A DAY after Aamir Khan expressed alarm over acts of intolerance and said his wife had asked whether they should move out of India, Union Minister of State for Minority Affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said that tolerance was in India’s DNA, and that the actor need not leave the country nor will the country let him go.
Responding to Khan’s comments made during the Ramnath Goenka Excellence in Journalism Awards ceremony, Naqvi told The Indian Express: “The political propaganda on intolerance may have influenced him but I want to tell him that there is no reason for him to leave the country and nor will this country allow him to leave. That is because tolerance is in India’s DNA. There is no need for him to worry or to even think of leaving the country. There is no space for intolerance in this country. He does not need to pay heed to fabricated campaigns based on isolated incidents.”
While Union Minister for Minority Affairs Najma Heptulla refused to comment, Naqvi’s nuanced response was in contrast to the flurry of remarks that Khan’s comments unleashed with the BJP and the Opposition lining up on opposite sides on the eve of the Parliament’s Winter Session.
On Monday, in conversation at Awards ceremony, Khan had said that a sense of “insecurity” and “fear” had seeped deep within society, even in his family.
“(Wife) Kiran and I have lived all our lives in India. For the first time, she said, should we move out of India? That’s a disastrous and big statement for Kiran to make to me. She fears for her child. She fears about what the atmosphere around us will be. She feels scared to open the newspapers everyday. That does indicate that there is a sense of growing disquiet,” he said.
Reacting to Khan’s comments, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi asked the government to reach out to the people instead of branding its critics as “unpatriotic, anti-national or motivated”. Hitting back, Naqvi’s party colleague Shahnawaz Hussein accused the Congress of hatching a conspiracy against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and challenged Khan to a debate on intolerance.
CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury said what Khan said was the “ground reality” while CPI national secretary D Raja said the BJP had shown its “sectarian and illiberal attitude” by attacking the actor.
On the other side, Minister of State for Home Kiren Rijiju said incidents of communal violence had dipped since the NDA government came to power. “His comments on intolerance is completely misplaced. Comments like this only bring the image of country and the Prime Minister Modi down,” Rijiju said.
Union HRD Minister Smriti Irani said the fact that Khan, a tourism ambassador for India, was able to make these remarks on a public platform in front of Union Minister Arun Jaitley showed that free speech was not hampered.
“Aamir Khan is a brand ambassador for tourism in our country — Incredible India — and that’s what’s incredible…that he can be a brand ambassador for our government and he can be on a platform in front of the Information and Broadcasting Minister (Arun Jaitley) and speak his mind shows that free speech thrives,” Irani told NDTV.
Among some of the BJP’s more outspoken leaders, party general secretary P Muralidhar Rao said that Khan was “patronising a clique trying to build up a malicious campaign against the government” while colleague Kailash Vijayvargiya said only those who stashed black money abroad wanted to leave.
BJP MP Yogi Adityanath, meanwhile, said nobody would stop Khan from leaving and that such a move would “help reduce the country’s population”. The party’s national secretary Shrikant Sharma said Rahul Gandhi’s support for Khan showed “it was a pre-planned joint operation”.
Among the first to react to Khan’s comments was Rahul Gandhi who said, “Instead of branding all those who question the Government and Modiji as unpatriotic, anti-national or motivated, the Government would do better to reach out to people to understand what is disturbing them. That is the way to solve problems in India… not by bullying, threatening and abusing.”
Yechury pointed out that several union ministers were present in the audience when Khan spoke about “difficult issues”.
“You may agree or you may disagree. But you can’t deny him the right to say what he wants. That is the fundamental issue of intolerance. We have been telling the government this….we want the government to understand that this is the ground reality,” Yechury told The Indian Express.
“Why are the Khans of Bollywood talking, why are thousands of intellectuals, litterateurs and artists speaking out? Why are they so agitated and exercised? Isn’t it the job of the government of the day to try and understand what is happening? Indians are not intolerant. But the government is silent and the party in power is not stopping its leaders who are giving inciting statements. That is the issue,” he said.
CPI’s Raja said that Khan was “not the first person” to “express anguish”. “That intolerance in the country is growing is a fact. President Pranab Mukherjee had spoken about it three times. Even Prime Minister Modi has said that peace, harmony and unity are must although he did not qualify who is breaking peace, harmony and unity,” Raja said.
Addressing reporters in Mumbai, BJP spokesperson Shahnawaz Hussain alleged that there was a “deep political conspiracy” by the Congress to defame the country by “harping on an atmosphere of intolerance”.
“There is no other better country like India and no better neighbour than a Hindu for an Indian Muslim. What is the situation in Muslim countries and Europe? There is intolerance everywhere. This shows Congress complicity in the campaign to malign the country. Congress cannot tolerate an elected government and a popular Prime Minister,” he alleged.
Another BJP spokesperson Siddharth Nath Singh said Khan was the brand ambassador of the Incredible India campaign and his statements were “contrary to what he has been promoting”.
Joining the chorus of support for Khan was Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal who posted in a series of tweets: “Every word that Aamir Khan said is so true. I admire him for speaking up. BJP should stop silencing voices through abuses and threats. It’s high time central govt took concrete steps to instill sense of security amongst people.”
From outside the political spectrum, Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion Secretary Amitabh Kant said people “must have a sense of ownership” about the country.
Addressing the issue of intolerance at ASSOCHAM’S annual event on Tuesday, he said, “It’s not about somebody else’s India. It’s not about saying we are tolerant or intolerant, we have to make this India. If we don’t make this India, who will make this India and therefore, we must have a sense of pride, we must have a sense of ownership of India.”
Referring to Sufi poet Amir Khusro, Kant said, “A 14th Century Indian seer, he was a Muslim, he wrote in Persian, his ancestors were from Turkey but he counted himself as the luckiest man alive to have been born in India and have India as his motherland.”
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines