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Unpromising Manifestos

This week, the largest democratic exercise in the world – the Indian General Elections – got underway with the staging of the first of seven phases of polling.

During the next five weeks, almost 900 million Indians will be eligible to cast their ballots at a million polling booths across the length and breadth of this vast country, to elect 543 members to the 17th Lok Sabha. And, based on the arithmetic of the party composition of the new Parliament, the nation will get its central government for the next five years.

The eminent American political commentator George Will noted that politics in a democracy is transactional: politicians seek votes by promising to do things for voters, who seek promises in exchange for their votes. That certainly holds true for our democracy where, come election time, the voter finds himself/herself at the centre of a highly competitive bidding war between multiple candidates/parties, each of whom tries to outdo the other in making the more attractive promises.

More often than not, these generous proposals are tailor-made to resonate with the concerns and interests of the persons being addressed on the basis of their vocation/caste/creed/gender/age/economic status/geographical region/primary language and various permutations and combinations thereof.

It is not for us, a film trade publication, to discuss and debate whether most political parties’ promises to one section of society contradict what they offer to another grouping. Or how, almost inevitably and invariably, the numbers don’t add up with the financial costs of implementing any party’s pre-election schemes in their entirety, being of a magnitude that countries with far greater resources than ours would find impossible to fund. These are questions that we need to ponder and address in our individual capacities as citizens of this nation.

A more appropriate observation, for the purpose of this note at least, is that one can get a sense of the clout and perceived importance of a group/community in the eyes of the political class by evaluating how vigorously it is being pursued by parties and candidates through these poll time promises – irrespective of how realistic and feasible these may be.

In that regard, the election manifestos released by political parties provide a good reference point to gauge where their priorities lie and which interest groups they consider significant enough to make promises to.

With most major parties having released their manifestos for Elections 2019 by now (except for the Bahujan Samaj Party which typically doesn’t issue manifestos, and the Aam Aadmi Party which will release its vision document on April 25), where do the interests and concerns of the Indian film fraternity figure in the political calculus? What follows is a compilation of the number of instances, if any, that the film industry or its interests are directly referred to in the various manifestos:

Indian National Congress: 2

The Copyright Act will be strengthened and enforced. The Copyright Board will be reconstituted and empowered to achieve the objects of the Copyright Act.

Congress promises to amend the Cinematograph Act, 1927 to restrict censorship of films to grounds of national security and obscenity. We will direct the Central Board of Film Certification to certify films according to transparent and reasonable criteria.

All India Trinamool Congress:  1

Special push will be given for the development of regional cultural activities like regional films, theatres, music, jatras, etc.

Bhartiya Janta Party: Nil

Communist Party Of India (Marxist): Nil

Communist Party Of India: Nil

Nationalist Congress Party:  Nil

All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam: Nil

Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam: Nil

Makkal Needhi Maiam: Nil

Telugu Desam Party: Nil

YSR Congress Party: Nil

Samajwadi Party: Nil

Biju Janata Dal: Nil

As you can see, there is not much – practically nothing – on offer for the film industry in the otherwise expansive manifestos that are designed to appeal to the largest mass base possible by having something for everyone.

While ordinarily this would hardly take us by surprise, given the long-standing and quite unanimous lack of empathy for our interests amongst the political class, we had dared to hope for an attitudinal change in light of the flurry of high-profile interactions between the Prime Minister and the film fraternity in the recent past – a process that did yield tangible results like a reduction in the GST rates applicable on film ticket sales and Cabinet approval for amendments to the Cinematograph Act enforcing tougher penalties against camcorder piracy.

However, as outlined by the manifesto (or should we call them not-many-festos?!) analysis above, not much seems to have changed vis-à-vis the importance accorded to the film industry in the political discourse.

But let us not fret too much over this as it could well be a blessing in disguise. We can take consolation from the words of statesman and philanthropist Bernard Baruch: Vote for the man who promises least; he’ll be the least disappointing!

- Nitin Tej Ahuja

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