Even those hitherto unfamiliar with the cultural accomplishments of Prasoon Joshi will get lyrical over his principled stance that he would stay away from the much-awaited Jaipur Literary Festival rather than participate in an event clouded over by the distasteful shenanigans triggered by the movie ‘Padmaavat’ which he had helped clear ~ in his capacity as head of the Central Board of Film Certification.
Though appointed to that position by the present government, Joshi had flexed his moral muscle to swim against the political tide and held up to ridicule the demand from extremist Rajput forces to ban the film. He has further reaffirmed his commitment to freedom of artistic expression by refusing to join in any festivity in the state whose political leadership has fuelled the senseless passions generated by a false sense of prestige and community pride. True the JLF was not a Vasundhra Raje “show”, but the Rajasthan chief minister cannot escape some of the sting resulting from Joshi’s rap.
Only those who wallow in low thinking will accept the argument that Joshi chickened out because of the threats issued to him by that new monster on the cultural scene, the Karni Sena which has publicly condemned the Supreme Court for ordering the film to be screened with requisite police protection.
Like most persons of principle Joshi was restrained in his comment, and said he was staying away to avoid the JLF getting “sidetracked” and attention being diverted, but he did make his stand on the film very clear: “I did my job, and sincerely took a sensitive and balanced call. As I have said earlier, certification was done with due processes, incorporating valid suggestions whilst staying mindful to the concerns of society as well as to the canvas of cinema. It’s sad that we are not relying on genuine peaceful dialogue.
It’s important that we keep mutual trust and faith in each other and our institutions so that the issues don’t reach this far.” The organisers of the JLF appreciated his position (he had been slotted to lead one discussion) and added that “there is no place for violence in the narrative of a new India. Whoever ignites the flame of hatred, will be consumed.”
It is a crying shame that no leader of national status saluted the CBFC chief, and their silence only articulates the apprehension of the apex court that mob-rule is threatening to overtake Constitutional “basics”. Whether leading cultural figures will be keen on serving the CBFC in future is an open question.
Some institutions are not to be politically compromised, and when a government does not fully back a panel it had entrusted with doing a tricky job its own position must be queried. And that has little to do with emotional politicking ~ vote-gathering is not the sole certification good governance seeks.