Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi backed Bollywood star Aamir Khan on Tuesday and accused the government of bullying, hours after the actor was attacked by the BJP for revealing his family contemplated moving abroad following a spate of communal incidents.
For its part, the BJP criticised Aamir’s remarks amid a raging war of words. “I regularly travel to far corners of our nation & can say with conviction that there is no intolerance anywhere in India,” BJP national spokesperson Shahnawaz Hussain said, and added the Congress should not “teach the country about tolerance and intolerance”.
The verbal battle erupted came a day after the popular artist joined a debate on rising intolerance, saying the spike in sectarian tensions sowed a sense of “insecurity and fear” in the society and even in his family – drawing sharp reactions from senior ministers.
“Instead of branding all those who question the Govt & Modiji - as unpatriotic, anti national or ‘motivated, the govt would do better to reach out to people to understand what’s disturbing them,” @OfficeofRG tweeted.
“That’s the way to solve problems in India- not by bullying, threatening & abusing!”
The 45-year-old parliamentarian was responding to stinging criticism by Aamir by ruling party members, including minister of state for home Kiren Rijiju, who said the intolerance debate was misplaced.
“Record shows incidents of communal violence have come down since the NDA came to power. But to make a blatant statement that during NDA rule, the country has become intolerant, unnecessarily tarnishes the image of nation,” Rijiju said.
Parliamentary affairs minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi also hit out at Aamir.
“We won’t let Aamir leave the country, he is safe. This kind of comment, influenced by a politically-motivated campaign, insults those who have given so much honour to Aamir in India,” he was quoted as saying by TV channel NDTV.
Meanwhile, All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen president Asaduddin Owaisi also criticised Aamir for his remarks.
“We’ll be doing great disservice to freedom fighters by even verbally saying that we’re thinking of leaving India,” ANI quoted him as saying.
Instead of branding all those who question the Govt & Modiji- as unpatriotic, anti national or 'motivated'(1/3)— Office of RG (@OfficeOfRG) November 24, 2015
But the Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party accused the BJP of muzzling dissent, days before the winter session of Parliament where the intolerance debate is likely to be used by opposition parties to corner the government.
“BJP shud stop silencing voices thro abuses n threats. Its high time centrl govt took concrete steps 2 instil sense of security amngst people,” Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal tweeted.
Speaking at the Ramnath Goenka Awards ceremony on Monday, Aamir had expressed alarm over rising communalism, endorsing growing protests by over 50 writers, academics and scientists who have returned top government awards.
Watch | Aamir Khan ‘alarmed at growing intolerance in India’
“When I chat with Kiran at home, she says ‘Should we move out of India?’ That’s a disastrous and big statement for Kiran to make. She fears for her child. She fears about what the atmosphere around us will be.
She feels scared to open the newspapers every day. That does indicate this sense of growing disquiet, growing despondency, apart from alarm,” the 50-year-old had said.
As his remarks kicked up a political storm, BJP’s Hussain said: “Where will Aamir and his family go other than India,” he wondered in response to the actor’s remarks yesterday (Monday) that his wife Kiran Rao had even suggested that they should probably leave the country.
“There is no other better country like India and no better neighbour than a Hindu for an Indian Muslim. What is the situation in Muslim countries and Europe. There is intolerance everywhere,” he said, “Aamir had gained respect, fame and wealth due to the love and respect of all Indians.”
Taking on the Congress, Hussain added: “This shows Congress complicity in the campaign to malign the country. Congress cannot tolerate an elected government and a popular Prime Minister. When the country is progressing under the leadership of Narendra Modi, Congress is creating an atmosphere to malign the country.”
Aamir is the second prominent Bollywood actor to speak out against ‘growing intolerance’ in the country, including the mob lynching of a Muslim man in Uttar Pradesh over beef consumption rumours and the killing of Dalit children in Faridabad. Activists and the Opposition allege ruling party members were deliberately fanning communal passions for electoral benefit.
Shah Rukh came under searing attack from Hindu hardliners after the actor said in an interview earlier this month that there was “nothing worse than religious intolerance and that it would take India to the dark ages”.
BJP parliamentarian Yogi Adityanath accused the Bollywood star of treason while party general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya tweeted Shah Rukh’s soul was in Pakistan, triggering widespread condemnation.