Abhishek G Bhaya
I believe a whole lot of people have been going gaga about Anupam Kher’s latest speech at The Telegraph National Debate at the Calcutta Club. I hear they have been lauding it as the last word on ‘nationalism’ and the final stamp on the ‘tolerance-intolerance’ debate.
Some have even dubbed the ‘lecture’ as a ‘slap on the face of all anti-nationals’ and a ‘fitting reply to the so-called intellectuals belonging to the elite class’.
No wonder, people of a particular political and ideological predisposition have filled up the social media space with ‘aggressive joy’.
I had listened carefully to Kher’s speech the very day it was made, along with those of the other speakers at the Telegraph debate; but found the Bollywood actor’s tirade rather distasteful, lacking sincerity and an apt example of how not to speak at a debate.
The topic was extremely contextual and contemporary: ‘Tolerance is the new intolerance’. Kher, his colleague from Bollywood Kajol and socialite Suhel Seth defended the motion, while former Supreme Court Judge Asok Ganguly, Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala and TV anchor and journalist Barkha Dutt spoke against. The debate was moderated by writer and historian Mukul Kesavan.
While the rest of the speakers, including Kajol, appeared composed and went about expressing their views in a civilised manner, Kher almost put Arnab Goswami to shame as he went about ranting in a jingoistic and chest-thumping spree. His speech was high on rhetoric and theatrics (true to his profession perhaps), but was devoid of reason and even facts, not to forget the absence of honesty.
Here’s a point wise deconstruction of the speech:
‘Think in Hindi, will talk in Hindi’
Kher begins by saying he would speak in Hindi, asserting it to be the language in which he ‘thinks’.
“Main Hindi mein bolna chahuna, kyonki main Hindi mein sochta hoon,” so the actor claims. However he ends up screaming in English for much of the speech, even realising once that “Gusse mein angrezi nikal gaya”.
After speaking a couple of sentences in Hindi, he switches back to angrezi. Was Kher sincere in making the claim on Hindi, or did he just use the ‘language’ reference as a pretence for those who fall for such emotional rhetoric?
Diatribe against Justice Ganguly
Next, the Bollywood actor virtually launches an obnoxious diatribe, bordering on insult, against Justice Ganguly. Kher admonishes the former Supreme Court judge for suggesting that the apex court may have faltered on the matter of Afzal Guru’s hanging. His verbal assault even turns personal and out of context at times.
“I am shocked and ashamed and saddened by what you said Mr Ganguly. Being a judge, it is so sad that you are calling the verdict of Supreme Court as wrong… It’s a matter of complete disgrace. That you were hounded by the press and you were intolerant of them when there was a case against you and today, you talk about what happened in JNU was right?” Kher yells at the senior judge.
“Instead of condemning it, you are saying that the Supreme Court was wrong, and that the Afzal Guru’s judgment was wrong. It’s absolutely unpardonable Your Honour,” the actor barks, without showing any ‘honour’ in his tone.
When Justice Ganguly attempts a reply, an arrogant Kher shouts him down (lifting a page from Arnab Goswami!): “No, no, you can’t speak. Let me finish. I’m sorry, it’s my time,” Kher yells more, his face red in anger.
Now, please give us a break. Do we need to believe that a Bollywood actor understands about the nuances of a Supreme Court judgment and whether it could be challenged and criticised more than a judge who had retired from the very court?
Kanhaiya pronounced guilty
In between, the actor pronounces JNUSU President Kanhaiya Kumar guilty of being an ‘anti-national’. “We are totally forgetting when we are making a hero out of one guy, who was participant in the night of 9th February. And what were the naras (sloganeering) that were going on over there?” he says parroting the BJP line as he chants those slogans.
Well, even if the slogans in question (supporting Afzal Guru and secession of Kashmir) are seditious in nature, Kher must know that the case is subjudice and so far not a single evidence (and by that I mean authentic, not doctored) to suggest Kanhaiya raised any of those. Kher is guilty of spreading falsehood here, as much as the TV channels that aired the doctored videos that form the basis of the charges against Kanhaiya.
If Kher is genuinely outraged, he must ask the Narendra Modi government why the real culprits have not yet been booked while Kanhaiya, Umar, Anirban and others have been made scapegoats. If he is really enraged, why doesn’t he question BJP’s alliance in Jammu and Kashmir with PDP, a party that openly proclaims Afzal Guru to be a martyr?
It’s sheer hypocrisy on part of Kher and his ilk, as Barkha Dutt successfully exposes later during her speech.
Emergency in 1984?
