As Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan waded into the controversy over Naseeruddin Shah’s remarks, comparing them to what Mohammad Ali Jinnah had once said, the acclaimed actor told him to stay away from “issues that don’t concern him”.
Speaking at a public function in Lahore, Khan drew a parallel between Shah’s remarks about feeling scared for his children because of the impunity of lawless mobs in India and what Jinnah had said about not wanting to live in an India where Muslims would not be equal citizens.
In a sharp retort to him, Shah told The Sunday Express, “I think Mr Khan should be walking the talk in his own country instead of commenting on issues that don’t concern him. We have been a democracy for 70 years and we know how to look after ourselves.”
Referring to the Bulandshahr violence where a policeman had lost his life to mob fury over alleged cow slaughter earlier this month, the 68-year-old actor had expressed concern over how “the death of a cow has more significance than that of a police officer” and how he doesn’t see “the situation improving anytime soon”. The actor added, “I feel anxious for my children because tomorrow if a mob surrounds them and asks ‘Are you a Hindu or a Muslim?’, they will have no answer.”
Khan said the “lesson” Pakistan needed to draw from this was to ensure that “all people get equal rights, irrespective of their faith”. He cited “the famous speech by Qaid e Azam in 1948 where he said all Pakistanis would have equal rights” as also “the Constitution of Medina” where Prophet Mohammed promised Christians protection and safety. He added, “We have to prove in Pakistan that all minorities are equal citizens… Narendra Modi’s India must be shown how we treat minorities.”
Shah’s remarks have been met with protests, with some groups agitating outside the venue where he was supposed to deliver the keynote address at the fifth edition of a three-day literature festival in Ajmer. Raas Bihari Gaur, the coordinator of the festival, said, “Shah was scheduled to inaugurate the festival but he did not come because of protests by some locals.”
He was also scheduled to launch his book at the opening session, but this too was cancelled.
With several people pointing out that this had happened under a Congress government, Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot tweeted on Saturday evening that what had happened was “unfortunate”.
“It is very unfortunate that organiser of Ajmer Literature Fest asks Mr #NaseeruddinShah to avoid his inaugural appearance amidst some news of protest. Administration was fully prepared to hold festival peacefully. Our govt respects all rights & liberties of each & every citizen.”
Reacting to Shah’s remarks, Union minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said on Saturday that the veteran actor’s children need not feel scared as “tolerance was in the DNA of the country”. “I think his emotions may have been right, but his words were probably misconstrued and a mountain was made out of a molehill. India is a tolerant country. Tolerance and harmony are in the DNA of the country, and despite the circumstances, nobody has succeeded in destroying that strong legacy,” Naqvi told PTI in Mumbai.