A First Information Report, dating back to 1948, that had named LK Advani in a plot to assassinate Mohammad Ali Jinnah, is yet to be quashed. The Bharatiya Janata Party leader was criticised by his own party for scribbling diplomatic niceties at the Jinnah Mausoleum. Later, Jaswant Singh, the former combatant-turned-politician who was in military service during the 1965 Indo-Pak war, wrote a ‘nondemonising’ account of Jinnah. He was similarly hounded by his own party cadres for ‘unnationalistic’ behaviour. Both Advani and Jaswant, along with the even-more pacifist Atal Bihari Vajpayee, were among the founders of the BJP. Subsequently, they made for a more virulent, intolerant and ‘nationalistic’ brand of the rightist party, which was to define the national narrative in the years to come.
The wisdom and profundity of right-wing leadership at that time had led the statesman in Vajpayee to state, ‘Our words, actions, diplomatic efforts should be aimed at trying to achieve pragmatic goals rather than creating rhetorical effect’. Today that political ideology is defined by ultra-nationalism that has forsaken the spirit of forbearance and courtesy, and has now been reduced to a rabble-rousing set of bigoted trolls who draw blood at the slightest indication of manufactured outrage. The threat of ‘compliance’ with such jingoism is even more severe for the religious ‘others’, who stand out for particular scrutiny.
It was only appropriate that the Vajpayee-led NDA government had in 2003 conferred the Padma Sri winner, actor Naseeruddin Shah with an even higher Padma Bhushan in 2003 for ‘distinguished service of a high order…without distinction of race, occupation, position or sex’. Naseeruddin has also won three National Film Awards and several national and international awards. Many other stalwarts from the minority community, pre-eminently Habib Tanvir, Zakir Hussain etc. had earned plaudits for the country, and were justly acknowledged with national awards and even the highest Bharat Ratna (Bismillah Khan) by the Vajpayee government, which retained the glorious Indian traditions of celebrating plurality and inclusivity.
Today, the political and societal environment is vitiated and polarised like never before, and the same Naseeruddin Shah who famously played the role of Mahatma Gandhi, is selectively and deliberately debunked only for playing the role of a Pakistani spy in the film, Sarfarosh. This is because the educated and erudite actor, who like any proud Indian expressed himself on the perceived state of affairs, assumed that the playing field of expression and free speech now, was as before. How the brouhaha and spin-doctoring surrounding his statement on the prevailing situation got wrongly contexualised with his ostensible ‘support’ for Pakistan is yet to be fathomed.
There was no mention of the neighbouring country, yet his statement was made to imply ‘ungratefulness’, with the standard debunking, indeed suggesting a ‘move to Pakistan’. Some defended his inter-faith marriage, the agnosticism of his children and even the brilliant military record of his brother in order to underline his ‘nationalism’ ~ his own body of work that had made India proud as a nation, was suddenly and sadly, less important.
Such acts of accusations and denigration allow the vested interests to make the waters murkier, as done by Imran Khan’s politically motivated intervention in the Naseeruddin Shah episode. Imran Khan’s puerile taunt of showing India on how to ‘ensure minorities are treated equally’ barely concealed the imploding reality of the Pakistan that is bursting at its seams with divisions, that are openly supported and sanctified by the government. The din had barely subsided in the sheer capitulation of the Pakistan government in the Asia Bibi ‘blasphemy’ case at the hands of the religious clergy.
The Pakistani State agreed to bar her from leaving the country and released the religious vandals who had brought the state machinery to its knees. The same Imran Khan had unashamedly dropped a brilliant Ahmadi, Atif Mian, from his council of advisers, to reinforce the persecution of the sect that the Pakistan government still discriminates against. Imran Khan also had one of his cabinet colleagues share the public dais with Hafiz Saeed, an internationally known terrorist and religious leader with a $10 million bounty on his head.
The former-cricketer who swept the electoral stakes of competitive radicalism had earlier vowed to uphold all regressive, sectarian and discriminatory laws that have marked the Pakistani narrative, way beyond the ‘secularity’ promised by Jinnah.
Thus, Imran Khan will always have his own political vulnerabilities, insecurities and deficiencies that he will seek to overcome through one-upmanship opportunities and interference across the LOC, as has been the wont of all previous Pakistani leaders.
While Imran Khan’s unsolicited comment was rightfully slammed by all (including Naseeruddin Shah), with a suggestion to put his own house in order, it was not Pakistan’s Prime Minister who failed India, as he only toed the traditional Pakistani line of interference.
Rather it was the Indians who failed each other and opened the doors for the likes of Imran to comment. The de-hyphenation of Pakistan with any person from the minority community, in any matter of disagreement with them individually or even collectively, is absolutely necessary. In the new-normal of today, autoreflex of ‘anti-nationalism’ and ‘Pakistan’ gets affixed onto any contrarian voice that does not subscribe to majoritarism. The fear is palpable and the so-called ‘Superstars’ of Naseeruddin Shah’s industry were starkly conspicuous by their silence, even as one of their most celebrated, feted and intellectually opinionated colleagues was unceremoniously lambasted, for something he didn’t say or imply.
With the last-leg of the electoral relay and fever underway, extreme care must be observed to ensure that no misquotation or misrepresentation of facts is done in order to unleash the faultlines that only serve the extremist elements of society and politics. Before blaming Imran Khan for doing the obvious, we need to hold ourselves accountable for either saying certain things, or for perennially misconstruing the unsaid and in this case, also unimplied.
(The writer IS Lt Gen PVSM, AVSM (Retd), Former Lt Governor of Andaman & Nicobar Islands & Puducherry)