New Delhi: Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, the chief of the Dera Sacha Sauda, a sect in Haryana, today addressed the media amid protests in cities in north India, including Delhi, against the go-ahead given for the release of controversial film "MSG, The Messenger of God" starring him.
Here are the latest developments:
Members of the Punjab party Shiromani Akali Dal are protesting outside the BJP headquarters in Delhi, demanding a ban on the film. The Akali Dal is an ally of the ruling BJP and participates in the government at the Centre.
In adjacent Gurgaon, about 60 people, including workers of the Indian National Lok Dal, were detained by the police to prevent clashes between supporters of Ram Rahim and protesters. "There is no threat to law and order situation in Haryana... situation is peaceful," said Jawahar Yadav, Officer on Special Duty to the Chief Minister.
Earlier, buses filled with the Dera chief's supporters, many wearing 'MSG' T-shirts, had arrived at the Leisure Valley ground, a large Gurgaon park used for exhibitions and conventions, for the hour-long screening of "MSG, the Messenger of God" preview which was later cancelled.
There have also been protests in other cities of Punjab and Haryana against the film, which is now set for a January 23 release. In Amritsar, the Rapid Action Force has held flag marches to maintain law and order.
The protesters object to what they call the "glorification as a messenger of god" of the Dera leader, who has several criminal cases against him, in the film. They have also alleged that Ram Rahim's dialogues in the trailers are provocative and appear to challenge Sikhs.
The film, which features Ram Rahim in bejewelled costumes riding motorbikes and sending bad guys flying, has prompted the chief of the Censor Board Leela Samson to quit, citing government interference. Another Board member Ira Bhaskar has also resigned with sources saying that more members are likely to follow suit.
Ms Samson, an acclaimed classical dancer, has protested that the film was cleared for release despite the board finding it "not suitable for public viewing." The film was then referred to the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal, which cleared the film, only asking producers to drop two words from it.
In her resignation letter to the Information and Broadcasting ministry, Ms Samson alleged, "Recent cases of interference in the working of the (board) by the ministry, through an 'additional charge' CEO, and corrupt panel members has caused a degradation of values that the members of (the Censor Board) and Chairperson stood for."
The government has denied any interference in the film's approval by the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal. "The final call lies with the tribunal and its decision should be accepted by all," Rajyavardhan Rathore, the junior minister for Information and Broadcasting, told reporters today.
The film-makers argue that far from being unsuitable, "MSG" fights alcoholism and drug addiction, and extols the virtues of celibacy and a vegetarian diet. A debate went viral on social media, with hashtags #MSGinCinemas and #WeLoveMSG trending on Twitter.