The Bollywood veteran has received brickbats and support from many people in the country after his video interview condemning the Bulandshahr violence was published.
On December 17, Karwan-e-Mohabbat India published a short interview video with Naseeruddin Shah for their ‘Tathya’ sessions on YouTube. Karwan-e-Mohabbat is a civil society initiative that aims to foster harmony between religious groups. Till today, the Bollywood veteran has received brickbats and support from many people in the country, with every new comment from an imminent personality being either taken as a jab or a TRP spinner.
In the interview, Shah said that he felt anxious for his children in the current political climate of the country. He said that his children wouldn’t have an answer if a mob asked them if they were Hindu or Muslim because they were raised in a pretty atheistic environment. He proceeded to say that more than afraid he was angry.
“It will be very difficult to capture this djinn back into the bottle again. There is complete impunity for those who take law into their own hands...I feel anxious for my children because tomorrow if a mob surrounds them and asks, ‘Are you a Hindu or a Muslim?’ they will have no answer. It worries me that I don’t see the situation improving anytime soon,” Shah added.
“The poison has already spread in society. There is complete impunity for those who take the law into their own hands. We have already witnessed that the death of a cow has more significance than that of a police officer in today's India,” he said.
His statement immediately caught the attention of social media thought leaders who were quick to either lambast Shah’s view or offer him support.
Patanjali brand ambassador and yoga guru who is known to support BJP, Ramdev Baba was the most recent voice criticizing Shah.
Shah was referring to the December 3 violence in Bulandshahr, Uttar Pradesh, in which a mob supported by Bajrang Dal shot a policeman while protesting cow slaughter. Shah highlighted these events as an example of India’s fraught communal climate and the impunity enjoyed by people who commit such acts of violence.
After his interview made it to the right-wing troll IT cell, he was called a “Pakistani agent” by the Uttar Pradesh Bharatiya Janata Party chief Mahendra Nath Pandey.
On Friday he was prevented from inaugurating the Ajmer Literature Festival (ALF) following protests by BJP Yuva Morcha members. A session with him titled “Naseer Ki Nazar” was also cancelled.
Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan on Saturday said his administration will show the Narendra Modi government “how to treat minorities” hinting at Shah’s interview. In response, Shah told The Indian Express that Khan should stay away from “issues that don’t concern him”.
“Even in India, people are saying that minorities are not being treated as equal citizens,” Khan said at an event in Lahore, PTI reported. Khan said Shah’s remark was reminiscent of the fears that Pakistan’s founder Mohammad Ali Jinnah had about how Muslims would be treated in a united India after Independence.
Shah told The Indian Express after Khan’s remarks, “I think Mr Khan should be walking the talk in his own country instead of commenting on issues that don’t concern him. We have been a democracy for 70 years and we know how to look after ourselves.”
“The fact that even Muslim celebrities are now expected to keep their political views to themselves sharply illustrates a core aspect of Hindutva: making minorities politically irrelevant. The BJP has made it a point of pride to ignore Muslims during election campaigns, choosing to build a purely Hindu consensus in places such as Uttar Pradesh. Other parties that court Muslims are derided as minority appeasers,” Shoaib Daniyal wrote in Scroll.
“This strategy has been quite successful politically. In many cases, even politicians who want Muslim votes are wary of raising issues that affect the community. Political representation has seen a sharp drop. The number of Muslims in the current Lok Sabha is at an all-time low. There are only 22 Muslim MPs in the 545-strong House – less than a third of what it should have been were the Lok Sabha to mirror India’s demographic composition,” he wrote.
Another Bollywood personality, Ashutosh Rana said people should be able to speak their mind without fear or "social trial". "Everyone should have a right to share their thoughts with their friends or other people without any fear. If our brothers or friends say something, we should not just listen to them but also think about it," Ashutosh Rana told reporters.
"If someone is speaking his mind and there is a debate, will it improve the country's economic situation," he added.
What Naseeruddin Shah made of the whataboutery
“The vicious jingoism masquerading as love for the country has reached truly scary proportions and so has the constant whataboutery in response to almost everything. ‘The earlier rulers did this, what’s wrong if we do it too?’ ‘The Aussies dish out abuse, what’s wrong if we do it too?’” he said to The Hindu.
He told The Hindu that he was not surprised at the reactions to what he said and he does not feel defeated at the turn of events. He confessed being a bit saddened but more angered. “It does seem that for the moderate Indian staying silent is not a choice any more,” he said.
He said that in case what he has said now is misconstrued as the “insecurity of a Muslim living in India” he wanted to make it clear that though he gave the example of his children, he was not speaking only of himself and his family. “The Dalits or the farmers or the Christian community or students or anti-traditionalists or citizens from India’s North-East are no less insecure in their own country and that fact, instead of being a matter of shame for us all, invites accusations of sedition if solidarity with any of them is shown,” he said.
"What I said earlier was as a worried Indian. What did I say this time that I am being termed as a traitor? I am expressing concerns about the country I love, the country that is my home. How is that a crime?" he said.