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Mainstream, Vol XLVII, No 17, April 11, 2009

Mahesh Bhatt on Indo-Pak People-to-People Contacts

Sunday 12 April 2009, by Humra Quraishi

Even in these surcharged times, a small group of enthusiasts travelled from here to across the border, to try and bridge gaps, get the people-to-people contacts going. And film-maker Mahesh Bhatt was one amongst them and spoke out on his return from Pakistan… I heard him talk at the IIC but there seemed little time for an elaborate interview as he had to catch the next flight to Mumbai; so I did the next best thing: a telephonic interview with him and here it goes…

Q 1—Do you feel that these people–to-people contact travels do actually help in lessening the ongoing strain between the governments of the two countries, India and Pakistan?

Ans 1—We underestimate the contribution of a few sane people… of their relentless commitment to the peace process. Also, the history of any nation is carved by a handful of people.

Q 2—What’s been actually happening in Pakistan—your own observations whilst you were there?

Ans 2—Pakistan is going through the birth-pangs. The old is not dead and the new not born. Its going through a painful process but anything that is painful is creative … its urban population has this thirst for the rule of law and there is that spirit which is vibrant. I saw it in that ‘long march’…

Q 3—In your opinion, why this growing anti-Pakistan stand here—not just at the political level but even amongst the bureaucracy etc.?

Ans 3—The hate industry is on, the hate mongers are interested in creating an enemy and there is politics on both sides…. It is sad, because the problems are similar in both countries; yet so much of hatred is being generated by a full-fledged hate industry.

Q 4—Have you been worried being questioned by the IB or any other intelligence network, because of your frequent visits to Pakistan and your friends and contacts there?

Ans 4—No, I’m not scared… after all, I’m born in this country created by Nehru, Gandhi and Maulana Azad. To see peace prevail here and in this subcontinent is my birth-right. This is what Gandhiji believed in… No, I don’t fear at all and I would never buckle down.

Q 5—Do you feel that SAARC has been a flop-show in this context of the growing tensions in the subcontinent?

Ans 5—Yes; for it hasn’t delivered anything, what it was created for.

Q 6—In your opinion, what’s to be the fate of this subcontinent? Are the governments of the countries of this region (including ours) swayed by the US policies and dictates? Will the situation get more complex?

Ans 6—We have to seek a regional response to our problems and we will be doomed if we rush to Washington …we will be doomed if such a day comes when we rush to Washington for seeking an approval for this or that ….right now there’s some sort of a high and low going on …

Q 7—Do you think that Kashmir is the only cause of friction between India and Pakistan or do the problems run deeper?

Ans 7—You cannot look away from the Kashmir issue and a solution has to be found …the problem has to be seen and you cannot pretend that there’s no problem …

Q 8—Are you planning to make a film on the situation in this subcontinent?

Ans 8—No, for I don’t think that Bollywood can contain the complexities in the relationship that exists as of today between India and Pakistan.

More Books in Election Time

And as elections get closer two rather relevant books are set to be launched. Cartoonist Sudhir Tailang’s volume, which is brimming with caricatures of Dr Manmohan Singh, is to be launched this week-end. No, not by the Prime Minister but by two other political men and that too non-Congressmen. Amar Singh and Shatrughan Sinha will hog the limelight as they release this volume, published by Wisdom Tree.

And hitting the stands is a more serious book, focusing on what the Right-wing Hindutva politics is doing to the country. Titled Violent Gods: Hindu Nationalism in India’s Present—Narratives from Orissa (Three Essays Collective), it is authored by academic Angana P. Chatterji, who is Associate Professor of Social and Cultural Anthropology at the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco. And as the very title suggests, this book “offers a revealing account of Hindu militant mobilisations as an authoritarian movement manifest throughout culture, polity, and economy, religion and law, class and caste, on gender, body, land, and memory…” And she has also highlighted the planned, methodical politics of terror unleashed by the Right-wing terror outfits in Kandhamal—the riots in Kandhamal of December 2007 and August-September 2008.

And whilst on Kandhamal...

And whilst we are on the communal havoc heaped in Kandhamal, it is important to hear what John Dayal has to say. I quote him—“The Orissa poll process leaves Christians out in the cold… Barring a miracle, there will be no Christian candidate chosen by any political party to contest the parliamentary and State Legislative Assembly elections in the troubled State of Orissa which goes to the polls in mid-April 2009. This speaks amply about how the various parties—the ruling Biju Janata Dal, its erstwhile coalition partner and otherwise minority-baiting Bharatiya Janata Party, the new allies in the Left, and the old Opposition Congress Party—think of this hapless religious minority as someone to project and strengthen politically. Patently, Christians do not matter when it comes to elections in India. But even if they had chosen a Christian candidate as a concession to tokenism, it remains a moot question if he or she would have won, given the acute communal polarisation in the State in the wake of the anti-Christian violence of 2007-08 that singed and scalded half of the State’s thirty districts… For the Christians in the Kandhamal district, which was the epicentre of the violence, the chances are quite dim that they will ever get a chance to exercise the constitutional right of universal franchise. Three thousand of them are in government refugee camps, the rest are basically homeless, destitute, disenfranchised. Tens of thousands remain internally displaced persons… My own organisation, the All India Christian Council, which has been deeply involved in the Orissa issue, is considering approaching the Election Commission of India in a legal memorandum, and the Election Commissioners individually, urging them to take a close look at the Kandhamal situation to see if free and fair elections are possible, and to take remedial action to make it possible for the people to exercise their democratic rights.”

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