Raajneeti – Movie Review

Raajneeti was one of the most awaited movies of the year for many reasons. Very few Indian movies have an ensemble cast; Prakash Jha has made some very good social-political movies like Mrityudand and Gangaajal and as the title suggests, this movie was expected to be an out and out political drama unlike his earlier movies where Politics was not the main theme but just one of many backdrops.  Prakash Jha had been active in politics and even contested two Lok Sabha elections from his home state Bihar; once as an independent (2004) and once from Lok Janashakti Party (2009). All this had raised my expectations from the movie.

The story is inspired from Mahabharat. All main characters are from one single joint family and fight each other for the political legacy after the family patriarch is paralyzed. Surprisingly for a political movie, not much attention is paid to other parties but the story revolves around different members of one family trying to take over the party. We have seen this happening in many political parties (in Congress after the death of Sanjay Gandhi when a feeble attempt was made by Menaka Gandhi to inherit the poilitical legacy of Sanjay only to be rebuked by Indira Gandhi and more recently in DMK). Of course the real life clashes were not as bloody as it is in the movie. Most Indian political parties are controlled by families where head of the party treats the party as his/her fiefdom to be passed on to some family member. Jha has successfully portrayed this aspect of Indian politics.

Mostly the movie is good. Surprisingly even Arjun Rampal has pulled off his character of a politician from the Hindi heartland really well and as expected Katrina Kaif is unconvincing because of her accented Hindi. They should definitely have used voice over dubbing for her. Or maybe Prakash Jha subtly wanted us to think of Sonia Gandhi when we see Katrina. In fact the scene where Katrina tries to evoke sympathy in her voters by reminding them of sacrifices made by her family, reminds us of Sonia Gandhi. No wonder Congress forced Prakash Jha to change the dialogue Vidhwa vote le jaayegi (The widow will take away the votes) to Bitiya Vote le jaayegi (The daughter will take away the votes). All characters are well etched and believable. Full marks to Prakash Jha for this. Many Hindi movies have tried to show state of Indian Politics in recent times. As far as closeness to reality is concerned Raajneeti is the best so far though it is not perfect. The story though inspired from Mahabharat is indeed hatke.

Of course the movie has some flaws. And the biggest being the failure to use Mahabharat as a backdrop convincingly. Some sequences inspired by Karan’s birth & Arjun’s hesitation to kill Karan in the climax just did not click. Thankfully, Jha restrained himself in showing Katrina as modern day Draupadi. He had clarified in his many publicity interviews that the movie is not inspired from Mahabharat but the characters are. By this he implied that there is no hero or villain, as we generally have in Hindi movies, but the characters have Grey shades. This sounded good as it is indeed difficult to adapt the epic in a 3 hour movie (the movie is a little less than 3 hours) but Jha has tried to do so and this is the movie’s biggest undoing. In fact one may wonder whether the movie is on Indian Pilitics and Mahabharat is used as backdrop or Jha intended to make a modern day Mahabharat and Indian Politics is used as a backdrop.

Despite its flaws it is one of the better movies in recent times and the best in its genre so far. It definitely deserves a watch.

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Will we see the return of nervous 90s ?

Till poll results do us apart ..

Till poll results do us apart ..

The next eight weeks would be very cucial for India’s future. This may sound cliched as the phrase is repeated before every general election but India is at a very important point wherein if we fail to capitalise on our demographic dividend, we may miss the bus again. And when we see leaders like Sharad Pawar, Mayawati, Ram Vilas Paswan aspiring for the top job with no national agenda, it sends shivers down the spine. Will we again see someone like Charan Singh (1979), VP Singh (1989), Chandrashekhar (1990),  Devegowda (1996) or I K Gujral (1997) who became Prime Minister not because of public support but because they had least political opposition? Will we again see a period of political uncertainity, policy paralysis & indecisive Government? We are told that Manmohan Singh could not carry out any economic reforms as he was dependent on Communists. What would a Sharad Pawar, Ram Vilas Paswan or Mayawati do who would be even more dependent on Communists and other smaller parties ? If scientific and not so scientific polls are to be believed, we would see UPA leading a hung parliament i.e. none of the pre poll alliance will get the majority. In 2004, all opinion polls, exit polls and astrologers were proved wrong. There is no reason to believe that this may not happen again.

