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BJP Attacks On Shah Rukh Are Costing Modi His NRI Fans

09/11/2015 8:12 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
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FILE - In this Jan. 29, 2013 file photo, Bollywood actor Shah Rukh Khan waves during the unveiling of TOIFA Bollywood awards in Mumbai, India. Shah Rukh Khan has undergone surgery Tuesday, May 28, 2013 for a shoulder injury suffered while doing stunts for his new movie "Chennai Express." (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool, File)

For the millions of Indians in the United States of America, there are two Bollywood superstars who are adored and revered more than any others. There's Amitabh Bachchan, whose legend never fades, and then there is Shah Rukh Khan.

While Bachchan's is a formidable, towering presence in Indian cinema, Khan is the undisputed entertainer for fans here. Both stars inspire an obsessive, fanatical devotion in Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis alike.

When Khan turned 50 earlier this month, they celebrated his birthday on social media with affection and enthusiasm. They tuned in to see his interviews on Indian channels. So did I.

In the now famous interview with Barkha Dutt, I found Khan's remarks to be ordinary. He calmly echoed everything all of us have been saying for months. I did not find anything new or even original. Any normal person with an above average intelligence quotient and common sense would say what he did.

"The cheap, crass and crude tirades against Khan by hardliners only expose their ignorance, their bigotry and their lack of vision."

And he's right about everything. It's a fact that "intolerance is growing" in India and it's also true that it is "banal and silly" to look at the meat on someone's plate.

The only unique aspect of his remarks was that he had the courage to voice his concerns, unlike most of Bollywood, a fraternity that mostly chooses to make nice with politicians and shy away from controversy.

Hours later, I was sickened and disgusted by the remarks made by politicians. And judging by the reactions of Indians here, I was not the only one.

US-based Indians who swore by Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government and gave him rock star welcomes during his visits here are now being forced to re-evaluate his performance.

They are finally asking themselves the hard-hitting questions. What is India becoming under Modi? Why are these ministers talking like this? Why doesn't Modi ever condemn their remarks? Does he agree with them?

This is not the India we remember and love, they fretfully and worriedly say.

The cheap, crass and crude tirades against Khan by hardliners only expose their ignorance, their bigotry and their lack of vision.

What kind of leader openly attacks a beloved actor with unsubstantiated allegations of being, among other things, "anti-national" and "an agent of Pakistan"?

I will do the obligatory name and shame roll call which by now is headlining everywhere. Among those who attacked Khan were Yogi Adityanath, Kailash Vijayvargiya, Sadhvi Prachi, Manoj Tiwari, Najma Heptullah, Meenakshi Lekhi and yoga guru Baba Ramdev.

Congratulations to all of you for accomplishing the following in the eyes of non-resident Indians: making Khan a bigger star than he already is, getting him a much larger following (if that was possible) and creating a huge sympathy wave for him.

Indians here were partially responsible for helping to trend #IStandWithSRK on Twitter.

Here's a sampling of the comments from Indians all over America that I collected today. I found that they were disappointed, enraged and shocked by the personal attacks on Khan.

"He's such a good actor, he's a national icon, he has made India famous in the eyes of the world, why did they insult him?" asked Nisha Patel, a student.

"They are treating him like that only because he is a Muslim. But he is a national treasure. He is more Indian than us, we left our country and ran away but he faces this nonsense daily," said Amardeep Singh, a restaurant owner.

"He has guts."

"How dare they disrespect the King of Bollywood? I am angry. He is an icon. He has won many awards. We love to see his movies, this is not correct, this is not done Indian government," said Ruma Sen, a teacher.

"You need to write about this. Expose the very stupid leaders. You need to defend our hero," Nisha Paul, a technology worker, urged me.

My analysis of the situation is that these leaders have exposed a side of themselves that they would have been wise to have kept hidden.

They have made it crystal clear that they nakedly and unabashedly envy Khan's success, prosperity and popularity. They reveal their own deep-seated resentment that a Muslim could accomplish so much in India.

Khan is here is stay because he has worked hard and he deserves his success. They need to deal with it.

A word on actors and their influence on social policy: Hollywood continues to be one of the greatest influences on public policy and society. Through their work in films, through their support of social causes and through their speaking out on various issues on multiple platforms, Hollywood has expanded debates and changed the conversations in the country.

America is better today because of that. I believe that Bollywood should follow their contemporaries and take India away from the path of the "dark ages" it is going towards.

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