The silence of the Khans

Sanjay Jha
·Former National Spokesperson, Indian National Congress party

Let me state this upfront: like millions of Indians across the globe, I am a huge Khan-aficionado, be it Shah Rukh Khan, Aamir Khan or Salman Khan, necessarily in that sequential order.

To understand their magnetic appeal, let me give you an example. During practically all Diwali holidays, I would have the distinguished privilege of shepherding my wife, two daughters, sister and, hold your breath, even my otherwise more intractable mother-in-law to a magical Khan film.

An otherwise cantankerous bunch in several generational layers, they were all personification of oneness when watching Rahul, Bajrangi or Mangal Pandey. It is an annual pilgrimage that has been momentarily interrupted as higher studies abroad have created a disequilibrium.

The Khans’ career span is like a foundational course on family nostalgia. I can relate to Maine Pyaar Kiya, Jo Jeeta Wahi Sikandar, DDLJ, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, Lagaan, Kal Ho Na Ho, Om Shanti Om, 3 Idiots, Dabang, et cetera to different emotional milestones.

The Khans for many of us ‘baby boomers’ bunch (mostly in our 50s) have run a parallel university creating family bonding. It’s a visceral relationship bordering on interminable faith. Every family household, I assume, has a hard-core Khan junkie.

That’s what perhaps best explains the deep disquiet among many on social media these days: why are the three Khans so extraordinarily, conspicuously, mute even as India burns on the Citizenship Amendment Act and the proposed National Register of Citizens which appear to brazenly practise segregationist politics against the Muslim community in India to which they belong?

The answer to that perplexing conundrum is not that easy.

Let us bite the bullet: it is not easy carrying a Khan surname during these tenebrous, turbulent times in India when religious bigotry is being malevolently escalated for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s Hindutva agenda.

Ever since May 2014, when the BJP made a spectacular ascension to power, the ‘Othering Project’ of psychological ghettoization of the Muslims in India was augmented. Soon it will have a physical infrastructure in the form of detention centers. A phantasmagoric suspicion of the skull cap was carried out using the political pulpit.

Many foolishly believed that the brutal murder of Mohammad Akhlaq in Dadri, Uttar Pradesh was an adventitious episode, an isolated example of mob savagery. But it was not a one-off happenstance; soon it became like a sporadic serial killing with a distinctive sinister pattern triggered by rumoured beef-eating, cattle-trading, child-kidnapping or random stealing.

Blood-thirsty revanchists posted videos on social media of their hapless victims. When a popular television-friendly face of the BJP garlanded a lynching accused, the political messaging was not nebulous: the horrors perpetrated in the name of cow vigilantism were perfectly kosher.

It was a manifestation of repugnant hate, given an official imprimatur. I am sure the Khans were reading about the prevalent social commentary.

Corporate India is full of wealth-creators: no government, whether left-leaning or free markets advocates, can treat them with frivolous disdain. But post-2014, India’s Billionaire Club, et cetera have become mealy-mouthed, supine cheerleaders of the most disastrous government in history (India’s GDP is on a frenetic freefall courtesy practitioners of voodoo economics).

When veteran India Inc captain Rahul Bajaj castigated the government for shoehorning India by creating fear, the BJP’s response was a vicious troll-back, a chilling message to remain mute.

I saw a puny BJP spokesperson talk down one of India’s most respected women entrepreneurs Kiran-Mazumdar Shaw with visible irascibility. It was a moment of incandescent political hubris but told you volumes about the authoritarian avatar of the current regime.

Authors, intellectuals, artistes, activists: they are all being subjected to flagrant brutalization by an unsparing dictatorial state.

Be honest, do the three Khans collectively have a chance against this monstrous cold machine that has railroaded institutions, subjugated mainstream media, throttled free expression and threatened dissidents?

Hollywood treats US President Donald Trump with the contemptuous indifference he deserves. But in India you cannot be a Robert De Niro, Meryl Streep, John Cusack, or Hugh Grant because our democratic institutions stand miserably emasculated.

Free press is a laughable oxymoron and no actor wants to be a victim of political retribution. The Khans have been subjected to perverse hate campaigns in the past that have frequently targeted their commercial releases, and even brand endorsements.

When Mahatma Gandhi’s murderer Nathuram Godse gets a celebratory sobriquet of a national patriot in the sacrosanct Parliament, can we blame the Khans?

But perhaps the nationwide protests, particularly by the young student community on Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and National Register of Citizens (NRC) for the Muslim minorities gives the Khans a reason to proliferate the issue into national public consciousness.

The Khans, between them, have played Asoka, Bhuvan and Bajrangi Bhaijaan, their raging popularity cutting across religious divides, making them an epitome of India’s intrinsic secular tapestry.

Many of their less-vaunted colleagues have demonstrated cringe-worthy obsequiousness to the present government and have wilfully promoted BJP’s muscular majoritarian nationalism that has vilified minorities.

They are shameless. To put it bluntly, they are accessories to the balkanization of India’s constitutional character. They must be shown the mirror.

Maybe it is time for the Khans to collectively speak up for those poor Indian Muslims who remain fearful and susceptible in the land where they have lived for decades and called their home. For those who cannot afford to live in Bandstand.

Maybe it is time to tell the world “My name is Khan. And I am a proud Indian. And I do not need a document to prove it.”

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