There are several possibilities if neither NDA, UPA or the third front gets majority. But the three most probable scenarios are :

  • Post elections, parties which comprise third front would join either NDA or UPA resulting in a Congress or BJP led Government
  • Communists could support Congress led Government which does not include Manmohan Singh and P Chidambram
  • Either Congress or  BJP decide to support a Sharad Pawar or Mayawati as PM.

Of all the three possibilities, it is the third possibility which is the bleakest of all. All previous third front Governments were either supported by BJP or Congress  (Janata Party of 1977 had Jan Sangha (former BJP) as an important constituent). Both BJP and Congress have nothing to gain politically by supporting a third front Government at the centre. Congress has seen its base shrinking and loosing ground to the same parties which it supported to form Government in the centre (SP in Uttar Pradresh, RJD in Bihar and JD (S) in Karnataka are a few examples). BJP paid the same price in UP for supporting Mayawati thrice to become Chief Minister. So will Congrerss or BJP support Mayawati to become PM ? Not if they are serious about being relevant in Indian Politics. 

Mayawati and her supporters believe that the country is moving towards bi polar polity and wish to see BSP as one of the two poles. That means exticntion of either BJP or Congress. Any move by Congress or BJP to support Mayawati would be detrimental to both BJP and Congress. And hence even if Maywati gets 60 seats from UP (the most optimistic scenario) and insists on becoming PM,  she would be as irrelevant as Mulayam was with 37 MPs in the fourteenth Lok Sabha. Apart from Mayawati, leaders like Sharad Pawar, Ram Vilas Paswan, Jayalalita are not serious contenders. All these leaders are fighting for their political survival and are not even contesting all the seats in their respective states. Talks of Prime Ministership are just a gimmick to enthuse voters on regional and caste lines. Sharad Pawar’s party is facing a dual anti incumbency in Maharashtra. The fact that he raised the issue of Marathi PM should clear doubts about his seriousness for the top job. Pawar is too seasoned a politician (He has tried his luck before in 1991 after the death of Rajiv Gandhi) to know that one cannot become a serious contender for PM of India by stoking regional passions.

The carrot of Marathi PM is for the voters in Maharashtra to beat the anti incumbency factor. Shivsena realised this a little late. But will the voter in Maharashtra realise this gameplan before he votes? We will know this only on 16th May.

Where is Sajjanpur ?

Welcome to Sajjanpur is like a breath of fresh air. The movie is not a cinematic masterpiece. In fact, it may not be even in the Top 5 Hindi movies of 2008 for many cinegoers. But after a long time we have a commercial Hindi movie which is set in a village. The movie has several sub plots dealing with  love, superstitions, politics, widow remarriage, casteism but doesn’t get preachy.The hero is a letter-writer and the heroine makes earthern pots for a living. The movie is indeed hatke

It is really surprising that after a long gap, we have a movie about lives of ordinary villagers. But why blame only Bollywood for this ? Our main stream media (mostly electronic) conviniently ignores rural India as if it doesn’t exist !! And to think of it, around 70% of India’s population is rural. Let us have a look at the media coverage of some key events in the last few years.

In November 2006, Anant Gupta, son of Adobe India’s CEO Naresh Gupta was kidnapped from Noida. The news was immediately on all the major news channels. Rajdeep Sardesai of CNN IBN, wanted all his viewers to light candles so that Anant could be rescued. Naresh Gupta had to beg to all the news channels to stop covering the incident as he feared that extensive media coverage may put his son’s life in danger. Contrast this with the “missing” of around 30 children around the same period (2005-2006) from Nithari village. Nithari is not very far from Naresh Gupta’s house. The village is in Noida, at the outskirts of city. However for all the major news channels the village was indeed on a different planet till dead bodies of the missing children were found from a drain.

