Aamir Khan Adds Gandhian Touch To His Campaign In Gujarat

December 24, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent

NEW DELHI/MUMBAI:  Bollywood superstar Aamir Khan has certainly taken a lead over politicians where his publicity campaign for his latest movie, “3 Idiots” is concerned. He has literally gone to the people, mingled with them and then surprised them by revealing his real identity. The silent message sent by this style of campaigning cannot be missed. The message stands out by the actor giving minimal importance to religious, regional as well as other socio-economic differences which are in contrast highlighted prominently by politicians when they try reaching out to the common people for their votes. This does not imply that the star has seldom given importance to communal tactics of Indian politicians. In fact, he earned a strong criticism in several quarters for having earlier criticized Chief Minister Narendra Modi for Gujarat carnage and supporting the Narmada Bachao Andolan (movement). Soon after Aamir criticized Modi in 2006, activists supporting Modi started persuading theater owners in Gujarat not to release his movies- “Fanaa” and “Taare Zameen Par.” They also demanded an apology from Aamir for his “anti-Gujarat” stand on NBA and his “anti-Narendra Modi” remarks. The actor had since stopped visiting Gujarat and had also refused to change his opinion on the two issues- NBA and Gujarat-carnage.

To a question on his stand, Aamir had said: “I had said that people killed in Godhra and its aftermath were not Hindus or Muslims for me. They were Indians, and whoever was responsible for the carnage was anti-Indian and anti-national. If that was the reason for this (ban on his movies), so be it.” On the financial losses that the ban spelt, accepting that they would be “huge,” he said: “And what about people losing their land and houses? I think that is a far bigger, deeper issue.” When questioned on whether he would apologize for his stand, he replied: “What should I apologize for? What wrong have I done? I am happy and proud of what I did.”

Against this backdrop, the nature of Aamir’s recent visit to Gujarat, the first since he faced the backlash, stands out. The actor apparently deliberately selected Lok Niketan Vinay Mandir, a small school in Palanpur village, about 135 km from Ahmedabad in Banaskantha district. The school is run on Gandhian principles, where the students weave their own khadi uniform. Wearing a black T-shirt and jeans, the actor entered the school at around noon last Thursday (December 17). Initially, nobody recognized him, but when they did, the teachers and students were pleasantly surprised. After a discussion with the school principal, Aamir interacted with students from class seventh to tenth. He heard a student sing a song, talked to students about their dreams, played cricket with them and also shared food from a girl’s lunch box, cooked by her grandmother. When a student showed Aamir, the star’s photo that he kept in his pocket, he picked him up and kissed him. He gifted the school two golden rings, two cricket balls, six tennis balls, one volley ball, two footballs and four tickets of the film premier with air tickets. The school felicitated him with a khadi garland.

Earlier, when questioned on his plans against his ban of his movies in Gujarat, Aamir had replied: “There are many avenues I could take recourse to. There is the legal option, I could seek help from the film industry and the various film associations, but on this issue I want the people to decide. The people should decide if this is the kind of political party they want.” Criticizing the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for using “brute force,” with “no value for human life,” he had said: “In life, nothing is in our control. The maximum we can do is to do what we believe is right. I strongly believe that each one of us has to fulfill our karma, to do what he or she feels is right. The BJP should do what it feels is right, the people of Gujarat and India should do what they feel is right.”

Undeniably, Aamir’s visit to Lok Niketan school was a part of his two-week nation-wide campaign to promote his movie. Among the other places, the actor has suddenly turned up at, include Kolkata (West Bengal), Jaipur (Rajasthan), a remote village in Madhya Pradesh, Varanasi (Uttar Pradesh) and an unknown village near Faridkot in Punjab. The subtle message conveyed by his deliberately including a Gujarati-school run on Gandhian principles cannot be missed. He still remains hopeful and optimistic that secularism and Gandhian principles cannot be easily defeated even by communal atrocities, such as the Gujarat-carnage. While at the school, Aamir said that he wanted to “try and imbibe Gandhian values.” This was apparently his style of making people aware about the importance of Gandhian principles. A visit to the small school was not binding on the star. If he wished, he could have stayed out of Gujarat even now. But he did not. Rather, as is evident, he planned his Gujarat-visit to let the school run on Gandhian principles hit the headlines and gain substantial media coverage. The move has given his old critics (Modi-supporters) virtually no time or even reason to question his “campaign.”  

