Scapegoating Aamir, RSS style

Updated: 31 August, 2020 07:14 IST | Ajaz Ashraf | Mumbai

In hinting at diabolic plots that the actor is hatching with Turkey and China, the right-wing organisation is only fanning paranoia to distract the nation lest it questions the government over its failures

Aamir Khan with Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan's wife, Emine. File pic
Aamir Khan with Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan's wife, Emine. File pic

Ajaz AshrafAnyone wishing to ascertain the quality of our public discourse must read the August 30 issues of the Organiser and the Panchjanya, the English and Hindi publications of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). These two editions together could well be treated as a treatise on the art of fanning paranoia, finding a scapegoat for the Union government's failures, and floating conspiracy theories based on dubious interpretation of data.

The August 30 issues of both the Panchjanya and the Organiser focus on film-star Aamir Khan's recent visit to Emine Erdogan, wife of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who resembles Prime Minister Narendra Modi in style and ambition. Hindutvavadis among the Twitterati lampooned Khan as his visit, to them, seemed to gloss over the Turkish strongman's criticism of India's Kashmir policy and the Delhi riots, and his pronounced tilt towards Pakistan.

The Organiser and the Panchjanya analyse the bristling reaction to Khan in the global frame of Muslim politics, and Erdogan's purported quest to rekindle Turkey's glory by re-establishing the Caliphate, which was abolished nearly a century ago. Khan is portrayed as Erdogan's paw in South Asia; his visit to Emine matching in every way the alleged perfidy inherent in his public confession, in 2015, that his wife Kiran Rao was scared of living in India.

Panchjanya, however, goes even a step farther than the Organiser, venturing where even the most paranoid will not go. In Panchjanya's story, Dragon Ka Pyara Khan, readers are asked to mull: Why is Khan so popular in China? Why do his films regularly outstrip other Indian productions in earnings? Why does he have over a million followers on Sina Weibo, four times more than what Modi has on that social media platform?

Panchjanya cites statistics that it thinks are astonishing, even inexplicable. The only Indian film to figure on China's list of 50 top money-grossers is Khan's Dangal, which takes the 45th spot. How come? The top 10 Indian films together earned 3.5 billion Chinese yuan, of which Dangal alone accounts for a little more than half. Strange, isn't it? While Dangal raked in Rs 1,400 crore, Salman Khan's Sultan, both with stories on wrestling, netted just R40 crore. Why? Wink-wink, hint-hint.
Envy is discernible in Panchjanya's story. In contrast to Khan's films doing roaring business in China, Hindutvavadi's favourite film-star Akshay Kumar's Pad Man earned Rs 97.34 crore and his Toilet: Ek Prem Katha only Rs 66.1 crore. Panchjanya asks, "Isn't it astonishing that [Khan's] Secret Superstar, made for Rs 15 crore, did a business of Rs 62 crore in India but over Rs 810 crore in China?" Wink-wink, hint-hint.

Panchjanya is hinting to a diabolic plot as it omits to mention the fairly obvious reasons behind Khan's success — that his films have a better cultural connect in China, or have a greater production value, or that he is a better director-actor. Panchjanya is perplexed that Baahubali: The Beginning and Baahubali: The Conclusion were super-hits in India, but failed to set the cash registers ringing in China. About this apparent puzzle, Chinese critic Fei Se said to the Global Times, "Many Chinese audiences…might have had a difficult time understanding Baahubali as the film contains a lot of traditional Indian cultural elements."

Such an analysis is too prosaic for Panchjanya, which believes Khan's popularity is a consequence of his "proximity" to the Dragon. Could it be that an authoritarian China drives millions to watch a Khan production? Has Khan become the brand ambassador for Vivo, the Chinese mobile company, to return the favour shown to him by the Chinese?

Panchjanya forgets that, until late June, the Indian Cricket Board was unwilling to discontinue Vivo's sponsorship of the Indian Premier League. Its treasurer, Arun Dhumal, had then said, "We have to understand the difference between supporting a Chinese company for a Chinese cause and taking help from a Chinese company to support India's cause." Dhumal's brother is Union Minister Anurag Thakur; the Board's secretary is Jay Shah, son of Home Minister Amit Shah.

By contrast, Khan's Vivo-Chinese connection is evidence of his disloyalty to India. This is because Panchjanya construes Khan's visit to Emine as proof of his "jihadi thought" that had him place his religion over the nation, mocking all those who did not think of his religious identity to spend money on his films. Might we ask: Was the Indian Ambassador to Turkey, Sanjay Panda, also guilty of the jihadi mentality when he glowingly tweeted about the Emine-Khan meeting? Why doesn't the RSS get Modi to snap India's ties with Turkey?

The RSS publications have scapegoated Khan to distract or silence all those who want to know how China slipped into Ladakh, or who watch in fear COVID-19 rampage across India, the economy sputter, their salaries slashed or jobs lost. They must realise that their fears pale before the threats Khan's "jihadi mentality" and proximity to China and Turkey pose to the nation, or so the RSS publications will have us believe through their innuendoes. We could have dismissed these as the working of a febrile mind. We cannot because that mind has also become the mind of the Indian state.

The writer is a senior journalist

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First Published: 31 August, 2020 06:12 IST

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