The Congress’ demand to postpone release of the Narendra Modi biopic militates against the spirit of liberty. Some time ago, the All India Congress Committee had pleaded with the Election Commission to delay the release of the movie which is scheduled to open on April 5. The first round of the general election begins April 11. The party has claimed that the biopic is aimed at influencing the public mood in favor of the Bharatiya Janata Party.
The Congress’ stand is unfortunate on two counts. First, it is an assault on the freedom of expression. If some filmmaker—or, for that matter, some novelist, poet, etc.—wants to glorify a person the party dislikes or hates, it is not the duty of the nation’s institutions to placate the party. Therefore, we can also say that the EC has erred in issuing a notice to the filmmakers on the grounds of the violation of the election code of conduct.
Quite apart from being illiberal in issuing the notice, the commission has also ignored the fact that the code of conduct supposed to be adhered to by political parties and candidates, not private citizens. By the way, the full name is the Model Code of Conduct for the Guidance of Political Parties and Candidates. The EC has exceeded its brief.
Second, the demand is predicated upon the postulate that the Indian voter is so puerile that he could be swayed by a movie to such an extent that he would become an automaton that can be manipulated by cunning, unscrupulous politicians.
Actor Vivek Oberoi, who played Modi’s role, and Sandip Ssingh, one of the producers, recently visited the office of the EC in New Delhi to present their version. They informed the commission that the Congress’ demand amounts to “violation of freedom of speech and expression, and demeans the intellect of the electorate.”
The Congress is apparently apprehensive that the depiction of Modi’s life, right from his earliest days with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, in a favorable light, as the movie does, would help him get an electoral advantage in the forthcoming general poll. While the filmmakers have denied any ties with the BJP, the point is that even if they did have ties, they shouldn’t be stopped from releasing their movie.
Thankfully, the High Courts of Delhi and Bombay have rejected the separate petitions that wanted a stay on the release of the biopic.
The grand old party would do well by refusing to get worked up by anything that it doesn’t approve of.