New Delhi: “We are here to listen to you,” said commerce, industry and railways minister Piyush Goyal to a contingent of representatives of the film industry over a dinner briefing at Mumbai’s Hyatt Regency hotel on Sunday night. The meeting was reportedly coordinated by Bollywood producer Mahavir Jain at the best of the BJP, as part of the party’s initiative to reach out to different sections to explain its stand on the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), which introduces religion as a criterion for citizenship, and the National Register of Citizens (NRC) under which Indians who cannot satisfy a government enumerator about their citizenship will be classified as “doubtful citizens”.
According to a source present at the dinner who spoke to The Wire on the condition that he not be identified, the meeting was attended by between 75-100 people, “sitting around informally, in a circle”. Goyal was accompanied by his party vice president Jay Panda, the former Biju Janata Dal politician who jumped across to the BJP but lost his seat in the 2019 Lok Sabha election. Both leaders spoke about the CAA, stating that there was a lot of misunderstanding around the Act. “It is not connected to the NRC”, Goyal reportedly said.
The list of attendees included producer Riteish Sidhwani, lyric writer and adman Prasoon Joshi, directors Kunal Kohli and Abhishek Kapoor, actor Ranvir Shorey (a big supporter of the CAA, according to the source), singer Shaan and many others. “None of those who are openly pro-BJP, such as Anupam Kher, Vivek Agnihotri or Vivek Oberoi were present. Many others who were invited, like Javed Akhtar, Farhan Akhtar and Dia Mirza, did not turn up,” the source said.
Far away from the violence at #JNU, #BJP’s #PiyushGoyal & #JayPanda are meeting handful of members from #Bollywood at a 5 star hotel in Mumbai discussing myths & realities pertaining to #CAA pic.twitter.com/dWBPqK7Hne
— Rohit Khilnani (@rohitkhilnani) January 5, 2020
“In my opinion, they missed a good opportunity because they could have put their point across to the BJP face to face,” he said.
Yet, he said, the proceedings were somewhat listless, moving along predictable lines, with the party representatives giving familiar arguments about “where will Hindus go” and how the CAA was meant for those who had come before 2014. Another guest told The Wire, “There was not much open criticism of the government’s decision. The questions were somewhat tame, asking for clarifications rather than pointedly criticising. “Nobody wanted to rock any boat,” he said.
Adnan Sami’s name came from the party spokespersons, as an example of how even Muslims had been given citizenship in the past. (Incidentally, Sami was never an “illegal immigrant” and the main change the CAA introduces is to exempt non-Muslim “illegal immigrants” from the bar on becoming an Indian citizen). Would the Sikhs who were heckled in Nankana Sahib in Pakistan last week make it, if they entered India now, someone asked. “Yes, we would certainly consider it,” Goyal said.
One guest pointed out that the ‘Hinduism in danger’ narrative did not make any sense, given that Hinduism had survived in India through millennia, including hundreds of years of Mughal rule. Goyal reportedly acknowledged that, saying “the problem with Hindus is that they have a lot of infighting within the community.” To which a prominent film personality responded, “The idea of Hinduism is not in danger, but the idea of India certainly is.”
The first source said he came away with the impression that the BJP was keen to reach out to various segments because there was a feeling that the government’s messaging was not making an impact. “The party representatives said they would hold meetings with not just the business community and others but also do door to door campaigning to convince citizens that there was nothing wrong with the CAA.”
“The very fact that the BJP, which rarely listens to anyone, has a plan for outreach shows it is open to all kinds of public voices. I see that as a change,” he said. “Piyush Goyal was very informal and friendly,” said the second source.
Asked if the dinner was ‘sumptuous’, the guest laughed, saying “many of us did not have dinner.”
According to a report in the Indian Express, other Bollywood personalities who attended the meeting included Anu Malik, Rahul Rawail, Roop Kumar Rathod, Bhushan Kumar and Ramesh Taurani.
Close to 50 people, holding placards, had gathered outside the hotel in Santa Cruz to protest against the CAA and the meeting. No press was allowed inside the hotel and authorities had closed off the lobby.