When Gajendra Chauhan was appointed chairman of Film & Television Institute of India in 2015, students protested. At least 12 filmmakers returned their national awards, citing “rising intolerance”. And actor Anupam Kher interjected to the trend of #AwardWapsi, tweeting: “Some more usual suspects who never wanted @narendramodi to become PM in d first place have joined the #AwardWapsi gang. Jai ho.:)”
Kher’s political inclinations have always been clear from his posts on Twitter, where he has more than 10 million followers. Married to actor and BJP MP Kirron Kher, he has often posted tweets that reflect pro-government sentiment on issues where it has been under attack. One tweet a week after Chauhan’s appointment on June 9, 2015, however, was cryptic: “FTII is an important institution for the future film makers, actors & technicians. Govt. has to keep that in mind before choosing its head.”
On February 20, 2016, by when JNU student leaders Kanhaiya Kumar and Umar Khalid had risen to prominence, Kher borrowed a line from one of his movies to tweet: “Gharo’n mein pest control hota hai toh cockroach, keede makaude ityadi baahar nikalte hai’n. Ghar saaf hota hai. Vaise hi aajkal desh ka pest control chal raha hai” (Cockroaches, insects and vermin emerge when a house has pest control. It cleans the house. Similarly, there is pest control going on in the country”). On March 19, he visited JNU to promote a movie and tweeted, along with pictures of the crowd, “Slogans of #BharatMataKiJai & #VandeMatram today purified #JNU of slogans chanted earlier on 9th Feb.:) #Patriotism”.
On February 28 this year, during a time when a soldier’s daughter, Gurmehar Kaur, said it was war and not Pakistan that had killed her father in Kargil, and when demonetisation was a current issue, Kher tweeted: “The Intorant Gang is back. Same faces, different slogans.:) #Intolerance #AwardWapsi #Emergency #DemonitisationDisaster #BharatKeTukde”.
Another issue he brings up often is that of Kashmiri Pandits. In July 2016, he posted pictures from 1990 and one of his most widely circulated tweets: “Here is pic of butchered bodies of Kashmiri Pandits killed by terrorists. No outrage or concern by Pseudo liberals!” The next day, after being criticised for the pictures, he responded: “Remember brutal killing of innocent people is not supposed to have an expiry date.”
In January 2010, when the UPA was in power, Kher had tweeted: “AWARDS in our country have become a mockery of our system. There is NO authenticity left in any one of them.B it films, National or now PADMA.” But in 2016, when the NDA government awarded him a Padma award: “Happy, Humbled & Honoured to share that i have been awarded The PADMA BHUSHAN by the Govt. of India. Greatest news of my life:) #JaiHind”.
Kher once claimed Pakistan had denied him a visa to attend a literature festival. “Has my visa been denied because I speak about India’s rich tradition of tolerance or I am a Kashmiri Pandit who may expose Pak terror nexus?” he tweeted. The Pakistani High Commission responded with a tweet that it had “never” received a visa application from Kher, so the question of “issuing or denying him visa does not arise”.
In October 2015, when the FTII protests were on, Kher tweeted, “Some people are calling me Pseudo Patriot/Nationalist. I am HAPPY. It is much better than being a Pseudo Secularist/Intellectual. Jai Ho.:)”
Congress spokesperson R P N Singh said had Kher been selected “just because of his acting skills, we would have really lauded that,” but the country has seen what he has been saying. “It is less to do with cinema, more to do with politics,” Singh said, “but still we hope he brings about a change.” He acknowledged: “Without doubt, we rate Kher as a very good actor. He has given immense performances on television as well as the big screen.