Lucknow: A day ahead of the urban local body (ULB) polls in Uttar Pradesh, the ruling BJP’s state secretary on Wednesday, May 10, put up hoardings around Lucknow which say opposition leaders are denouncing the controversial movie The Kerala Story because they take orders from terrorists.
The hoardings, put up by BJP leader Abhijat Mishra, describe fictional conversations in Hindi between a man in a mask holding a gun and opposition leaders Mamata Banerjee, Akhilesh Yadav, Rahul Gandhi and Asaduddin Owasi. They have been erected at several locations, including the busy road near Lucknow University.
A speech bubble next to the man holding a gun in his hand says, “Disciples somehow ban the film of these Kafirs (infidels).”
The speech bubble next to West Bengal chief minister Banerjee says, “Master, I have banned the movie in Bengal.” Rahul Gandhi’s speech bubble says, “Yes, sir, I am trying my best.”
The speech bubble beside Samajwadi Party president Akhilesh Yadav says, “I’m opposing, but I’m afraid of bulldozers.” Owasi, shown in the hoarding, says, “Master, neither the government nor the court is lessening.”
At the bottom of the hoarding are the words, written on saffron background, “Jago Bharat Jago” (Wake Up India).
All the quotes, except Rahul Gandhi’s, have been translated from Hindi.
Released just a day before the second phase of the ULB polls in the state, the hoardings are evidently a part of the BJP’s strategy to raise communal polarisation.
Abhijat Mishra, the 44-year-old BJP leader who put up the hoardings, began his career as a student leader from Lucknow University. He has worked for the youth wing of the BJP and for several Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh functionaries in the past, he told The Wire. He was recently appointed the state secretary of the saffron party.
“I had erected hoarding in many parts of the town, but some were removed because of the code of conduct for ULB polls,” he told The Wire.
The same picture was uploaded by Abhijat Mishra on Tuesday to his social media handles. On the microblogging site Twitter, Mishra wrote in Hindi, “Those who envisioned Ghazwa-e-Hind are getting exposed. The intention of those opposing the film [The Kerala Story] is that the daughters of the country should remain unsafe.”
जागो भारत जागो#kerla_story
गजवा ए हिंद की परिकल्पना करने वाले हो रहे हैं बेनकाब
फिल्म का विरोध करने वालों की मंशा है
देश की बेटियां असुरक्षित हो ।।#kerla_story#Love_Zehad@narendramodi @AmitShah @JPNadda @blsanthosh@myogiadityanath@Bhupendraupbjp@idharampalsingh@BJP4UP pic.twitter.com/O7MXX1qaCn
— Abhijat Mishra (@AbhijatMishr) May 9, 2023
Coincidentally, on the same day these hoardings were erected, Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath met a team from The Kerala Story in Lucknow at his official residence. The chief minister called it a courtesy meeting, and posted a photo on his Twitter handle.
आज लखनऊ स्थित सरकारी आवास पर ‘The Kerala Story’ फिल्म की टीम के साथ शिष्टाचार भेंट हुई। pic.twitter.com/bfj7sswOTU
— Yogi Adityanath (@myogiadityanath) May 10, 2023
Saffron party leaders – including Prime Minister Narendra Modi – have endorsed the movie, which claims to tell the story of girls from Kerala who converted to Islam and then joined the terrorist outfit ISIS. However, civil society groups and opposition parties have slammed the film, accusing it of enabling the saffron party’s communal agenda and propaganda to defame Kerala.
Madhu Garg, an activist of the All India Democratic Women Association, told The Wire that the Sangh parivar was earlier “spreading hatred via media outlets, and now they use movies for the same.” She said movies like The Kashmir Files and The Kerala Story are “serving venomous content to viewers”. She also added that the BJP wants to creates divisions among the Hindus and Muslims of Kerala.
A renowned satirist, Rajiv Dhiyani, opined that it is a new low for the BJP to use movies to divide the people. Dhiyani believes that the objective behind such movies is to divert the attention of citizens from core issues like unemployment, poverty and agrarian distress.
Arundhati Dhuru, a social activist, says that when the economy is weakening and manufacturing and production are low, such agenda-driven movies are saving the the Modi government’s face by promoting a communal agenda. “They did nothing on the economic, education, and health fronts, and now that the elections are due next year, the Prime Minister and his party men are promoting such incendiary movies,” she said.
For his part, Abhijat Mishra says that every “girl and woman must watch this movie”. He said, “The lives of nearly 30,000-35,000 girls and their families were ruined in Kerala, and it could have happened anywhere in the country.”
The teaser for the film had claimed that nearly 32,000 women from Kerala had joined ISIS. It withdrew the claim later, after fact-checkers pointed out the claim was false.
According to Mishra, all state government should follow the lead of Adityanath and his Madhya Pradesh counterpart Shivraj Singh Chauhan and declare The Kerala Story tax-free.