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Author: Sreemoy Talukdar

Please take back your awards, Rajnath’s olive branch to award-returnees

Rajnath Singh on Tuesday extended an olive branch to writers, filmmakers and intellectuals who have returned their awards in view of ‘rising intolerance’ in the country, requesting them to take back their awards.

During the debate on ‘intolerance’ in Lok Sabha, which went on for 7 hours, the Union home minister said he is willing to sit with anyone and sort out their misgivings on the functioning of the government while taking on board their apprehensions and suggestions.

Rajnath Singh. IbnliveRajnath Singh. Ibnlive

Rajnath Singh. Ibnlive

“I appeal to the artists, literary people, scientists and other eminent people who have returned the awards to kindly take their awards back,” the minister said during his speech in Lok Sabha.
“The doors of this government are open for any discussion over tolerance or intolerance with those who have misgivings about our functioning”, he added.

Ribbed by the Opposition, including Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi on the issue of intolerance including Dadri killing, Singh put the ball in UP government’s court.

“When we found out about Dadri, I immediately issued an advisory and sought a report from the Uttar Pradesh government on the incident.

“The UP government report made no mention of any communal angle. Even the word beef was not mentioned,” the home minister told the Parliament.

He, however, announced that should the Akhilesh Yadav government recommend it, the home ministry is ready to “immediately launch a CBI probe into the killing of Mohammad Akhlaq Saifi so that truth is out in the open.”

Singh, during whose speech the Opposition staged a walkout, said: “I want to assure this House, on behalf of myself and the Prime Minister, that if anyone tries to harm the social and religious harmony, he will not be spared”.

Rahul Gandhi during his speech had accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi of silent acquiescence for not objecting to Union minister General VK Singh’s statement on Dalits and “carrying on as if nothing happened”.

“VK Singh sworn in as MP and was the General of Indian Army, he compared Dalit children to dogs; by doing this he directly challenged the Constitution but PM remained silent over the matter,” Rahul Gandhi said.

Rejecting his charges, Rajnath Singh said: “You ask why PM is silent on VK Singh. Every time something like this happened in the past, did the PM respond?”

“Home ministry is my portfolio. I’m responsible for what’s happening in the country. Whenever any incident happens that threatens to disturb the communal and social harmony, I immediately speak on it and if needed, take necessary action.

“On VK Singh’s remark, I released a statement saying we should be careful about what we say or say in such a manner so that it isn’t open to malicious interpretations”

“Gen VK Singh himself released a clarification, stating that his statement was twisted out of context,” the home minister told the Parliament. “Yes, our government is intolerant. We are intolerant towards corruption, unclean surroundings, terrorism, violence against women and such issues.”

On Monday, Rajnath Singh had demanded an apology in Lok Sabha from CPM MP Mohammad Salim, who had, during the debate on intolerance, cited a report in Outlook magazine that had quoted the Union home minister as making a communal statement.

After the controversy, during which Rajnath Singh said: “He had never felt so hurt as today in my political career”, Outlook issued a statement via Twitter, clarifying that the quote was wrongly attributed to Rajnath.

Firstpost Salon: India is in a unique position to broker world peace, stop Third World War, says Tarek Fatah

India should realise her potential, play global peacemaker and stop going after Aamir Khan, advised Tarek Fatah, who identifies himself as an Indian born in Pakistan; a Punjabi born in Islam; an immigrant in Canada with a Muslim consciousness.

The Canadian writer, broadcaster, and liberal activist was at his sharpest as a guest on Thursday evening at Firstpost Salon, educating and entertaining the audience with his erudition shorn of all political correctness.

Tarek Fatah during the Firstpost Salon. FirstpostTarek Fatah during the Firstpost Salon. Firstpost

Tarek Fatah during the Firstpost Salon. Firstpost

During the course of the conversation with former founder-CEO at Natgrid and senior fellow at Observer Research Foundation Raghu Raman, Fatah expressed surprise that no one in India seems to have registered the fact that a global crisis is at hand and India is uniquely placed as the only country to stop an imminent Third World War.

“It seems that no one in India knows that Turkey and Russia have a problem. First time since the Second World War, a Nato western aircraft has shot down a Russian jet. That’s not the end of it.

“Then, it’s inside Syria. Not just that, they sent jihadis in to kill the parachuting pilots. That’s a war crime. And then a helicopter sent there to rescue the pilots is shot down! India in the meantime is discussing what Aamir Khan has said and what Kiran has replied,” he said.

“Either the Indians are so introverted that they don’t know what’s happening around them or they are busy looking for coals in a goldmine.”

Taking a dig at Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Fatah said he should focus his energies in brokering world peace instead of going around the world speaking to fellow Indians.

“India is very close to Russia. Quite friendly with Turkey. India has no obligations, no ally. Nothing against any country. She is uniquely positioned. Instead of going to Singapore and talking about food and trains, Prime Minister Modi should call the ambassadors of both countries and hold a conference, asking them to cool it,” Fatah said.

“Remember these are nuclear powers in the Balkans and should anything go awry, millions of people in Europe would be affected.

“India is letting Turkey trigger a war between Russia and USA so that ISIS may stay alive!”

And in the bargain, India would legitimately stake a claim in the Security Council, felt Fatah.

“India should broker peace between the US and China. You need to create the claim where people say of course India should be at the Security Council. India has pulled millions out of poverty, moved ahead of famines which were a regular feature in 60s and 70s.

“So many people including cab drivers have mobile phones. In their own humble way, India should make its presence felt as global peacemaker,” felt Fatah.

