Two rebels without a pause and two different resolves and results. That is the saga of MF Husain and actress Khushboo.
When Husain asked for and got the citizenship of Qatar— an honorary citizenship is only conferred — there was furore among left liberals. The usual suspects on TV studios were aghast and upset.
There was no discussion on the “rule of law” or the “law taking its own course”.
The number of cases against him was quoted as 900. Our left liberals are mathematically challenged since most of them come from the social science stream.
People who think that Picasso is a new type of Italian dish and Munch is a special potato wafer were aghast at the damage done to the great Indian artist. They screamed at the TV cameras, crying that the shamed India must listen to them!
First the facts. The controversy pertaining to his paintings of the seventies became prominent in 1996 and he went into voluntary exile in 2006.
From 2006 he has been a non-resident Indian and in 2010 he has decided to surrender his Indian passport to become a citizen of Qatar which is well known for few major supermarkets and a couple of five-star hotels and desert sand.
There were seven cases in all against him, and of them four were quashed by the Delhi high court in May, 2008 (Husain did not appear in person) by justice Sanjay Kishen Kaul.
The Supreme Court upheld the same in September, 2008. The court also rejected the complainant’s argument to summon Husain, who then hailed the verdict as a great gift.
He said, “The Supreme Court has shown that it is supreme — what a great gift”.
The remaining three cases are pending in the Patiala House court. And recently the Supreme Court rejected a petition to direct the government to close these cases, since they were private cases and hence did not have the powers to ask the government to close them.
In the last hundred years I have not heard of any artist of any hue in India being put in jail or beheaded for any of his actions.
Then what could be his reason to leave India? He has been tax assessed as an NRI for the last four years — hopefully our tax department is doing its task.
He himself has mentioned in his interviews that “commercial considerations” and “tax issues” did play a role in his decisions.
It is not a top secret that major art investors are also investors through tax havens. The financial crunch in 2008 hit the art market also and it became important to sell abroad even though much of Husain’s work is in India.
There is also another aspect to it: Was there a track two dialogue with our finance ministry regarding his taxation?
This question has not been asked to him or to our finance minister. Husain is a multi-millionaire. At his age he needs to partition his wealth among his extended family and protect his commercial interests by increasing the price of his products. But he ends up as a fugitive from law. By taking foreign citizenship he cannot be excluded from our legal processes since that will be a dangerous trend.
Let us turn to Khushboo, nee Naggarth Khan.
The Tamil actress gave an interview in 2005 mentioning that men cannot expect their brides to be virgins and also suggested that girls should take protective measures for pre-marital sex.
Her views upset many Tamil groups, including two political parties — Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) and Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK) — and there were agitations, and even dharnas, before her house.
Soon, the PMK’s legal and women’s wing functionaries began to file criminal complaints against Khushboo in their respective area magistrate courts, and these were backed by the VCK.
As many as 22 criminal complaints were filed, on the ground that the actor sought to ‘defame’ Tamil womanhood and chastity.
She did not get support from her colleagues, except for a few like Suhasini Mani Ratnam.
No Qatar for her. Just grit and tenacity.
Having to respond to summons from 22 courts in different parts of Tamil Nadu is sufficient to drive anyone nuts.
She quickly moved the Madras high court urging that all the criminal complaints against her be quashed. The high court rejected her plea but directed that all the 22 complaints against Khushboo be transferred to the chief metropolitan magistrate in Chennai to facilitate speedy disposal.
In 2008, Khushboo appealed against the high court’s order in the Supreme Court, where the case is now on.
Initially, at the time of the admission of her appeal the Supreme Court had frowned on her interview (January, 2010) but later (March, 2010) made some off-the-cuff observations on pre-marital sex being acceptable.
Husain could easily have followed Khushboo in facing the cases. The fact that he did not do so means there is more to it than meets the eye.
(Views expressed are personal)