PM Modi's party under fire for demanding cuts in Indian film

NEW DELHI (AFP) - Prime Minister Narendra Modi's ruling party came under fire on Saturday (Oct 21) for demanding cuts to an Indian film, claiming it showcased "anti-Modi hatred".

A scene in the Tamil-language film "Mersal" shows a character delivering a fiery monologue in which he attacks the government's failure to provide free public healthcare despite charging a national goods and services tax (GST) of up to 28 per cent.

"People are paying seven per cent GST in Singapore and receiving free medical care. The Indian government is taking 28 per cent GST from people. Why can't the government provide free medical care?," says the character, played by south Indian star Vijay, who goes by one name.

The scene sparked an uproar among members of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) who have called for it to be deleted from the film.

H. Raja, the BJP's national secretary, said the film showcased "Vijay's anti-Modi hatred" as he countered the claims made in the movie. "It's a lie that medical treatment is free in Singapore," he tweeted on Friday.

The BJP's demands for a cut to the film incited anger on social media, where hashtags #Mersal and #MersalvsModi were trending on Saturday after many users accused the party of curbing freedom of expression.

Political rivals also attacked the Hindu nationalist party's censorious demands.

"Mr. Modi, cinema is a deep expression of Tamil culture and language. Don't try to demon-etise Tamil pride by interfering in Mersal," Rahul Gandhi, vice-president of the opposition Congress party, tweeted on Saturday. He was referring to the government's controversial cash ban, the so-called demonetisation, imposed last year.

The GST, which came into effect on July 1, was designed to replace a web of state and national levies and transform India's US$2 trillion (S$2.7 trillion) economy into a single market for the first time.

But critics have said the tax's complex structure - four main rates ranging from five to 28 per cent - has confused businesses, hurt sales and pulled the brakes on the growth of Asia's third-largest economy.

"Mersal" released on Wednesday to record earnings and has been running to packed theatres.

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