Something similar happened after the murder of Arushi Talwar, again in Noida. The murder got a lot of coverage initially when it was suspected that it is an honour killing. Now, thousands have been killed in several North Indian villages in the name of honour but none of them recieved as much coverage as the murder of Arushi.

This disinterest of media is not limited in covering routine crime cases such as murders or kidnaps. Even when it comes to national secirity, rural India recieves this callous treatment. For example between 2003 and July 2008 around 575 people were killed due to Islamic terrorism in major towns, however around 571 people were killed in Naxal attacks just in the first ten months of last year. Infact since 2002 more than 4000 people have been killed because of Naxal violence wheras around 700 people lost their lives due to Islamic terrorism. Our PM believes and rightly so that Naxals are a bigger threat to India. But still Naxal violence recieves less coverage as most Naxal attacks take place in villages or small towns.

It is not hard to guess the reason for this callous attitude of electronic media towards rural India. Most of Cable & Satelite homes in India are in metros. TRP ratings decide the extent of coverage for any subject. But India cannot shine for long if Bharat continues to whine. Print media, especially vernacular dalies are doing a far better job in covering rural India. This is again because of commercial reasons. Vernacular dailies have a big market in rural India. English dailies are no different from our electronic media as they don’t have a market in villages. Infact, a reviewer in a major English daily wondered whether a village can still have letter writer as shown in Welcome to Sajjanpur ,in the age of mobile phones. The fact is that most of villages are out of any wireless or cable coverage. It seems we will have to wait for the day till cable TV reach our villages, for them to get any recognition.

Now there is nothing wrong in extensive coverage of terrorist acts or crimes in cities as this puts pressure on our law and order machinery and results in early cracking of case as is evident with the recent arrests of terrorists from Indian Mujaheedin and cracking of other cases which recieved wide publicity. So their is no doubt that media scrutiny and pressure has a positive effect. However, it would be great if media also pays some attention at our villages and non-metro towns which are facing Naxal violence. Maybe more scrutiny and coverage by media would force the Government to take some effective steps just as it did to crack the recent terror attacks. Infact there are a lot more stories of courage and hope in rural India which deserve to be seen and heard by us. Lets hope that Sajjanpurs are welcomed by our media and all of us.

The Kashmir Conundrum

The crisis in Kashmir is at a crucial stage. Our actions at this juncture will not only decide the fate of Kashmir and India but of entire South East Asia. In the last few days we have seen a sudden spate of views not just by left liberals but also by centrists like Vir Sanghvi and Swaminathan Aiyar suggesting secession of Kashmir from India. It is really baffling to see them suggesting this just because demand for secession has increased in the last few days.

Was the merger of Kashmir with India unjustified ?

Swaminathan Aiyar questions the merger of Kashmir with India by comparing the merger of  Junagarh with India. He conviniently forgets that India is a secular country wheras Pakistan is a theocratic state. A Hindu majority region could not have merged with Muslim Pakistan. Muslim majority region could merge with India because India is a secular state. Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nahru, Sardar Patel and millions of Hindus and Muslims who stayed back in India, did not approve of Two Nation throry and that was the reason India remained secular. If Kashmir secedes from India just because it is a Muslim majority state, it will validate Two Nation theory and pave way for India to become a Hindu Rashtra. Besides, Two Nation Theory was debunked in 1971 with secession of Bangladesh from Pakistan and continuous illegal immigration of crores of Bangladeshis in India since then. Invoking Two nation theory to support secession today is devoid of any logic.

Is Kashmir a colony of India ?

