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India's chief censor quits after 'guru of bling' film row

Leela Samson blames the Hindu nationalist government

Published: Updated:

India's powerful chief film censor has quit, accusing the government Friday of interfering with her decisions after a movie starring a controversial guru was reportedly cleared for release.

Leela Samson claimed the Hindu nationalist government was meddling in the Central Board of Film Certification's decisions, while also accusing her colleagues of "coercion and corruption."

Samson told AFP that the handling of the outlandish film "MSG: The Messenger of God" starring popular guru Gurmeet Ram Rahim -- who is facing conspiracy to murder and other charges -- had been "the last straw".

Amid fears the film -- which shows Rahim performing miracles, preaching to thousands and beating up gangsters while singing and dancing -- could spark protests and religious tension, the board rejected it.

The film was then referred to an appeals tribunal which cleared its release.

"The reasons cited (for quitting) are interference, coercion and corruption of panel members and officers of the organization who are appointed by the (information and broadcasting) ministry," Samson said in a statement emailed to AFP.

Junior information and broadcasting minister Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore denied any interference, saying the final call over a film lies with the Film Certificate Appellate Tribunal (FCAT).

"The government is absolutely hands-away from all decisions of the censor board. They are an independent body and they need to behave like one," he told reporters.

India's film censors have a long history of barring movies, including on fears of causing religious offence, and cutting scenes.

The film had been due to be released on Friday, although it was unclear if this was still the case.

Rahim, known as the "guru in bling" for his penchant for garish costumes, angers mainstream Sikh leaders who believe that he insults and belittles their faith.

Rahim is facing trial over the murder of a journalist in 2002 along with claims of sexually exploiting female followers.

The 47-year-old is also under police investigation for allegedly encouraging 400 followers to undergo castrations at his ashram so they could get closer to god.

He heads the Dera Sacha Sauda organisation in the northern state of Haryana, which describes itself as a social welfare and spiritual organisation with millions of followers in India and abroad.

The group's website says the film "aims to spread social awareness", while a trailer on YouTube has more than two million hits.

A spokesman for Rahim's organization said "as per our information, FCAT has cleared the movie for release. But a written order is awaited," the Press Trust of India news agency reported.