Mumbai: Bollywood superstar Aamir Khan found himself at the center of a political storm after saying his wife considered if the family should leave India because of alleged growing intolerance in the country.
"For the last six to eight months, there has been a growing despondency I would say. Kiran (wife Kiran Rao) and I have lived all our life in India. When I sit at home and talk to Kiran, for the first time she said, 'Should we move out of India?' Now that's a very disastrous and a big comment to make to me,” Khan, 50, said at the Ramnath Goenka journalism awards ceremony in New Delhi on Nov. 23.
The actor said it was important for those in power to “condemn strongly what’s wrong,” alluding to the Modi government’s long silence on several incidents of violence, many related to alleged eating of beef.
Kiran “fears for her child, she fears for the atmosphere around us, she feels scared to open the newspapers every day. That indicates there is a sense of growing disquiet, despondency apart from alarm,” Khan also said.
"One part is alarm, another part is that you feel depressed, you feel low...you feel ‘why is this happening?’. So, that sense does exist in me, to be quite honest,” he added.
Union minister Kiren Rijiju contradicted Khan.
"The record shows that the number of incidents of communal violence in the country has come down since NDA (National Democratic Alliance) came to power. Just to make a blatant statement that during NDA rule the country has become intolerant, it unnecessarily tarnishes the image of the country,” he said.
BJP spokesperson Nalin Kohli said: “Some isolated examples, however extreme, are exceptions to India's inherent tolerant nature. It would be unfortunate to let isolated examples be taken as a norm that defines India.”
The Congress, predictably, supported Khan.
Rahul Gandhi suggested the Narendra Modi government should reach out to people to understand why they felt disturbed. He tweeted: "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's disturbing them."
"That's the way to solve problems in India - not by bullying, threatening and abusing!" he added.
Ullhas P.R., a maker of short films, filed a complaint with Delhi Police over Khan’s remarks.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal supported the actor, tweeting: "BJP should stop silencing voices through abuses and threats. It's high time that central government took concrete steps to instill a sense of security amongst people."
Some in the film industry including Anupam Kher, Ram Gopal Varma and Ashoke Pandit slammed Khan, saying he must spread hope and not fear. Kher asked his fellow actor if he had asked Kiran “which country would she like to move out to.”
"Did you tell her that this country has made you Aamir Khan," the veteran actor and BJP supporter tweeted. “When did 'Incredible India' become 'Intolerant India' for you?” he also asked. It was a reference to Khan’s Incredible India tourism campaign in 2008.