Memos from Asia

Kangana Ranaut vs Shiv Sena: Can the Bollywood Actor Pull off a Victory in Real Life Battle?

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Party flags of Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) and Shiv Sena are on display during Lal Krishna Advani, NDA’s Prime ministerial candidate address during an election rally in the western Indian city of Mumbai on 6th March 2008 (Credit: Al Jazeera English, CC BY-SA 2.0)

A controversial remark about Mumbai and the city’s police force by national award winner and Bollywood actor Kangana Ranaut ended up in the demolition of her office worth millions of dollars by the civic body authorities. Ranaut might not have imagined that things would have taken such an ugly turn and the civic body’s action would cost her dearly.

Luckily, the Bombay High Court came to her rescue by staying the demolition works of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC). And Ranaut strongly believes that the action is politically motivated and to terrorize her for what she said against the state government.

The current row between Ranaut and the Shiv Sena-led Maharashtra government is linked to the mysterious death of an upcoming Bollywood actor, Sushant Singh Rajput. Rajput was found hanging inside his flat in Mumbai on June 14 this year. The Mumbai Police claimed that it was a suicide but his family members ruled out this theory and alleged that it was a murder. Later, the case was handed over to Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).

Earlier, Ranaut had questioned the silence of the Bollywood over the mysterious death of Rajput. She alleged that that the politicians and the police are in collusion with the drug mafia in Bollywood.
The 33-year-old actor had also pointed her fingers at the nepotism and favouritism in Bollywood that is said to promote star kids over ‘outsiders’.

Ranaut’s remarks flaying the Mumbai Police and the Maharashtra government after the death of Sushant Singh Rajput triggered a verbal duel between her and the ruling parties in Maharashtra, mainly the Shiv Sena. This escalated when she compared Mumbai to Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK) and said she felt unsafe in the city.

Targeting the Mumbai police, she tweeted, “After a major star has been killed I spoke about drug and movie mafia racket, I don’t trust @MumbaiPolice cos they ignored SSR’s complaints, he told everyone they will kill him yet he was killed, if I feel unsafe, does that mean I hate the industry and Mumbai?”

To this, state Home Minister Anil Deshmukh had said that those who thought that Maharashtra or Mumbai was not a safe place for them, then they had no right to live in the state. Deshmukh reportedly received threat calls for his comments against her.

Initially, the comments from Ranaut did not evoke much response from any corner until she allegedly compared Mumbai to PoK and the Maharashtra government to Taliban rule.
Ranaut’s comparison of Mumbai to PoK invited severe criticism from the Shiv Sena. While retorting to her comment, Sanjay Raut, a prominent leader of the Shiv Sena and a Parliamentarian, asked her not to return to the city if she felt unsafe.

Maharashtra is ruled by Maha Vikas Aghadi, a combine of Shiv Sena, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the Congress.

Till then the spat between Ranaut and the political parties belonging to the ruling combine did not gain a national attention. The war of words remained a local issue.

The issue took a serious turn when Ranaut announced that she would return to Mumbai on September 9. She was given Y-plus security by the Centre keeping in view the security threat in Mumbai after the request of Ranaut’s father.

Her announcement to return to Mumbai, which she termed as her ‘karam bhoomi’, flared up things further. The BMC pulled out a two-year-old case related to the illegal construction at her Bandra-based office in the city. The Shiv Sena-controlled BMC demolished what it called the illegal alterations at her office even when she was in her home state Himachal Pradesh.

Though she rushed to Mumbai in a bid to stop the BMC’s demolition act, the damage had already been done even before she landed in the city.

She knocked on the doors of the Bombay High Court, which stayed the demolition on September 9 giving relief to the controversial actor.

Ranaut’s supporters interpreted the BMC act as a vendetta against Ranaut’s criticism of the Maharashtra government.

In a veiled attack on Ranaut, Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray flayed people who are “ungrateful” towards the city where they live and earn their livelihood.

“First they come here and call it ‘Aamchi Mumbai’, they stay and work. Some people are grateful towards the city where they live and earn their livelihood, but others are not,” Thackeray said in the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly.

The Opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the state, however, moved very cautiously on the issue because of its links with Mumbai. Though former Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis supported Ranaut, he criticized her for what she said about Mumbai and Mumbai Police.
Speaking in the state Assembly, Fadnavis said he knew the capacity of the Mumbai Police since had been the chief minister of the state for five years.

“But, the police can come under political pressure,” he said.

Union minister and Republican Party of India (RPI) leader Ramdas Athawale, an ally of the BJP in Maharashtra and at the Centre, also backed her.

The BJP also used the issue of demolishing her house by the BMC as an opportunity to target the state government. But it could not gain much mileage out of the issue in the state.

Meanwhile, NCP chief Sharad Pawar said that Ranaut got unnecessary publicity across the nation from the demolition act. He suggested that though the civic body authorities moved as per the rules, the timing sent out a wrong message to the people.

Ranaut tried to play the Hindutva card by comparing her office to Ram Mandir and BMC demolition squad to Mughal king Babur in a bid to garner support for her and to stop civic body from going ahead with its decision, but in vain.

Surprisingly, it was found that the film fraternity almost deserted her over the issue except a few including veteran actor Anupam Kher. But she got support from her home state including Himachal Chief Minister Jair Ram Thakur and a section of Hindu organizations like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the Akhil Bhartiya Akhada Parishad (ABAP) — the top decision-making body of 13 major Hindu monastic orders of the country.

Even after the partial demolition of her office, Ranaut continued her tirade against Thackeray and the Shiv Sena.

In a series of tweets, Ranaut said, “Today they have demolished my house tomorrow it will be yours, governments come and go when you normalize violent suppression of a voice it becomes the norm, today one person being burned at the stake tomorrow it will be jowhar of thousands, wake up now.”
Carrying out a scathing attack on the Maharashtra chief minister in a video message, she said that her home was demolished and his arrogance would crumble soon.

“Uddhav Thackeray, tujhe kya lagta hai? (what do you think?) That you colluded along with the film mafia, demolished my home and took revenge on me? My home was demolished today, your arrogance will crumble tomorrow,” Kangana Ranaut said in the video.

Soon, the Mumbai Police registered a non-cognizable offense against her on charges of passing derogatory comments against the Mahrashtra chief minister.

In a surprise move, the actress left Mumbai, where she built her career, fame, and wealth, on Monday for her native place “heavy heart” after a few days of eventful stay in the city. Ranaut said she was terrorized all these days.

“With a heavy heart leaving Mumbai, the way I was terrorized all these days constant attacks and abuses hurled at me attempts to break my house after my work place, alert security with lethal weapons around me, must say my analogy about POK was bang on (sic),” she tweeted while on the way to the airport.

Ranaut, whose Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi was a hit despite controversies about the script and entered into the Rs 100-crore club, returned to her hometown Manali in Himachal Pradesh for now. She has already declared that she will work from the demolished office and is not going to renovate it. Yet Ranaut is firm on what she has said about Mumbai that created all sorts of troubles for her. The picture is yet to be over.

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