Aamir’s Angst And Incredible India – Aijaz Zaka Syed

In Bertolt Brecht’s poem ‘Die Lösung’ (‘The Solution’), written after the 1953 uprising in East Germany, a government functionary hands out bulletins informing the people that they have cost themselves the trust of the government. The poem concludes by demanding:

“Would it not be easier/In that case for the government

To dissolve the people/And elect another?”

At the rate Indian intellectuals, artists, scientists and men of letters are protesting against the gathering darkness and the way the powers that be are responding to the voices of dissent, the day may not be far when they would have to ‘dissolve the people’.

For it is not just the educated, ‘western elites’ who are restive, the whole of India seems to be weighed down by a sense of, in the actor Aamir Khan’s words, “disquiet and despondency”.

When one of India’s three brightest stars and easily the finest actor of his generation shares his concern over the state of the nation, you’ve got to sit up and take note.

For all his championing of social causes and shedding copious tears on his television show, Aamir has always been known to play safe. Excessively politically correct, he’s as cautious in his choice of words as he’s famously finicky about the kind of cinema he does. No wonder he has been the face and brand ambassador for the ‘Incredible India’ campaign. He must have thought long and hard before opening up at the Indian Express Journalism Excellence Awards this week in Delhi.

Yet nothing could have perhaps prepared the actor for the load of bricks that hit him as soon as he uttered the ‘I’ word. From senior ministers to BJP spokespersons to the thugs on the streets, everyone is rushing to skewer the actor who has all these years been the darling of the establishment.

As in the case of Shah Rukh Khan, the abuse has been predictable – calling him a traitor, anti-national, terrorist, and above all, a Pakistani agent out to defame the pristine image of India and glorious rule of Shri Narendra Modiji.

The incredibly smug Smriti Irani, the semi-literate former bahu of Indian television who handles the education portfolio, argues that the very fact that Aamir is “allowed” to make his argument “in front of Union ministers” shows that India is very tolerant.

Other BJP spokespersons have convinced themselves that all this is part of a grand conspiracy against Bharat Mata. My hero MJ Akbar, of all the people, suggests that the actor is “defaming the country for some personal benefits!”

What ‘personal benefits’ could anyone possibly get by speaking the truth? If anything, the superstar is likely to suffer as a result of, for once, speaking his mind and standing up for his beliefs. The first casualty may be his lucrative deal as India tourism’s brand ambassador.

Snapdeal, India’s largest online store which Aamir has been endorsing for the past couple of years with his characteristic charm, has already distanced itself from the actor.

So as has been the fate of everyone who has ever crossed the path of the Dear Leader or questioned the state of affairs on his benign gaze, the superstar could pay dearly for speaking his ‘mann ki baat’.

Aamir successfully tried it on screen through his popular television show ‘Satyamev Jayate’ (the truth always triumphs) by speaking out on issues like corruption, violence against women and governance etc., and won all-round applause. In real life though, as the actor is likely to learn, there’s a price to pay for speaking truth to power.

But then as the superstar reasoned in his thoughtfully worded response the day after the storm reaffirming what he said at the Express event, all those hurling obscenities at him only prove his point about the threshold of tolerance and reason being crossed.

What really rankles the Parivar rabble-rousers and the blind bhakts of the Dear Leader about the rising voices of sanity is the fact that they dare to lift the veneer off the carefully cultivated fiction of ‘sab ka saath, sab ka vikas’ (unity and progress for all). They have the temerity to tell the Emperor that they can see through his clothes.

To the increasing discomfiture of the Parivar, the protesting voices of India’s finest artists, intellectuals and writers are turning the spotlight, again and again, on the methodical demolition of the Idea of India at the hands of the hydra-headed Hindutva mammoth and its numerous arms and avatars.

No wonder PM Modi wants to be far and forever away from all this negativity in the comforting company of the rich and famous or the affluent desis.

He really seems to be in his element and at his philosophical best in the presence of the diaspora as he rambles on and on, from New York to Dubai and from London to Singapore, preaching to the choir about India’s exalted status in the comity of nations, its fabled civilisational heritage and of course the eternal tolerance and magnanimity of the Hindus, embracing “the aliens and their alien culture.”

A friend of mine is convinced that the whole idea and chief motive behind Modi’s passage from Gujarat to Delhi was his yearning to travel the world and take selfies with famous and interesting people in picturesque locales. And every time the Dear Leader takes to the skies, which is all the time, my friend turns to me with a wise ‘I-told-you’ look.

In the 18 months or so that he has been in power, Modi has visited at least 34 countries – a record fit for the Guinness Book, prompting some jealous adversaries to name him the NRI Prime Minister – and has spoken for hours and hours.

But if anyone expected the flying PM to address in his diaspora discourses the mundane concerns back home such as those raised by Aamir, among others, they would have been disappointed.

He clearly doesn’t believe in stating the obvious. Despite his pokerfaced proclamations that India is a secular and tolerant democracy or for that revelation in London that “ours is the land of Gandhi and Buddha”, his ideological kin get his messaging right and know full well where his heart lies.

That is why the growing alarm in India and across the globe over the direction in which the great democracy is headed has only been met with belligerence and hardening up of the hardline Hindutva. Communal temperatures continue to rise across the country.

There has been a surge in violence and attacks against minorities and marginalised groups. The Hindu newspaper, citing the home ministry, has reported at least 330 communal violence incidents in just four months this year.

This whole masquerade, singing paeans to Shining India abroad while his brothers-in-arms go berserk back home, cannot be kept forever. If the massive protests that recently greeted Modi in London are any indication, it’s clear the mask is slipping. You cannot fool all the people all the time, especially in today’s interconnected, global village.

Peace and an overall sense of security are also essential to the economic wellbeing of any country. International investors are notoriously wary of unstable economies. Just look to Pakistan. Already, as the Congress points out, exports are down 45 percent despite the PM’s frequent foreign trips.

If Modi and his Parivar care for the wellbeing of India, they would heed the warning signs and concerns of true patriots like Aamir, scientist PM Bhargava, who recently returned Padma Bhushan Award, and many, many others. Shooting the messenger may give you instant gratification but it wouldn’t obliterate the message. The truth has a way of surfacing again and again, until you really see it.