Patna: Historian Ramachandra Guha, actor Konkona Sen Sharma, and directors Aparna Sen and Shyam Benegal were among 49 celebrities booked last month for writing an open letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to flag rising intolerance in India.
Behind this FIR against the celebrities is a Muzaffarpur-based lawyer and serial litigant who has attempted to drag multiple celebrities to court over issues as diverse as Bollywood smooching scenes and ads for “hazardous” junk food.
Sudhir Kumar Ojha, 50, claims to have filed 745 PILs since he started practising law in 1996. Of these, by his own account, 130 cases have been dismissed by courts.
Speaking to ThePrint Friday, as his petition against the 49 celebrities went viral, Ojha defended the move.
“I do not have any objections to them writing a letter to the PM. But by getting it published in the media, they deliberately tried to tarnish the image of the PM and the country,” said Ojha.
“The proof is that 62 other artistes wrote a letter, accusing them of trying to tarnish the image of the country,” he added.
The 49 celebrities were booked Wednesday. Ojha had moved a local court against them on 27 July, with the court ordering a case against the defendants on 18 September.
News agency PTI quoted police as saying that they had booked the 49 public figures under IPC sections relating to sedition, public nuisance, hurting religious feelings and insulting with intent to provoke breach of peace.
No one’s safe
Ojha’s litany of PILs have targeted public figures of varying fame and kinds. From Hrithik Roshan and Abhishek Bachchan to Amitabh Bachchan, RJD chief Lalu Prasad, and even former prime minister Manmohan Singh.
In 2007, he filed a PIL against the makers and actors of Dhoom 2, accusing them of promoting obscenity by filming a kissing scene. According to Ojha, the case was dropped after the lawyers of the film-makers and actors declared they would not keep kissing scenes in future films.
The same year, he filed a case against Lalu Prasad for allegedly getting his helicopter to land on NH-28 “to attend the call of nature”. The case was dismissed and Ojha is currently pursuing it in the Patna High Court. The impact, however, is already there for all to see, he added.
“Since then, no politician has dared to get his chopper on the NH again,” he claimed.
In 2006, Ojha sought action against Maharashtra Navnirman Sena chief Raj Thackeray for describing the Chhath festival as “drama”, claiming that he had hurt the religious sentiments of Biharis. According to Ojha, a warrant was issued against Thackeray and the MNS chief had to get a bail from the Supreme Court. The case is still on in the Delhi High Court, he said.
Another case was filed when former PM Manmohan Singh and former West Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee allegedly said the Ram setu between Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka was a natural structure and not man-made.
The case against them was dismissed because, Ojha said, he hadn’t sought permission from the president and the governor, as is required for cases against leaders serving as the prime minister and chief ministers, respectively.
In 2013, Ojha’s PIL against Amitabh Bachchan for promoting the consumption of instant noodles Maggi, which he described as “hazardous to health”, was dismissed by the court.
There are many who question how Ojha’s petitions are admitted in court and dub him a publicity seeker, but the lawyer is quite sure of himself. “I use the judiciary as a tool to bring relief to people,” he said.
As reported earlier, in an open letter to the PM dated 23 July, 49 personalities, including film-makers Mani Ratnam, Anurag Kashyap, Shyam Benegal and Aparna Sen as well as vocalist Shubha Mudgal and historian Ramchandra Guha, expressed concern at the number of “religious identity-based hate crimes” and noted that Jai Shri Ram had become a provocative war cry with many lynchings taking place in its name.
Their statement was challenged by 61 public figures, including lyricist Prasoon Joshi and actor Kangana Ranaut, who raised questions on the silence of the letter-writers “when tribals and the marginalised have become victims of Naxal terror”.