In 2014 when Accidental Prime Minister hit the stands, I was quite surprised to note there was minimal resistance on the release of the book. Apart from a few opinion makers, who wanted to drive their loyalty yet again to the grand old party, there was very little noise or distance from office bearers of the Indian National Congress.
However, when author Sanjaya Baru announced that the book was on its way to becoming a full-fledged movie, the power-centres did begin to get uncomfortable. It is perhaps the power of celluloid and ability of the audio-visual medium to convey a message that intimidated those who stand named or charged.
I would have expected a septuagenarian democracy to treat the movie with more maturity, but then, I am reminded of numerous occasions when we have resisted from asking certain public figures tough questions for it ‘may tarnish’ their spotless selves.
I am extremely delighted that Accidental Prime Minister will be available for the common citizen of India to watch, assess, and then accept or reject, for the following five reasons:
We all are political, economic and social shareholders of India. As enfranchised citizens, we ought to know what transpires behind the tall walls and winding corridors. It is obvious that any instance in political history is bound to make a certain section uncomfortable and serve the purpose for others. This doesn’t mean we should stop documenting it. Kai Po Che which plunged into Gujarat and brought both earthquakes in 2001 and communal unrest in 2002 to life was celebrated globally.
History is a layered subject, and we are obliged to narrate, if even a single citizen out of a populace of 1.25 billion+, wants to now lie within these layers. Movies based on events of national importance like Border, Roja, Gulaal, Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi not help to build a certain level of awareness among the audience who did not experience the times, but also ensure there is a constructive discussion and extraction of lessons on issues of social significance, even after the movie is over.
I agree history is as good as the historian who writes it; but then if this nation can promote an author who chooses to hail Aurangzeb or Karan Thapar who quoted private conversations in his book, we can surely let Sanjaya Baru, Media Adviser to former Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh, narrate his experience as well. It is unfair to expect an appointed office bearer to not swear by secrecy, just because her story does not suit you.
It is ironic that we pat Viral Acharya, Deputy Governor, Reserve Bank of India for speaking his mind in public, we quote Former Chief Economic Adviser Arvind Subramanian’s stance on demonetization from his book ‘Of Counsel: The Challenges of the Modi-Jaitley economy’, but drub the author of Accidental Prime Minister as disgruntled and opportunist, because his story makes us awkward. Mr. Baru has a right to tell what he believes India should know and it is our prerogative to separate grain from the chaff.
In the past five years, the phrase “freedom of expression” has been used beyond its utility. Unfortunately, in India, we abuse under the garb of freedom to express but abuse those who want to express themselves.
*For example, Audrey Truschke, a historian decided to interpret Valmiki’s Ramayana and “loosely‘’ translate an episode as “Sita basically tells Rama he's a misogynist pig and uncouth”. She was rescued by her supporters who believed she was well within her right to express herself.
However, the very same people are touting Accidental Prime Minister, the movie, as a sinister plot to malign certain individuals. I am confused because either both Baru and Truschke have the freedom to express or both are trying to defame certain characters.
For a regime that banned movies like Garam Hawa, Aandhi, Kissa Kursi Ka, Mrinal Sen's film Neel Akasher Neechey, and books like Michael Edwardes' Nehru: A Political Biography, it is outright comical when it wants to be the torchbearer of freedom of expression. Selective outrage of the cabal not only exposes their pretentious conviction towards freedom of expression it also makes them come across as apologetic and handcuffed.
India is a country where every citizen irrespective of economic or social background is equal. As a Nation that stands on the foundation of a liberal Constitution that is based on the principles of liberty, equality, and fraternity, nobody can recuse herself from investigation or accountability. Subsequently, why is it, that a certain bloodline has had the privilege to place itself at a pedestal of its own accord?
We have never seen any backlash on those who attempt to study and analyse layers that lie beneath statesmen like Mahatma Gandhi, Sardar Patel or Atal Bihari Vajpayee? Even martyrs like Bhagat Singh are laid threadbare for the public to scrutinize and conclude. So, what stopped us from promoting books like The Red Sari, an account on the life of Sonia Gandhi or discussing Jinnah: India Partition Independence by Jaswant Singh, which was once again a critical account of the life and times of Nehru?
We have to come to terms with the changing demographics and mindsets in India. It is swiftly moving from familial affiliations to result-oriented appreciation – a sign that colonial times are fading and democracy is eventually settling.
Books like the Accidental Prime Minister or D Subbarao’s Who Moved My Interest Rate reiterate the fact that there is always at least one pair of eyes that watch our actions with keen interest. Even when we are convinced that nobody is watching us, we are being watched and recorded by someone who will eventually tell the truth of our actions and deconstruct our life in public. It is for this reason, public figures should be cautious of indulging themselves even behind closed doors.
Even if the public figure is persuaded beyond doubt that she is undercover, she can never be sure of it, even after her death.
Since, this movie is based on a version of a bureaucrat, who was handpicked by the PM himself; the Congress Party should have little to worry about. Last but not least, if INC has delivered during 10 years of UPA rule, it should rest assured that a decade-long experience of governance cannot be challenged by a three-hour audio-visual drama.