Kangana vs. Shiv Sena potboiler
B L Soni

Kangana Ranaut is covered by Article 21, which guarantees all of us the right to life and liberty which includes the right to a home and workplace over our heads. If the BMC wanted to demolish her office at Pali Hill which had various illegalities, then it should have allowed her to reply to the notice issued to her. And so, the Bombay High Court’s observation that the demolition smacks of mala fides appears to be on track. Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari also reportedly expressed his displeasure at the demolition.

There is a provision for an appeal against the demolition order which was denied to the 'Controversy Queen'. The latest development is that an FIR has been registered at the Vikhroli police station against the actress for allegedly defamatory statements against Maharashtra chief minister Uddhav Thackeray. The entire Kangana Ranaut versus the Shiv Sena battle shows no sign of abating.

There is no doubt that the feisty actress enjoys the right to free speech under Article 19 (1) (a), which she exercised to compare Mumbai to PoK and that Uddhav Thackeray was acting like the Mughal Emperor Babur while comparing his son, Aditya to a “penguin.”. She went on to say Bollywood was allegedly Islam-dominated and alluding to the Palghar-lynching, said Mumbai was “addicted to blood”. She also alleged Uddhav Thackeray had used the mafia in Bollywood to demolish her office. Strong words for a petite actress.

Her remarks appear to fall within the eight restrictions imposed by Article 19 (2), some of which are public order and security of the state. The war between the actress and Uddhav Thackeray erupted after Kangana alleged she was afraid of Mumbai Police which had indulged in a cover-up of the alleged suicide of Sushant Singh Rajput and further, that top Bollywood actors consumed drugs. Her latest projection of herself as Mahabali and her office as 'a temple of Ram' while labelling the Shiv Sena 'anti-Hindu and anti-spiritual' seems to be playing the religion card against the Shiv Sena.

There is also no doubt that her words could attract penal provisions but the charge of sedition which Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray was thinking of charging her with will be struck down by the Bombay High Court if Mumbai Police apply section 124-A of the IPC, which can even attract life in jail for serious offenders. But a charge under Section 153 (A) or 153 (B) or 295 is a different matter. Given that the high court has already deprecated the BMC action of demolishing Kangana’s office, it is unlikely that charges under these sections will also not be quashed if the actress files a writ petition in the Bombay HC.

The BMC had filed a caveat requesting the court not to give any relief to Kangana without hearing their side of the case. The caveat was filed on Tuesday, a day before the demolitions. The BMC lawyer who appeared in the high court said she had no clue about the case or about the notice sent to the actor one day earlier.

The court then asked the woman lawyer to call up BMC Commissioner Iqbal Chahal and ask him to stop the demolition right then. But the lawyer said she “cannot give a clear assurance if her message reached Chahal or not”. When a court associate tried to call him up, his phone was switched off. Ten minutes after, the BMC lawyer told the court she had successfully passed on to Chahal the message to stop the demolition, which could attract contempt charges if the BMC were to still go ahead with any demolition.

Although this was not mentioned in court, from January 2016 to July 2019, the BMC took action in only 5,400 cases of illegal constructions despite 94,000 complaints during this period. So, the BMC action against the actress appears to be a speedy reaction, considering the illegal extensions did not come up overnight.

The division bench of Justice S.J. Kathawalla and Riyaz Iqbal Chagla, which heard the actor’s plea against the BMC observed the civic body deliberately delayed the hearing, so it could demolish the property. In fact, it succeeded in doing so with bulldozers wrecking the office premises, including artefacts and a staircase leading to the office. The actress was still on the plane when she watched the demolition squad in action. The office premises demolished had reportedly cost the high-profile actress Rs 48 crore.

For its part, the BMC denied being under the influence of the Shiv Sena or any other political party while deciding to demolish the actor's property. Although the BMC claimed to have complied with the law because its department has to look into illegal constructions in the city, the judges’ remarks demolish this claim. It also said they had not demolished the entire property but just the ‘extended walls, partitions and toilet slabs’.

The war-of-words between Kangana and Uddhav Thackeray, which ended in the allegedly out-of-turn demolition of part of her office premises culminated with the governor summoning the advisor of the chief minister so that he (the governor) could submit a report to the Central government.

The BMC’s intention of now going after the actor’s three flats which she bought at a cost of Rs 14 crore on the fifth floor of De Breeze Apartments at Khar has sparked another controversy, as she claimed the building was owned by a partner of NCP chief Sharad Pawar. Earlier, Pawar had distanced himself from the demolition of Kangana’s office.

So, the nation watches a reel life versus real life battle unfolding on our television sets, as a national award-winning actress dares to take on a once-powerful ally of the BJP and in which religion, drugs and the mafia are mixed with politics. Law, which is based on life, is stranger than fiction and the Bollywood films made by Kangana Ranaut.

The writer holds a PhD in media law and is a journalist-cum-lawyer of the Bombay high court.

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