Targeting Congress, Kher focuses his attention on Surjewala next. “You forgot the 84 Emergency was declared by Indira Gandhi, your leader Sir. That was the biggest intolerance in the country ever. All those people were sent to jail who spoke against (leaves the sentence unfinished), people who were innocent, people who were journalists… they were all put behind bars…”
Whether it was a mistake or if Kher really thinks Emergency was indeed imposed in 1984 is not known. While being factually wrong, Kher does however proves his political schooling by blending two of the most potent ammunitions BJP uses to drumbeat Congress into silence – 1975 Emergency and 1984 Sikh riots –.to a single deadly cocktail for the evening.
Mocking Rahul Gandhi
Thereafter, Kher resorts to the favourite pastime of BJP and its supporters. Taking a leaf out of Prime Minister Modi’s speech in the Parliament, the Bollywood actor mocks the Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi.
“You know who do I think are the most tolerant people in the country? They are tolerating a person who they want to project as the prime minister of this country,” he jokes and expectedly gets a vivacious response from the audience. “If you can tolerate that person, then you can tolerate anything in the world,” Kher sermonises.
However, taking personal potshots at an individual doesn’t prove a point. It is at best an attempt to skirt the real, serious issue at hand. He didn’t just mock at Rahul Gandhi, Kher made a mockery of himself by doing so as he failed to make any substantive point.
Manufactured controversy, really?
Now let’s understand the crux of Kher’s argument. He dismisses the intolerance debate as a manufactured controversy to discredit Prime Minister Modi. Kher augments his case saying the opposition cannot digest the fact that a chaiwallah has become the Prime Minister (who hasn’t taken a single holiday and has spent three Diwalis in Kashmir).
He further suggests that since there’s no case of corruption plaguing this government, the opposition has resorted to target Modi with the intolerance. “Have you heard anyone talking about corruption these days?” Kher challenges.
Well my retort would be “Haven’t you, Mr Kher?”
Prem Panicker has meticulously compiled this list in his article on Scroll.in.
Consider these news reports:
“The Supreme Court [January 2014] set aside a 40 acre land allotment in Kutch district permitted by the Modi government to Alumina Refinery Limited for a sum of Rs 1.20 crore in violation of statutory norms. The top court also had harsh words for Modi’s Revenue Minister Anandi Ben Patel who cleared the sale from an earlier company which was allotted the plot, bypassing objections from top bureaucrats.” [January 2014]
“Rajasthan Housing Board property illegally assigned to BJP legislator Suryakanta Vyas.” [May 2014]
“Rs 2,000 crore graft charge against Madhya Pradesh Minister for farmers welfare and agriculture development minister Gaurishankar Bisen.” [June 2014]
Vyapam. The scam so big, it dwarfs anything that has gone before. (Oh, but that was before Modi became prime minister? Oh yes, and Modi is now Prime Minsiter, and his hand-picked consigliere Amit Shah is head of the party, and the scam-tainted continue to rule the state)
The joint plunder of the Aravallis by Haryana and Rajasthan in defiance of the Supreme Court. [July 2014]
Pankaja Munde who managed to find a way to scam peanut brittle meant for children
The Rs 1,000 crore rice export scam involving Punjab, Haryana and Gujarat. [February 2016]
Then there was Lalitgate, implicating Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje and Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj
The point is just because Kher hasn’t heard about these scams do not mean they don’t exist. Similarly, because Kher is sleepwalking through the widespread incidents of intolerance gripping the country under the watch of the current government, doesn’t mean that it’s a manufactured controversy.
Kher need not go into the deaths of Akhlakh, Rohith Vemula, Govind Pansare and M M Kalburgi to understand the root of intolerance. Neither does he need to look at the foundation of JNU, FTII and the free-thinking students. These, I’m sure will be much beyond his grasp.
Kher simply needs to look closer with open eyes and open mind; and see what happened to his colleagues from Bollywood – Shah Rukh Khan and Amir Khan – when they chose to speak out their minds.
If he still doesn’t see intolerance, Anupam Kher will need to visit an eye doctor!
Viral video: Spontaneous or mechanized propaganda?
Not only was Kher’s speech the first to reach the social media fora such as Youtube, Facebook and Twitter (within few hours of the event), it was also the only one to reach my Whatsapp, through downloadable videos shared in several groups.
The speed at which the video went viral did make me wonder for a while whether it was a completely spontaneous act by those moved by Kher’s speech or a mechanised propaganda by the PR wing of those resource-rich organisations which felt vindicated by his ‘impassioned attack’ on the collective opposition. Well, I’ll leave that for the readers to ponder.
(The author is a Gulf-based Indian journalist. d here are the author’s own. jantakareporter.com doesn’t subscribe to them.)