The Accidental Prime Minister row: Rahul Gandhi and Congress in tough spot over free speech issue

Lending support to Jawaharlal Nehru University students in 2015 over the sedition row, the then Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi had tweeted:

Again in July this year, Rahul, who by then had become the party’s president, came in support of the makers of the web series Sacred Games in which there are uncharitable references to his father and former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi for the latter’s alleged role in Bofors Scam and involvement in the Shah Bano case. The Congress president had tweeted:

But the same Congress is now ignoring the 'freedom of speech' argument in the case of the upcoming film The Accidental Prime Minister. The Maharashtra Youth Congress has asked the producers of the film — based on former prime minister Manmohan Singh — to first screen the film for them and delete or change certain scenes if found 'objectionable'.

What makes the youth wing of the Congress behave like the Karni Sena, the group that went hammer and tongs against the screening of the Hindi film Padmaavat? And why is the Congress stand different for this film when compared to that on Udta Punjab, which highlighted the drug menace in the state then ruled by Shiromani Akali Dal and BJP?

 The Accidental Prime Minister row: Rahul Gandhi and Congress in tough spot over free speech issue

File image of Congress president Rahul Gandhi. Twitter @INCIndia

It's not hard to see why.

Unlike the past, The Accidental Prime Minister is apparently a frontal attack on Sonia and Rahul Gandhi. The film is based on a 2014 book An Accidental Prime Minister: The Making and Unmaking of Manmohan Singh by Sanjay Baru, who was Singh's media adviser from May 2004 to August 2008. The movie is supposed to be an insider's account of the dynamics of the Gandhi family vis-a-vis their role in Congress party and the then UPA government.

Bollywood rarely takes the incumbent establishment head on and references almost always remain oblique. Current and active political leaders are rarely brought alive on screen with nothing masking their identities. And history is often portrayed in great retrospect, rarely — if ever — within a few years of its making. It's important to note that Sonia and Rahul Gandhi will be testing their personal as well as their party's luck in the 2019 general elections and the film, with its reach, can affect their chances.

It's not mere coincidence that veteran actor Anupam Kher, who is avowedly pro-BJP with his wife and actor Kirron Kher being a BJP MP, is essaying the role of Manmohan Singh.

“Looking at the trailer of the movie, it’s understood that facts have been played with and presented in incorrect manner with regards to the ex-PM Resp Manmohan Singh ji, UPA chairperson Resp Sonia Gandhi ji and to malign the image of Congress party which is not acceptable,” Satyajeet Tambe Patil, president, Maharashtra State Youth Congress, wrote in his letter to the producers of the film.

“If the said movie is released with prior screening for our office bearers and without making necessary changes recommended by us, it’ll be understood that you are doing this deliberately…we’ve other options open to stop screening of the same across India…,” Patil said.

Maharashtra Youth Congress letter

It seems films are the latest means for political parties to gain traction, and even settle political scores, if possible.

The 2016 film Udta Punjab was a case in point. The film dealt with the drug menace in the state that was ruled by the Akali Dal-BJP combine when it was released, giving enough meat to the Opposition to rub it in for the ruling government.

Rahul had then said of the film, “Punjab has a crippling drug problem. Censoring Udta Punjab will not fix it. The government must accept the reality and find solutions.”

Rahul's statement had got backing from the Aam Aadmi Party chief and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal.

However, unlike Patil, who is a state-level leader of Youth Congress with hardly any national recall, the senior leaders of Congress are maintaining a calculative silence over the issue.

Meanwhile, the new Congress government in Madhya Pradesh has clarified that no ban has been imposed on the film in the state. It’ll be interesting to see how the Congress president reacts on the issue or whether he asks his party workers and office bearers not to issue controversial statements that would indirectly benefit the BJP.

Updated Date: Dec 28, 2018 20:36:33 IST