At a Parliamentary Standing Committee meeting on Friday in which members sought an explanation from the Tourism Secretary for replacing actor Aamir Khan with Amitabh Bachchan as the brand ambassador of the Incredible India campaign, BJP MP Manoj Tiwari is learnt to have called Khan a “traitor”.
According to a source, Tiwari, also a popular Bhojpuri actor, said: “Aamir Khan is a traitor, he should be thrown out.” This led to protests from other members at the meeting of the Standing Committee on Transport, Tourism and Culture.
At the Ramnath Goenka Excellence in Journalism Awards in November last year, Khan had said, “There is a sense of fear more than there was earlier. I do feel there is a sense of insecurity… For the first time, she (wife Kiran) said, should we move out of India?… She fears for her child… That does indicate that there is a sense of growing disquiet… growing sense of despondency.”
According to sources, members of the Congress and the CPM were agitated over Tourism Secretary Vinod Zutshi’s refusal to provide details of the government’s decision to replace Khan with Bachchan. Though the issue of the campaign’s brand ambassador was not on the agenda of the meeting, the chairman of the committee and Rajya Sabha MP K D Singh mentioned media reports and said it would be appreciated if Zutshi, who appeared before the panel Friday, could furnish details.
When the discussions started, Congress MP Kumari Selja referred to the media reports and said that MPs would like details. However, Zutshi said he did not have the details as the matter was not on the agenda. CPM’s Ritabrata Banerjee then referred to Khan’s claim that he had done the campaign free of cost, and said the government must clarify whether his replacement would take money and, if so, how much.
Congress MP K C Venugopal also pointed out that MPs have the privilege to know the details of the nature of the contract. The members also asked if it was true that Bachchan had been appointed as the new face of the campaign.
As reported by The Indian Express on Friday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is also learnt to have sought a report from the tourism ministry on the issue.
As the MPs insisted on getting details, Tiwari called Khan a traitor, said the source. Opposition MPs objected to the remark and said they were nobody to decide who is a patriot and who is a traitor. MP Shatrughan Sinha, a former actor, was also present at the meeting but he maintained silence, sources said.
When contacted by The Indian Express, Venugopal and Banerjee declined to comment. As Opposition MPs refused to relent and insisted on the details, Zutshi was asked to provide details to the committee within 10 days.
MoS for Tourism Mahesh Sharma has so far maintained that Khan was not dropped as brand ambassador, but the contract with advertising agency McCann Worldgroup for the campaign had expired.
Confirming the development Thursday, Khan had said, “I respect the decision of the government to discontinue with my services… I was happy to be of service to my country, and will always be available for it.”