Bollywood star Aamir Khan was sucked into a raging row over religious intolerance with the BJP and radical Hindu groups attacking him on Tuesday for revealing his family contemplated moving abroad following the recent spike in communal violence.
The Congress, which has been targeting the BJP-led NDA government over growing intolerance, stood firmly by the popular actor who on Monday said communal tension sowed a sense of “insecurity and fear” in society and even in his family.
Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi accused the government of bullying, hours after the BJP linked the 50-year-old actor’s comments to a “deep rooted conspiracy” of the rival party to tarnish the nation’s image.
“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,” tweeted Gandhi. “That’s the way to solve problems in India- not by bullying, threatening & abusing!”
Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal too backed Khan for speaking out against intolerance while CPM leader Sitaram Yechury said the actor should be heard and not threatened for “speaking the truth”.
Speaking at the Ramnath Goenka Awards ceremony on Monday, Aamir expressed alarm over rising cases of communal violence and endorsed protests by more than 50 writers, academics and scientists who have returned top government awards.
“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,” he said.
His remarks triggered noisy protests outside his Mumbai home as well as Patna, where angry Hindu activists painted his posters with black ink before setting them on fire. A complaint was also registered at a police station in Delhi against Khan.
Worried about his family’s safety, Khan has apparently asked wife Kiran to leave Mumbai with their child for a few days, a source told Hindustan Times. “They have decided not to talk any more on the issue. The actor feels he has already expressed his opinion and has nothing to clarify.”
His anxiety was not surprising as controversial Hindu leaders such as BJP MP Yogi Adityanath and VHP leader Sadhvi Prachi fired a barrage of shots at Khan.
“Out of Pakistan, Syria, Palestine, Iran, Lebanon, Turkey and Israel, they (Aamir and Shah Rukh Khan) should disclose the name of the country where they want to go. We will arrange tickets for them,” said Prachi.
For his part, Adityanath said: “Those who want to leave (India) must not be stopped.”
Khan is the second prominent Bollywood actor to speak out against growing violence 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.
Earlier, Shah Rukh Khan said on his 50th birthday that there was “nothing worse than religious intolerance and that it would take India to the dark ages”. In response, Adityanath accused him of treason and compared him with Pakistani terrorist Hafiz Saeed.
It was Aamir Khan’s turn on Tuesday to be called a traitor and he got it from BJP ally Shiv Sena. “We all loved him but we did not know we were feeding milk to a snake. If Aamir really wants to get out of the country, he should instantly fly to Pakistan,” Sena leader Ramdas Kadam said.
If these three stood out as the pinch-hitters, senior BJP leaders too pulled no punches. BJP spokesperson Shahnawaz Hussain said Aamir Khan’s comments showed he was “not himself scared, but was scaring others as well”, while Union minister Smriti Irani reminded the actor that he could be brand ambassador for the government’s tourism initiative because of India’s culture of tolerance.
“He has a political inclination and it is his right to have it,” she said.
Filmmaker Ram Gopal Varma, actress Raveena Tandon and actor Anupam Kher led a raft of Bollywood celebrities in the slugfest. “India had made Aamir what he is. Why did he not talk of leaving the country during worse times earlier?” asked Kher, whose wife Kirron is a BJP MP.