Bollywood and Indian politics are inextricably linked. Film celebrities are regularly trotted out by politicians during elections in hopes of drawing crowds and influencing votes. It is no different this time around. Considered a crucial election, the 2014 political campaigns have been aggressive and in some cases, incendiary. The aggressive campaigns, which could reportedly cost as much as $5 billion, have had their usual share of missteps, outrageous accusations, and out-of-the-left-field surprises. But one that has raised many a well-shaped eyebrow in Bollywood and across India, is the show of alliance by Salim Khan, the father of superstar Salman Khan, towards the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) prime ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi.
Khan, a noted Muslim Bollywood script-writer, launched the Urdu version of Modi’s official website from his residence in Mumbai. While he was cleared of all charges by the Indian Supreme Court, Modi is considered by many as being morally responsible for violent communal riots in his home state of Gujarat in 2002 that allegedly targeted Muslims. According to official figures, 790 Muslims and 254 Hindus were killed, while about 2,500 people were wounded and a reported 223 went missing.
When asked about his decision to show support for Modi, Khan who is known for having scripted mega blockbuster Bollywood movies, said that he had a personal relationship with the BJP leader. Stating that he likes the language of Urdu, Khan said that the website was his idea. He denied any suggestions that this show of alliance for Modi by a prominent Muslim, who is coincidentally the father of superstar Salman Khan, was “…a BJP strategy for Muslim voters.”
According to Khan, it was time to move on from the 2002 Gujarat violence, as wrong as they had been. “…no sensible or intelligent person can justify what has happened but it should have never happened and I am sure that Mr. Modi has learnt the lesson that till the time he is there no innocent will be killed,” Khan said.
He also pointed out that the last 12 years of Modi’s rule as the chief minister of Gujarat had been prosperous for all residents in his state, including Muslims. The 78-year-old screenwriter added that Gujarat had seen no other riots since 2002, and that Muslims would be safe under Modi’s leadership.
Talking about the website, Shania NC, a fashion designer and BJP leader, who was present at the launch said that the portal was meant for people who could read Urdu and that it would act as a platform upon which the readers would be able to understand Modi’s philosophy and plans. According to the designer, the website was more than a public relations gesture. It was meant to facilitate a two-way flow of opinions and create dialogue.
The launch of the website is part of a meticulous, carefully scripted and stage-managed election campaign. The planners have used a mix of traditional electioneering and digital media to make sure that Modi constantly remains in the headlines, in public view. And garnering the alliance of the senior Khan, who is the father of the enormously popular megastar and philanthropist Salman Khan, is being seen as part of the savvy Modi campaign. The beautifully orchestrated campaign maneuvers appears to be working. The charismatic leader, who generates both adulation and vitriol, is leading in the polls and is expected to be the next prime minister of the largest democracy in the world.
By Monalisa Gangopadhyay