In a free country one can freely choose to associate oneself with anyone. For example, a film star of yesteryears can certainly be a “brand ambassador” for a state today. Or, for that matter, one can relocate a car plant from one state to another.
If only life were so simple and innocent. If only economics and politics could be neatly separated. Very often the two are mixed and in the Indian context, pretty much inseparable. The controversy over Amitabh Bachchan representing Gujarat as a brand ambassador falls in this domain.
Had Bachchan’s decision been a purely commercial one (what else can be the role of a brand ambassador, whether he be one for a watch company or a state?), there would have been little, if any controversy. That is what he would like Indians to believe.
That is disingenuous. He should be aware that Gujarat under Narendra Modi has earned the ire of Indians of all persuasions for being a state that witnessed and did little to control the horrific violence against Muslims in 2002. The state government, which Bachchan is representing, was at best indifferent to the fate of hapless people. In that sense, his decision is not innocent, as sociologist Ashis Nandy said recently.
Equally, however, the criticism directed against him is not free from guilt. Congress party members have excoriated Bachchan for representing Gujarat. That party has a history with Bachchan. He has come a long way from being a friend of the Congress’ First Family to a pariah now. That past has clearly influenced the party’s present day reaction against him. However hard the party’s spokespersons may deny that, it is a fact.
Behind all this lies another facet of public life in India: a stultifying level of political correctness. Lofty ideals such as secularism are often hostage to such narrow interpretation that their meaning is lost in translation. So long as persons of certain political persuasion dub a person, party or an idea as being secular, it remains secular. Otherwise, it is communal. Reality often defies such neat demarcation. This may score brownie points in the interim, but it does long-term damage to these ideas. The Bachchan episode has had its share of such dogmatism and should be seen in this light.
Bachchan’s choice: disingenuous or just misinformed? Tell us at firstname.lastname@example.org