By Vijay Darda | 30-11-2015
Aamir Khan is an iconic Bollywood actor. He is also well-known as thinking actor, and the entire clutch of his movies is beyond the song and dance around the trees routine. Right from his debut film Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak (1988) that got him the best male actor award to the present he has a string of films through Sarfarosh, Ghulam, Lagaan, Mangal Pandey, Rang De Basanti, Taare Zameen Par, 3 Idiots and PK as well as through his television show Satyameva Jayate that he has established a connect with the masses. Through all the characters that he has played and with all the pleasure and entertainment that he has provided for more than two decades, I do not think that the issue that he is a Muslim has even entered anybody’s mind. The plain fact is that we Indians are not accustomed to thinking about people as representatives of their religion in our everyday conduct. The question simply does not arise.
So, it was very painful experience in the last few days, after Aamir’s candid observations at the Ramnath Goenka Excellence in Journalism Award function, that there was a chorus of voices questioning his patriotism and generally running him down for his views. It would be instructive to recap his statement verbatim. He said: “To complete my answer that there is a sense of fear more than there was earlier. I do feel there is a sense of insecurity. When I sit at home and talk to Kiran (Wife). Kiran and I have lived all our lives in India. For the first time, she said, should we move out of India? That’s a disastrous and big statement for Kiran to make to me. She fears for her child. She fears about what the atmosphere around us will be. She feels scared to open the newspapers everyday. That does indicate that there is a sense of growing disquiet… growing sense of despondency. You feel depressed, you feel low… why is it happening.”
This was a part of a long answer to a question by Anant Goenka that also discussed the return of awards and the protests and the growing intolerance. But nowhere did Aamir state that he or his wife are leaving the country or plan to leave it. In fact after the political storm, he also came out with another statement reiterating his earlier stand and asserting that there is no question of his leaving India, saying that nobody can force him to leave his own country. If we have to dissect the statement then at best it was the concern of an Indian mother for her child. But then such is the atmosphere these days that the statement became a tool for simply going haywire with a divisive agenda. In fact, some so-called well-wishers of the BJP and Sangh only ran the campaign against Aamir. Judging from the tone and tenor of reactions, you cannot be left in any doubt that the intention is to frighten.
Threaten with commercial boycott, and remind the top three Khans of the Bollywood, that they better remember that it is a Hindu country that has made them the King Khans. Actually, the top three Khans of the Bollywood are not communal by any measure and the atmosphere in their homes is absolutely secular. But then, these threats and harsh criticism simply do not send a positive message to the society where inter-personal relationships are woven with a secular fabric. All this is not merely verbal and it adds to our concerns that there was ‘challenge’ thrown by a leader of Punjab unit of Shiv Sena to offer Rs 1 lakh to anyone who slaps Aamir. Although the Shiv Sena did come out with a clarification that the remark by its Punjab unit leader was not the official view of the party, the question still remains that ‘should such an offensive statement be made by the leader of a political party?’
I would say that the reactions had all of us worried, Aamir. Plainly we are worried about an India in which those who claim to be with the government of the day question the very fundamental right of expression of someone as sensitive as this Bollywood star and treat people on the basis of their religion. If someone with the public standing of Aamir Khan can be subjected to this treatment, the fate of lesser mortals can be easily imagined. Intimidation can never be the price of freedom in any democracy. We have to realise the difference between the nation and the government of the day. I can always be critical of the government without my patriotism being questioned. This is my fundamental right. This is Aamir’s fundamental right and this is your fundamental right. We cannot be victimised or insulted for exercising this right that has been guaranteed by the Constitution that the Prime Minister has described as India’s only scripture.
There are certain anti-social elements who want to play with the basic features of this multi-cultural, multi-religious and multi-lingual nation. Also the people are worried over inflammatory statements given by leaders like Yogi Adityanath, Sadhvi Prachi, Sakshi Maharaj and Giriraj Singh. Individuals have always made loony statements in the past and the society has taken these in its stride without being unduly worried about it. This time the difference is that there is a BJP government at the Centre and Narendra Modi is the Prime Minister. It is for Modi to rein in his ministers and MPs and instill a sense of confidence among people that he continues to push forward his ‘Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas’ agenda.
To his credit, he came up with all the necessary assurances in the Lok Sabha while responding to the two-day debate on the commitment to Constitution as a mark of respect towards the architect of this historic document Dr Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar. But he should come up with a public reprimand or some action that ensures that there are no more offences committed in the same direction, and the BJP as a party does not defend the statements from the ‘messengers of intolerance’, to ensure the freedom of expression to all without ifs and buts. These are some aspects that leave us all worried. And what still remains to be seen is whether the Prime Minister honours the sanctity of the assurances he made in the Lower House and takes some concrete steps to stop his party leaders from committing such offences in future so as to create a sense of security among different communities to make India a truly strong nation.
Before I conclude…
Nagpur has a unique place in cricket history and yet another chapter was added when India scored a decisive win against South Africa in the third Test to take the series 2-0. The Indian win brought to an end a nine-year winning spree of the South Africans who had won all the 15 series away from home. This by itself is an admirable record, and if the Indians have brought it to a halt the credit should go the spinners – Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Amit Mishra – who spun out the South African batsmen through four innings in all. Spin has long been the mainstay of the Indian bowling attack, and it pays to rely on one’s strengths.