The eminent actor Naseeruddin Shah’s pithy observations arising from less importance being given to the murder of a police inspector in Uttar Pradesh (by a Hindutva-oriented hooligan mob) than to cow slaughter has, almost on cue, drawn misplaced reactions from the establishment and its adherents.
As an example of the latter, film actor Anupam Kher has made irrelevant remarks. He has asked how much freedom Mr Shah would like since we are already a country where people can speak against the Army and mobs can pelt the security forces with stones.
Mr Shah was not commenting on issues relating to freedom (although, currently, religious minorities are feeling insecure). His concern was with the “spread of poison” to the extent that the death of cows mattered more than the murder of an inspector of police doing his duty punctiliously.
Misconstruing his concern about “vicious jingoism masquerading as love for the country” and responding to it simply as the insecurity of a Muslim in India is not just missing the point entirely, but also letting one’s communal slip show.
While Mr Kher was wearing his ideology and his politics on his sleeve to the point of not being pertinent, Union home minister Rajnath Singh turned up at a Lucknow event on Monday to suggest that India was the most tolerant place in the world. He might have done better if he had addressed Mr Shah’s fears with greater understanding.
Mr Singh is quite right in noting that followers of all the major religions of the world live in harmony in this country on the whole. And this is a societal tradition. Regrettably, it is this happy tradition that has come under strain in the last five years, coinciding with the time of Mr Singh’s party being in power. If the home minister can throw light on this matter, the country might feel more reassured.
Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan should have refrained from entering an Indian domestic debate since the territories he presides over are no longer a part of India. Taking advantage of words spoken by Mr Shah, the Pakistan PM accused India of being insensitive to Muslims and proclaimed that he will “teach India” how to deal with minorities.
Mr Khan is being cynically counter-factual. It is just not true that India is not sensitive to Muslim minorities. The country cannot be equated with a political party or its government. If the Pakistan leader had better acquaintance with facts, or with history, he might have known that Mahatama Gandhi was killed by a religious fanatic because he had sought more for Pakistan when assets were being officially divided at the time of Partition, and he succeeded in his effort. This was not an example of India being unfair to the Muslim minority.
Mr Shah has shown a strong conscience and a stout heart in raising a matter of public relevance, whatever his or India’s detractors suggest.