Information and Broadcasting Minister M. Venkaiah Naidu has said the government had no role in the move to boycott Pakistani artistes or interfered with Indian film-makers who hire them, but there is an atmosphere of anger at Pakistan in India and people from all walks of life have to be mindful of it.
In an exclusive interview to The Hindu , Mr. Naidu said: “Public opinion in India is strongly against Pakistan aiding and funding terror. Everyone should keep that in mind and act accordingly, whether he is an artiste, director or producer, businessman or even a politician... It is very simple to say art has no boundaries, but countries [do] have boundaries...When a war is taking place, you have someone doing a drama with that country, that is not expected.” He also asked the media to keep “national interest” in mind.
“The media should understand what is in national interest... A journalist or a TV anchor, according to me, is basically a citizen of India. Every citizen has a responsibility to the country. Keep that in mind and do whatever you want to do, there is no restriction... no guidelines have been issued,” he said.
Mr. Naidu said people calling for a boycott of Pakistani actors and those giving them work were from the same film industry.
“PM needlessly dragged into controversy”
What is your take on the calls to boycott Pakistani artists working in the Mumbai film industry? There has been a controversy over filmmaker Anurag Kashyap questioning Prime Minister Modi and Ministers have taken him on.
The government has no role in any of these issues. The ministers responded because the Prime Minister’s name was dragged into this controversy needlessly. You take the name of the Prime Minister (Modi) and your name will be published in the newspapers. That is the latest trick adopted by some people nowadays, otherwise how is the Prime Minister involved in this? And how can you compare your commercial activity or entertainment activity to the visit of the Prime Minister to a neighbouring country?
What is your view on Pakistani artists working in India?
The government has no view on this issue, when it does it will be made public.
If they come here on valid visas, then are they to be allowed to work?
That is the issue of the Ministry concerned as per the rules and the present thinking of the government. That said, Pakistan is our neighbour [and] we have been having business with Pakistan, exchanges, trade and cultural ties. We want a good relationship with our neighbour, but the neighbour should also behave accordingly. Behave in the sense that they should not allow their land to be used for terror activities against us. Nowadays, it has become the state policy of Pakistan to aid, abet, fund and train terrorists.
You have seen the sincerity of this government — the Prime Minister invited Pakistan’s Prime Minister to his swearing-in ceremony, something unusual that hadn’t happened in a long time. National Security Advisor (NSA) level talks were held; later, Foreign Secretary level talks were held too. Also, in an unusual manner, when the Prime Minister was visiting Afghanistan and he greeted the Pakistan Prime Minister on his birthday, he stopped over at Lahore, went over to his family home and greeted him in person. Suddenly what has happened, we don’t know. Pakistan has started speaking a different language, and then again it is encouraging all sorts of terror activities.
Naturally, there is a sort of an anger and unrest in the minds of the people. This decision to boycott hasn’t been taken by the government or even advised by the government. The people who decided [on] the boycott are also from the film industry. They should discuss among themselves, instead of dragging the government into this. They should sort out the issue among themselves. Making comments against the Prime Minister is uncalled for and has been done for cheap publicity.
Can cross-cultural contacts between the two countries take place in such an environment?
The environment has to change. It has to be conducive. See, you may not have the best of relationships, but at the same time it could be normal. That is, I will be civil with you, you have to be civil with me. Pakistan has been brazenly encouraging terror against India. My point is that public opinion in India as of now is strongly against Pakistan aiding and funding terror.
Everyone should keep that in mind and act accordingly, whether it is an artist, director, producer, businessman or even a politician. The government on its part is not restricting anybody. India is a free country, organisations have every right to express their views. If someone says they won’t act alongside a Pakistani artist till the situation is on an even keel, that is their sentiment.
My only point is to not drag the government into the picture, it has not done anything or said anything. My only hope is that everyone respects the sentiments of the people. It is very simple to say art has no boundaries; but countries have boundaries. People are dying, they are being killed, that reality should be kept in mind. I’m not building a case for a boycott of anyone but the nation is a live nation, the people’s sentiments should be respected. When a war is taking place, you have someone doing a drama with that country, that is not expected.
On surgical strikes, there has been an opinion on social media that the media should not raise any questions on it.
When the strikes took place, the first thing that was done was to take the opposition into confidence. [Former Prime Minister] Manmohan Singhji was spoken to, [Congress President] Soniaji was briefed, and other senior leaders were briefed. The Home Minister called an all-party meeting where the Director General of Military Operations [DGMO] who was directly dealing with this, did a briefing. Other than that no government minister, nobody from our side, said anything initially, till the others made some political comments questioning the Army on the authenticity of the strikes. T
he media should understand what is in the national interest. I’m not giving any guideline to the media. A journalist or a TV anchor, according to me, is basically a citizen of India; every citizen has a responsibility to the country, keep that in mind and do whatever you want to do. There is no restriction, no guidelines that have been issued. National interest should be uppermost.
Despite the Prime Minister’s advice of no chest thumping over the surgical strikes, we have had instances of Ministers speaking publicly about these things.
First of all, who brought politics into this issue? Ministers are showing restraint; [but] if someone asks some question, the response to these questions is being blown up as chest thumping. The Prime Minister has credited the Army, [and] people of the country said the same. Where is the question of politics in this? Our opponents are unable to digest the support to the surgical strikes.
Is that how you would explain Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi speaking of “khoon ki dalali”?
Yes. He was immature and irresponsible. It shows he is still to grow and understand the sentiments in the country. These statements are now being quoted in Pakistan.
The government is being accused of sneaking in a debate on the uniform civil code into the triple talaq issue.
The government has not initiated any process for UCC. This is just mischief to suggest it. The government has filed an affidavit in court on triple talaq. The issue of the day therefore is gender justice, ending discrimination. That issue is being clubbed unnecessarily with UCC.
An impression is being created that we are trying to push something through the back door. I ask those people: the Law Commission is a statutory organisation that has initiated a debate on UCC, [if] you have a point, join in the debate; [if] you don’t have a point, leave it be. The government did not force anything or initiate any action so far. The BJP’s position is known to all, but the government has not taken any steps.
There is a bogey that our government is trying to unduly interfere with the Muslim community. Our opposition’s strategy always is to divide Hindus on caste lines and unite Muslims and Christians on the lines of religion. We will not allow that strategy to succeed. We are the ruling party, a national party—the nation includes all communities, the welfare of all is important to us. Reports like the Ranganatha Mishra committee have demonstrated the true state of minorities in India, the Congress stands exposed on that count.
Is the Ram Mandir going to be an electoral plank in the upcoming Uttar Pradesh elections?
We have never claimed that it is an electoral issue. When others raise it we have to respond with what our stand is. It is a matter of faith for us, for much of the country. We are for the construction of a Ram Temple in Ayodhya, but through negotiation, mutual agreement and legislative process. That is our long-declared stance.
Now, there is talk of a museum, and motives are being ascribed to it. Why? Is it wrong to have a Ram Museum in this country, there is one in Indonesia, metro trains in Singapore have been specially painted for Diwali.