Leave it to the saffron brigade to find a Hindu-Muslim twist in something as innocuous as a soft drink. In its latest issue, RSS mouthpiece Panchajanya has a story on the Coke vs Pepsi war. It also weaves into it the rivalry between the two endorsing the soft drinks: Hrithik Roshan and Shahrukh Khan. One is a Hindu and the other a Muslim. And that is enough for the RSS to unearth a communal conspiracy in what is essentially a professional rivalry.
While the cover story blames the mncs for sowing 'seeds of bitterness' between the two superstars, the inside pages sow some seeds of their own. A boxed item headlined "The Khans are not worried about drought victims" says: "At a stars vs cricketers match for drought victims, captained by Hrithik Roshan, neither Salman, Shahrukh, nor any other Khan turned up... Along with rivalry, isn't there a communal mindset behind this?"
But Panchajanya editor Tarun Vijay sees nothing communal about this. "What we wrote is a fact. There's no communal twist," he says. When asked why the Khans were singled out, Alok Goswami, an assistant editor with the paper says, "They were the subject of our story."
"Why does a Muslim have to prove his patriotism continuously? Why don't they suspect the mentality of those born in Pakistan who keep talking of their roots there?" asks Suhail Hashmi of Sahmat, an organisation that takes up social issues like communalism. Adds Javed Akhtar, "The RSS is known to make such irresponsible statements. Since the prime minister, home minister and HRD minister are from the RSS, it is an important part of the nation. We can't wish it away."
The Panchajanya feature also examines the connection between the underworld and the film industry. The writer of the article is apprehensive of "a conspiracy at an international level, whereby hurdles are put in the way of Hindu film actors in order to prove them unsuccessful so that the film industry would be dominated by Muslim actors and their sponsors in Dubai". He cites the example of Josh, Shahrukh's latest film: "Seeing it would not be a hit, tickets for two weeks were bought in advance (by the underworld) to give the impression of a hit...and Hindu producers are threatened and made to hire the Khans."
Adds Sanjay Nirupam, Shiv Sena MP and editor of the party mouthpiece, Saamna, "We know the D Company has sympathy for Muslim actors. We don't know the extent of control they have over these actors but that kind sympathy they don't have for Roshan."
In fact, only last week, Bal Thackeray stepped up his attack against the Khans of Bollywood. Party MPs say the Shiv Sena supremo was probably provoked by Mohammed Azharuddin playing the minority card. According to media reports, Thackeray referred to the Khans as 'Muslims and puppets of the underworld'. Retorts Akhtar, "When Azharuddin played the communal card, the general opinion was he had no business to make such statements. Now I'd like to see the same people lash out against the RSS."
Akhtar is doomed to disappointment. Far from decrying the piece, BJP leaders are defending it. "Is Panchajanya not a paper? Is a Panchajanya reporter not a reporter? Whenever any other paper writes something, no one asks for a comment on the article or questions the editor," says Narendra Mody, BJP general secretary.
The flaw in his argument is that despite its claim of being an 'independent publication', Panchajanya does follow a particular agenda. And he only has to turn to page five of the latest issue to see what that is!