Swami has went a step ahead and compared Kashmir to British India. This despite the fact that Kashmir is the only Indian state to recieve almost 100% funding from Central Government for its five year plans. The poverty level in Kashmir is lowest of all Indian states. A state like Bihar, which is one of the most backward state in the country, gets per capita central assistance of Rs 876 per year. Kashmir gets over ten times more: Rs 9,754 per year. It is the only Indian state to recieve special privileges under Article 370 that bars any non Kashmiri Indian from buying property in the state. Ofcourse, Kashmiris are free to buy property anywhere in the country. Now which “colony” in the history of the world was so pampered ? Vir Sanghvi rightly mentions that most elections held in Kashmir were not as free and fair as in rest of India. But how can this argument be used to merge Kashmir with Pakistan, which has been under dictatorship most of the time since its existence ? Even democratic Governments in Pakistan were always under the shadow of Army and no one can deny that even today Army and not the civilian Government is the most powerful establishment in Pakistan. So if Kashmir merges with Pakistan, would it get any special democratic right which is not enjoyed by the rest of Pakistan? Besides the status of Human Rights in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir should give an inkling to Kashmiris about the state of affairs in Pakistan. Compared to PoK, violation of Human Rights is far less in J&K as said by European Union, Human Rights Watch  and other agencies.

What if Kashmir secedes ?

Most probably we would see a repeat of communal violence that engulfed the nation in 1947, if Kashmir secedes. The only difference would be that now we do not have a Mahatma Gandhi who could soothe communal tensions.

Secession of Kashmir would open a pandora’s box and we would see similar demands from other regions in the country. When Raj Thackeray says that Maharashtrians have first right over any job created in the state, he is bashed by all and sundry (and rightly so), however we would see a Raj Thackeray in each state of India who would have some or the other grievance. Ironically, the same people who harshly criticise Raj Thackeray (and rightly so) do not find anything wrong with the seperatists of Kashmir !!!

As mentioned above, Kashmir’s economy is heavily dependent on Central Government’s aid. An independent Kashmir would be as successful as Pakistan or Bangladesh are today. Crores of Bangladeshis have already made India their home illegally. There is no strong reason to believe that the same story wont be repeated with Kashmir. Pakistan would obiviously try to annex Kashmir, which would be resisted by a strong section of Kashmiris and this will only make the entire South East Asia more unstable.

What is the solution ?

There is no quick fix. The Government needs to take all affected parties into confidence and resolve the Amarnath dispute, which triggered the current crisis. Even if Amarnath land transfer issue is resolved, we need to make a road map for a permanent solution. Pampering Kashmir with special status and a generous central financial assistance hasn’t worked. Financial assistance need not be stopped as the state is victim of terrorism, however Article 370 is part of the problem and not the solution. It is very important that Kashmiris mingle with people from rest of the country and Indians accept them as their own. But you need two hands to clap. Kashmir should be as open to rest of the country as is any other state. Abolishing Article 370 will bring Kashmir and India closer. This ofcourse is not the right time to abolish it but the Government should have a concrete road map to do so. Barring the two elections of 1977 & 2002, all elections in Kashmir are alleged to be rigged. We need to make sure that such mistakes are not repeated and Kashmiri participation in democratic processes is as good as any other state in the country. In short, Kashmiris should be encouraged to join mainstream India but not at the cost of injustice towards rest of India.

As Muzaffar Razmi said, Yeh Jabr Bhi Dekha Hai Tareekh Ki Nazron Ne, Lamhon Ne Khata Ki Thi Sadiyon Ne Saza Payee (History is witness to incidents where mistakes were made during split seconds for which entire generations had to pay the price till centuries). The Indian sub continent is still paying the price for the khata (mistake) made in 1947. Let us learn something from that mistake rather than repeat it.

For more insight on the issue read All Talk and No Action, MJ Akbar, K Subrahmanyam, Arif Mohammed Khan & Mohammed Wajihuddin