On the question of rigidity in religion, Fatah opined that Hinduism is naturally pluralistic with its multiplicity of religious texts whereas Christianity or Islam are monolithic.

“If there is one book, and that’s the word of god, can you imagine someone criticising it and staying alive?”

“You can do a PK in India which becomes a multi-crore blockbuster due to Hindus’ tolerance and self-deprecating humour but it’s impossible to do such a movie in Pakistan.”

“If I were to attempt making even an ‘OK’ instead of ‘PK’ in Pakistan, I wouldn’t stay alive to watch that movie.”

On being a true Muslim, Fatah said: “A Muslim is essentially a Jew who has adapted Judaism to Arab pagan culture.”

Calling for a return to the Muslim ethos, Fatah said a “true Muslim cannot lie. And he doesn’t believe in hijab, naqab, jihad or other such un-Islamic practices.”

On ISIS gaining a foothold in the subcontinent, Fatah, true to his form, had an unconventional take:”ISIS mentality is already here. Wiping out an ethnicity (Hindus from Kashmir) is ISIS mentality. You have wiped out the original inhabitants of Kashmir and made them refugees in their own country.”

Fatah also weighed in on the ‘intolerance’ debate, saying “the present intolerance debate is political, but in India everything is.”

“Real intolerance is not religious intolerance but the fact that nobody would share their dinner on the same table with their driver or chauffer. That’s always been there in India.”

When it comes to calling spade a spade, there is no one better than Fatah.

Differentiating between the two dissent: App-wapsi is every bit as legit as award-wapsi

How does one show dissent in a democracy?

Noted Indologist Wendy Doniger, whose work Hindus: An Alternative History was pulped by a publisher of international repute when faced with a lawsuit, reckons that returning of awards by writers and filmmakers is a legitimate form of protest in a democracy and that it can be really effective.

Her views are echoed by Pritish Nandy, politician, film producer, writer and artist who, in a recent blog for The Times of India, explains that creative individuals who return their awards, do so because they have no other way of voicing their discontent.

Aamir Khan. Getty ImagesAamir Khan. Getty Images

Aamir Khan. Getty Images

Nandy goes on to say: “Most of the people I know (including Jayanta Mahapatra who he describes at length as a non-partisan poet) who are returning their awards are doing so because they know no other way to voice their anguish at the current scenario… Those who are returning their awards are sad, disappointed people. And they are sadder because their motives are being misconstrued.”

Doniger sees this is as an indication “that the great Indian tradition of debate is alive and well.”

It is widely accepted that authors, filmmakers, historians, scientists and men of repute who have been at various times honoured by the state for excellence in their fields, may use their awards as a tool of protest when they are anguished about an issue or a discourse.

Their gesture may rightly be construed as freedom of expression. Their dissent is an invaluable part of the checks and balances of a robust democracy. It also proves why democracy is a far superior system of governance.

Now let’s ask ourselves, if the return of an award by a writer is freedom of expression, why should uninstalling of an app by a consumer be any less?

The autorickshaw driver, insurance agent, student, homemaker, office goer or a small business owner may not have an award to return but they have every right to take recourse to a peaceful and legitimate form of protest to lodge their displeasure.

Or is the anguish of a common man less important than the angst of a writer or a scientist?

It is perverted logic to differentiate between dissents and term ‘award-wapsi’ as ‘legitimate non-conformism’ and ‘app-wapsi’ as ‘commercial bullying’ when the mode of protest is voluntary and involves no coercion or threat of physical harm.

The millions who thronged at Aamir Khan’s movies and cheered for him, may have not found resonance with his views of an ‘intolerant’ India. Their action to disassociate themselves from Snapdeal, the brand which Khan champions, is every bit an extension of the freedom of expression that is the lifeblood of a democracy.

Till the writing of this report, over 91,000 consumers have, in the past two days, downgraded the Snapdeal app to one on a scale of five in App Store and Playstore and there are reports that close to 7,00,000 have uninstalled the app from their mobile phones.

Aamir, a genuine A-lister and one of Bollywood’s highest-paid actors, have in the past endorsed a plethora of brands including Coca Cola, Titan, Tata Sky, Godrej and Samsung, just to name a few.
While Snapdeal has issued a statement distancing itself from the actor’s remark saying the comments made by Aamir were “in his personal capacity”, Godrej hastened to add that Aamir is no longer associated with them.

It is evident that brands are feeling the heat, as is the norm in a free market economy where customers worldwide voice their dissent by peaceful consumer boycott whenever a brand ambassador lands in a controversy.

When you associate your brand (in this case, Snapdeal) with a celebrity (here, Aamir), you buy into his charisma, marketability and worldview. If a company wants to leverage his stardom, it must also share his negative publicity.

From Lance Armstrong, Tiger Woods, Kobe Bryant, Michael Phelps, Wayne Rooney, Mike Tyson to Chris Brown, Madonna or Kate Moss, brand endorsement agreements worldwide are littered with instances where companies have dropped ambassadors like hot potatoes when faced with consumer boycott. Why, Nike, weighed in on FIFA to get rid of Sepp Blatter, something that nobody could do for decades.

It is downright silly to suggest that those consumers who reacted by disassociating themselves from a brand when they were angry with its ambassador were indulging in some sort of commercial bullying.

If anything, what the uninstalling of Snapdeal app after Aamir Khan’s controversial remarks tell us is that Indian consumers are an informed lot who are ready to exercise their choice (key word in a democracy) and cannot be taken for granted.

Let’s understand that freedom of expression is a two-way street. And ‘award-wapsi’ brigade has no copyright over it.