Mumbai: An appeal from several Bollywood actors, directors and scriptwriters to Indian voters has split the film industry down the middle.
The open letter addressed to Indians says, "The need of the hour is to protect our country's secular foundation. Undoubtedly, corruption and governance are important issues, but we will have to vigilantly work out ways of holding our government accountable to that. However, one thing is clear: India's secular character is not negotiable! Not now, not ever."
The letter adds, "As Indian citizens who love our motherland, we appeal to you to vote for the secular party, which is most likely to win in your constituency."
Among the sixty film personalities who have signed the letter are Imtiaz Ali, Vishal Bhardwaj, Nandita Das, Govind Nihalani, Saeed Mirza, Zoya Akhtar, Nandita Das, Kabir Khan, Mahesh Bhatt, Shubha Mudgal and Aditi Rao Hydari.
Actor Nandita Das told NDTV, "In many ways it is a call to vote against Mr Modi...not only him but all other parties that have in the past and continue to profess and divide people on communal lines."
Scriptwriter Anjum Rajabali, who drafted the letter told NDTV, "Our sense of India comes from the fact that we are a secular country and if that notion is challenged...if that itself is vulnerable at this moment, that is what has compelled people to speak up. It is the right wing fundamentalist forces within the BJP that are making young people feel very insecure."
But another section of the fraternity emphatically rejected this view. Veteran scriptwriter Salim Khan, who inaugurated Narendra Modi's Urdu website today in Mumbai said, "My relationship with Modi sahab is on the basis of my Urdu articles. When he had come to Mumbai, he expressed his desire to meet me. I met him. For me nobody is untouchable."
Others call the appeal a conspiracy and "unwarranted paranoia". Director Madhur Bhandarkar tweeted, "Shocking to see some colleagues, under garb of stopping so-called divisive forces, are themselves dividing a secular place like Bollywood.
"Let's hope better sense prevails and our film industry elects Narendra Modi with a thumping majority. It's time India got a visionary leader," he said in another tweet.
Actor Tusshar Kapoor tweeted, "To cover up for corruption & bad governance, the 'secular' card is being stretched a bit too far! No party can claim the secular prize!".
For an industry that has often been accused of being indifferent to elections, the fierce war of words is unprecedented.