By Jawed Naqvi
February 18, 2014
STRANGELY enough, a TV channel screened the 1960s Indian movie Leader the other day, which was a day after Arvind Kejriwal filed an unusually bold FIR against India’s most powerful tycoon Mukesh Ambani and his alleged accomplices in the ruling party. The evicted Delhi chief minister claimed high-level collusion to arbitrarily jack up the price of natural gas the tycoon is licensed to extract from state-owned gas fields.
Leader is a rare film for which veteran thespian Dilip Kumar wrote the story. He also acted in it as a young editor of a newspaper, which he seems to have scripted after the fire-breathing weekly, Blitz. The iconic tabloid’s exposes of sleaze for nearly five decades from its inception in Bombay in 1941 are remembered in India as pacesetters for irreverent journalism.
P. Sainath’s scathing stories about rural corruption and rampant exploitation have become a byword for diligent journalism. He cut his political teeth with Blitz. Dilip Kumar’s cinematic premonitions about the nexus of politics, big business and India’s religious right, precede Sainath’s evolution by a few decades.
It was a strange coincidence that the owners of a TV channel not known to challenge the political or economic status quo screened Leader at the least opportune moment for them. It was particularly strange because they, like owners of other influential TV channels, are seen as being partial to Narendra Modi who they want as India’s future prime minister.
However, truth, as they say, emerges out of confusion. And many people who were plunging headlong for the Modi lure are now scratching their heads after Kejriwal’s ironclad revelations of high-level corporate-political nexus. Add to this some degree of culpability of a few senior officials from the powerful intelligence community in driving the wider nexus.
In his book Open Secrets, Maloy Krishna Dhar, a former Intelligence Bureau biggie, flaunts his passion for the Hindu right and his affection for Dhirubhai Ambani, founder of the Reliance Group of industries. He narrates a useful anecdote about how he successfully pleaded with Ambani to arrange an interview for him with Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray. This is how the cookie still crumbles.
The story of Leader is about inclusive idealism laced with dollops of secular patriotism. This was staple fare for Indian movies in the 1950s and 1960s. The Raj Kapoor and Khwaja Ahmed Abbas team, together with the late Shailendra’s biting poetry, wove popular dreams of Nehruvian socialism. Bimal Roy’s Do Bigha Zameen and Mehboob Khan’s Mother India spoke of how the moneylender-landlords would dupe poor and illiterate peasants with the use of perfectly legal mechanisms such as signed or thumb-imprinted documents of contrived land transfers.
Interestingly, the law remains a crucial weapon in the hands of India’s upstart corporate sector that succeeded the money-lending landlords of yore. See, for example, how swiftly Kejriwal was threatened with a lawsuit after he accused a mega tycoon of graft.
You would be left speechless at the uncanny similarities between the issues tackled by Dilip Kumar, now in his 90s, and the fears he expressed for India 50 years ago, and what has been taking place over the past week in Delhi.
Dilip Kumar plays Vijay Khanna, the intrepid journalist who also romances the film’s heroine, the one and only Vijayantimala, with enticing songs and some charming dialogues. Acharya ji played by Motilal is an election candidate propagating Nehru’s dream of an equitable and just India. The burly Jayant (father of Amjad Khan who played Gabbar Singh in the money-spinner Sholay) plays the notorious head of a capitalist clique. The inimitable Jankidas Mehra plays Mr Ghatak, the clique’s candidate in the electoral fray against Acharya ji.
“To give us a good life, we need a good government. To have a good government, we need good people,” says a somewhat simplistic Acharya ji at a public meeting. Do the lines remind of someone who briefly if unexpectedly became Delhi’s chief minister recently?
Cut to a conclave of the capitalists, the movie’s unmistakable villains, where Jayant is speaking. “Agreed that Acharya is a very great leader. He has the complete support of the people, but, and a big but, he doesn’t have the power of money. And money is God, Mr Ghatak. Today, everybody worships money not idealism.”
Ghatak moans that it would still be impossible for him to defeat Acharya ji, and to win the election.
“We are not planning to win the election, Mr Ghatak,” Jayant interrupts. “We have to buy the election with our money. We’ll spend whatever it takes to buy the votes. And the corpse of socialism that Mr Acharya propagates will be carried on your shoulders, Mr Ghatak. Politics has become a lucrative business, Mr Ghatak. Billions of rupees are at stake. Factories and mills that our forebears gave us, the government is imposing tax, super-tax and countless penalties on them. Commissions are investigating our government tenders. Our trade licences are threatened with cancellation at the slightest excuse. Since Acharya is involved in this, we’ll have to cut that hand.”
Another tycoon growls: “We have to keep the government on a very short leash.” Was it Dilip Kumar or Kejriwal who wrote the story?
Meanwhile, the young editor has published a sensational story, though very much in the style of the Blitz, with the picture of a bikini-clad woman on the back page! The paper predicts that Acharya ji will be fatally attacked, and this is what the capitalist clique was shown as planning anyway. I can’t tell you what happened next.
Jawed Naqvi is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.