to tell. On the one hand, Gujarat has been prospering for the elites and on the other, the masses have been crippled with problems such as communal tensions, intolerance towards minorities, corruption, price rise, law and order issues, increasing privatisation of higher education, and several other grave issues that the blinded-by-Modi’s-corporate-success media seems oblivious to.

But the Bachchans’ decision to endorse Gujarat is not affected by any wider considerations such as these, and Amitabh, and now Aishwarya, are busy canoodling the prospective prime ministerial candidate from the state. And their endorsing the state known for some of the worst communal pogroms in the history of India does not bother Jaya Bachchan, who is a member of Samajwadi Party, that is vehemently anti-Modi and against his brand of communal politics.

Jaya Bachchan, despite her political ties to Mulayam Singh Yadav’s party — which adhered to the camp of secular Congress during the recent FDI debate-cum-vote and even clubbed with archrival BSP in the process, just to keep the anti-secular forces of BJP away — is not perturbed that her husband and
are selling their iconic faces and legendary voices to promote a rabidly communal version of the State, and are serving the interests of a chief minister who has not given out a single ticket to a Muslim contestant for the 13 and 17 December Gujarat Assembly elections. So much for her political integrity and belief in the secular tenets of Samajwadi Party!

Amitabh’s Gujarat tourism advertisements showcase a make-believe version of the State, blatantly erasing swathes of geographical and historical sections. Where is the mention of the Parsi people who came from Iran (Persia) in 775 AD and have been living there for over a thousand years? While the architectural remains of the Nanda, Maurya, Satavahana and Gupta empires are paraded with enthusiasm and digitally-enhanced picture-perfect instances of traditional continuity, why doesn’t the camera capture any of the buildings built by the Mughals, especially in the strategically significant port of Surat? If the Somnath Temple can be the site of tourist-friendly stagey devotion, why is there no scene depicting the legendary Jami Masjid of Sanjan, a small town 150 km south of Surat, one of the oldest surviving mosques in Gujarat, built during the first half of ninth century AD, or the Jama Masjid of Bharuch built in 1065 AD? Obviously, the First Family of Bollywood does not believe in digging deeper than the pockets of their sponsors and contractors.

It is a pity to see Amitabh, who has played characters who are disenfranchised and Muslim in a string of 70’s and 80’s films, transmogrify into a loudspeaker for Narendra Modi’s partial vision of Gujarat. While Bachchan’s contribution to Gujarat tourism has been substantial, the message has been muddied by the blinkers of communal agenda that the State government has been poisonously trying to push through. 

However, the Bachchans are not alone in promoting a dishonestly glorious picture of the condition of an utterly misruled Indian state.  Brand ambassadors have a duty towards the people, which is not to be a promoter of a bag of lies. Conscience must play a crucial role in choosing to endorse a particular vision of a state: be it in the garb of promoting tourism or in the form of promoting an investor-friendly environment. (IPA)
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