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Biased Frisking Of Shahrukh

August 20, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS) India Correspondent

shah-rukh khan actor NEW DELHI: Just as Bollywood icon Shahrukh Khan was probably not prepared for being detained by American immigration officials at Newark Liberty in International Airport in New Jersey for questioning, United States apparently did not expect the reaction that it would trigger from India. Different views have been expressed on what actually led to Shahrukh being detained (August 15). Linking his case with his religious identity- a Muslim- Shahrukh said that he was held up because his last name (Khan) came up on a computer alert list. Incidentally, the actor was in United States to participate in India’s Independent Day celebrations and also to promote his new film: “My Name is Khan,” which highlights racial discrimination of Muslims after September 11, 2001 attacks in United States.

Shahrukh may have been detained for a still longer time had perhaps the Indian embassy in United States not intervened. Not every Khan or any person bearing a Muslim name is lucky enough to have his country’s embassy intervene in such cases. Nevertheless, the US immigration officials denied that Shahrukh was formally detained because of his last name having cropped up on their computer alert system. His security check “took a little longer because his bag was lost by the airline,” according to US Customs and Border Protection spokesperson Elmer Camacho. Irrespective of whether Shahrukh’s bag was actually lost or not, Camacho’s statement certainly indicates United States’ acknowledgement that the actor was detained for longer than routine security checks require. It defeats the view expressed by certain people that Shahrukh was only subject to routine security frisking and the actor unnecessarily made a lot of noise about the issue. This is further confirmed by US embassy in India stating that it would look into the case. “We are clarifying. We are trying to ascertain facts about the incident,” US embassy official said.

Soon after the incident, Shahrukh expressed that he would avoid going to United States, as he did not want to be a part of America’s paranoia of religion. “This has happened with me before and that’s why it concerns me all the more. As it is I shy away from coming to the US because I don’t want to participate in their paranoia about religion and everything that the US has developed into over the years. I don’t want to say that it happened because I am a Muslim as it may lead to something else, but I think it had something to do with that only. We can only avoid this by not coming to the US,” he said. Describing the incident as “uncalled for,” Shahrukh said: “I did feel bad. I felt angry. I am glad my family wasn’t there. God knows what they would have done to them.”

Reacting to Shahrukh’s words, US envoy Timothy J. Roemer said: “We are trying to ascertain facts of the case – to understand what took place. Shahrukh Khan, the actor and global icon, is very welcome guest in the United States. Many Americans love his films.” The incident would probably not have invited reaction at the diplomatic level from both India and United States, were it a routine process to which all visiting US are subject to. 

Undeniably, if an ordinary Indian possessing the same name had been detained for even longer hours than the actor, the incident would not have probably hit headlines nor would it have raised concern diplomatically, politically and among the Indian people. This also is perhaps a minor indicator of the apparent religious and racial bias, which people bearing common Muslim names are subject to in United States. While United States may still take some time to come to terms with the negative image that prevalence of this bias has earned for the superpower, it cannot be missed that Washington is gradually but definitely becoming aware of this hard reality. This probably compelled United States to issue statements at various levels on what led to the incident and that it would be looked into.

In addition to the incident having invited strong comments from several Indian politicians, Shahrukh’s fans reacted strongly by staging a demonstration in Allahabad (Uttar Pradesh). Shouting slogans against the US administration, they also burnt effigy of US President Barack Obama. They termed Shahrukh’s detention as an “insult to one billion Indians,” (August 16). A similar demonstration was staged in the capital city also.

”We will take the issue with the United States government strongly. Such incidents involving Indians due to their religion or nationality should not happen. We will not accept it,” Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel said. Earlier, Information and Broadcasting Minister Ambika Soni said that India should also adopt the same attitude towards Americans. “Like they frisk, we should also be frisking them,” she said.

While United States has yet to accept that biased frisking of Shahrukh- decided by his religious and racial identity- has added to the negative image about the superpower’s democratic claims, Indians have reacted strongly against it, indicating that the incident is democratically unacceptable to them. Biased frisking of Shahrukh was totally undemocratic from the Indian perspective.

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