Now that he is a Padma Bhushan, Anupam Kher should start taking his own words seriously, even if it is difficult for others to do so.
During a discussion at the recent Jaipur Literature Festival, Kher resorted to colorful gaalis (abuses), theatrics, sloganeering and cheerleading to argue that freedom of speech comes with responsibilities. Point made, audience — paid or otherwise — won, opposition silenced, Kher then went on to become a tragi-comic antithesis of his own argument.
First, he lamented in an interview that he is afraid of calling himself a Hindu, ironically, in Hindu Hriday Samrat Narendra Modi's India, in a country run by a Parivar that once gave us that famous jumla, 'Garv Se Kaho Hum Hindu Hai'. In a country that just anointed him with a Padma Bhushan ahead of many other deserving actors, stars and public figures. (More about it later).
Intolerant India dissed, Kher moved on to Pakistan.
On Tuesday, Kher flew into righteous indignation, complaining that he has been denied visa by Pakistan to attend a literature festival in Karachi. With a flurry of tweets, statements and a hurriedly-summoned press conference, he made the denial look like a diplomatic catastrophe that would have made the Cuban crisis look like a game of katt-batti between kids.
"I am not angry. I am hurt, upset and somewhere wanting to know the reason. Out of 18, why was I singled out. It could either be because I am a Kashmiri Pandit… or because I’ve spoken about the issue of intolerance, taken a stand and have applauded my PM. Otherwise, there is no logical reason why the visa was denied to me. This has happened for the third time," Kher told reporters in Mumbai.
Really? Does Kher really mean it when he suggests that he was denied visa because he behaves like, well, a BJP chamcha, the label he recently used for Shashi Tharoor? Shouldn't somebody remind him that PM Modi is himself being looked at with renewed hope and respect in Pakistan because of his bold diplomatic measures? Hasn't he noticed that the Indian PM is trying to normalise ties with Pakistan with his restrained, statesman-like approach? And he thinks his loyalty to Modi is the reason behind the denial.
As Congress leader Manish Tewari tweeted: If the #posterboyof "tolerant" India is so keen to go to Pak his friend PM Modi can surely talk to his drop by friend Nawaz & facilitate it?
Maybe it was, as many suspect, Kher's Don Quixote-brand of ambition speaking. Maybe he is convinced that just like Modi became India's PM after being denied visa by the US, he will go on to become India's superstar in the next decade for becoming a symbol of victimisation of Kashmiri asmita by Pakistan.
Come on, Padma Bhushan Anupam Kher, use your freedom of expression and ambition little more responsibly. By arguing it is dangerous to refer to one's religious identity in Modi's India, that followers of Modi are banned from entering Pakistan, you are fatuously undermining the narrative of the party you and your wife so loyally represent otherwise.
Since Kher wants to know the reason behind the denial, let me make it clear to him. No, it is not because you are a BJP bhakt or claim to represent Kashmiri Pandits. It is because of your predilection for selective outrage, intellectual duplicity and opportunism. It is because Pakistan paid back a compliment we Indians give them regularly.
Perhaps you did not notice, Pakistani cricketers are banned from participating in the Indian Premier League. Perhaps you never noticed that people like Ghulam Ali are not allowed to perform in many states by followers of the ideology you so robustly cheerlead. Perhaps you did not notice that faces of people from your own party are blackened for promoting books by Pakistani authors.
Since you are so fond of what-aboutisms, please tell us where were you when all this was happening? Where were you when Pakistani cricketers were banned from IPL? Did you, even once, speak out in their favour? Did you, even once, tweet your outrage against using artists, players and intellectuals as political pawns? Did you ever lead a protest march against the absurd practice of creating diplomatic boundaries for art?
So, ab hungama hai kyun hai barpa, Padma Bhushan? The truth is you notice the flaws in the system, its inherent biases, injustice, intolerance and bigotry, only when you become the victim. You rant against political interference in Padma awards when you don't get one. But you start performing sashtang dandvat when you get it ahead of far more deserving stalwarts like Shammi Kapoor, Rishi Kapoor, Madhuri Dixit and Saurav Ganguly. You start whining against denial of visa when you do not get it. But you do not dare speak up when artists from both the countries are subjected to hate propaganda and tit-for-tat diplomacy.
Your outrage, Mr Kher, is a self-centred, attention-seeking charade. It is just opportunism, archetypical tirade of the selfish.
We do not know whether Kher is really scared of calling himself a Hindu (nobody is), or asking if we can Behen#$%@ at home, as he philosophically wondered at Jaipur. But the way he is going, very soon the BJP would start getting scared the moment he opens his mouth.