Lessons from Aamir's episode

INCREDIBLE INDIA

Lessons from Aamir's episode
I am not a film buff. But I do watch movies by actors like Amir Khan because he acts naturally. Such actors make me feel as if I am not seeing a film but reliving my life. I must admit that I did not like Aamir Khan’s remark at the Tarkunde Annual Lecture that his wife had often asked him whether they should migrate to some other country. Subsequently, he apologised and closed an ugly controversy in the country.

But the Narendra Modi government has once again revived the controversy by not renewing his tenure as brand ambassador for Incredible India to promote tourism. What message the BJP is sending is beyond my comprehension. But it is clear that the ruling party was punishing him for having made the remark.

I was present at the function because I was conferred with the lifetime achi-evement award at that time. Aamir Khan’s remarks looked odd but nothing offensive. His despondency that tolerance, of late, had been pushed into the background was in tune with what was happening in the country. But there was nothing which could hurt one’s sensibilities.

Apparently, the Modi government did not forget and forgive his remarks and his tenure was not renewed. This did raise eyebrows and the liberals even questioned the government because they did not want to make it an issue. Yet, the Modi government never explained why the tenure, a routine matter, was not extended.

This does question the credentials of the Modi government. It pacified the minorities by saying, “sab ka saath, sab ka vikas”, but apparently it is driven by the extremist RSS. Even Prasar Bharati, otherwise an autonomous body, had to allow RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat to use its radio network to broadcast his points of view. This happened for the first time after independence.

The Modi government does not realise that it is probably legally correct but morally wrong. The minorities which already suspect the government for being pro-Hindutva are terrified and feel that they are the second-class citizens in a country where the constitution guarantees equality before law.

The appointments which the BJP government is making smack of parochialism. Students at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi, have been able to block some pro-RSS academics getting top positions. But otherwise, the message the Modi government sending across is that even academic institutions are no more autonomous but under the fate of Human Resource Development ministry.

The Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) at Pune is not functioning for more than a year now because RSS pracharak Gajendra Chauhan was appointed its chairman. Chauhan, who is merely a TV serial actor, has been preferred over more eligible people. The Modi government refuses to budge even after some leading cine stars pointing out to the government that it were in the wrong.

Another glaring example was that of Pankaj Nihalani, who was appointed as the chief of Censor Board. Nobody doubts his credentials as a good filmmaker but, at the same time, no one can ignore his RSS connections. Ever since he became the chairperson of the CBFC, there has been a lot of criticism of saffronisation. But, fortunately, the mounting pressure on the government has worked. The impeccable Shyam Benegal will now head a committee to revamp the Board. However, in the case of the Pune film institute, the government has not relented.

I concede that Aamir Khan should not have made the remark when he was still the brand ambassador for the government’s Incredible India campaign. He should have resigned before taking the stance. In fact, I was surprised when he accepted the position in the first instance. He knew what the Modi government stood for and how the RSS has the run of the government.

Pro-establishment stance

But the most grievous cut is the likely choice of Amitabh Bachchan for the position. It is known that he tends to take a pro-establishment stance, whichever government is in power. He contested from Allahabad Lok Sabha seat as a Congress candidate. Since then he has not taken any stand and gone along with any prime minister in power, whether from the Congress or the BJP. He only knows which side of the bread is buttered.

Incidentally, Bachchan was Gujarat’s brand ambassador when Modi was the chief minister. Had he refused the position because of Aamir Khan’s forced exit, Bachchan would have given the message that when it came to principles he would not compromise.
Take the case of his wife, Jaya Bachchan who was nominated twice to the Rajya Sabha by the Samajwadi Party’s Mulayam Singh. In fact, the party wanted her to contest the Lok Sabha 2014 seat but after her refusal to do so, Mulayam Singh still accommodated and nominated her as the Rajya Sabha member for a second term. All these point to the fact that Amitabh is clever enough to gain from the political situation. He did not mind how Aamir Khan for his bold comment on BJP’s parochialism was punished and unceremoniously thrown out.

There is a lesson in it for the nation to learn. A secular, democratic country has to give space to everyone, including critics. Unlike Pakistan, which is an Islamic state, India is pluralistic where the freedom of expression is guaranteed and the minorities have every right to express themselves. It is a pity that people like Asaduddin Owaisi are misusing the rights of free speech to widen the gulf between Hindus and Muslims.

The ball is in the BJP’s court. The party has to create a climate of tolerance. Even a person like me feels the nation is being Hinduised and taken away from the path of pluralism. This is not India’s ethos. Nor does the constitution permit it. We have to create an atmosphere where Aamir Khans do not have to make the remarks that show the pains of minorities.

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