Wednesday, November 25, 2015
Aamir Khan’s remark should not have evoked a rabid response from the supporters of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It shows NDA government has an image problem.
It was a classic piquant situation. The occasion was the Ramnath Goenka Awards for Excellence in Journalism from The Indian Express Group. The awards went to journalists who did anti-establishment stories. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley offered faint praise to the feisty press baron, who was an anti-establishment man himself. But the man who seemed to have lived up to combative spirit of Ramnath Goenka was film actor, producer and director Aamir Khan who was in conversation with Anant Goenka disclosed that his wife Kiran Rao felt a sense of unease and fear and she had even wanted to leave the country. What Khan was giving voice to was the deep sense of anxiety that the liberals are experiencing ever since the right-wing Narendra Modi government had come into office in the summer of 2014.
It would be puerile to vilify Khan for what he had said though the film actor leaves himself vulnerable to intelligent lampoonists. The actor’s comment reminds one of what the New York’s liberal intellectuals who were quoted as saying that they would leave the country if George W Bush became president. They did not, of course, leave the country and the junior Bush was in the White House for eight years. The liberals’ exaggerated response was in the nature of a snide remark of those who opposed right-wing politics. So, it would not be right to ask why Khan or his wife did not leave the country earlier when there were similar moments of intolerance. Khan has his politics and his views. The others can castigate him, and make fun of him. But Khan’s observation should not be seen as reflecting the national sentiment. There would be many who would agree with what Khan had to say and there would be as many who would disagree with him.
The storm created by the film actor’s remark points to a more important question which should worry the Modi government and its spin doctors. It is clear that the BJP-led NDA government has created a negative image for itself. Its supporters are only strengthening it when they attack dissenters as unpatriotic. Criticising the BJP, the RSS and other right-wing ideologues is not being anti-national. The dissenters love the country as much as the right-wingers. It looks like the Modi government is losing the battle of perceptions and images. The media-savvy Prime Minister should know this better than any one else. But so far, the government has not been able to counter the critics’ charge that it is intolerant. It has been reacting in a peevish manner by mounting counter-charges. This does not help.
Getting back to Khan’s observation, it should not be seen as a proposition which is either true or false. He has expressed a viewpoint which does not fit into a narrow logical framework. There are statements which are neither true or false. But they carry a certain emotional potency, a certain value. Therefore, they cannot be dismissed out of hand. It is not necessary to view Khan’s remark as though it was apocalyptic and there is no need for an apoplectic reaction. Those who want to demolish Khan’s view should do so in as informal a manner as did the actor himself. The first thing they should not do is to question the actor’s patriotic credentials. There should be a healthy debate whether there is an atmosphere of intolerance in the country without denying that there have been episodes of intolerance ever since this government has come into office.
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