How Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan brought India and Pakistan to the brink of war

Discrimination against religious minorities is a very real problem in both India and Pakistan, but did politicians really need to wade into this row?

Share
Related Topics

Over the decades India and Pakistan have sparred over a variety of issues. The decades-old conflict in Kashmir, accusations of sponsoring terrorism and a dispute over water supply all come to mind.

However, a recent bone of contention between the two nuclear-armed neighbours should also be a cause of utmost concern for the international community. Caustic statements were given by Pakistan’s Interior Minister Rehman Malik and the Indian Home Secretary RK Singh, wars have been fought on social media, and analysts (including yours truly) have been queuing to offer their own two cents.

So what is it that has irked the two neighbours? Was it a border dispute or a threat of nuclear war? Was it some new long-range missile tested by the Indian military? Or the code name for a Pakistani spy caught red-handed in Delhi? In fact, it was none of the above; it was Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan.

Recently the actor - known to his fans as 'SRK' - wrote an article in which he mentioned some of his views on religion, identity and terrorism. In it he referenced the problems he has faced travelling aboard, as a result of his religious background - problems which also inspired his hit film My Name is Khan, and its tagline "...And I am not a terrorist." He wrote: “Ironically, I was interrogated at the airport for hours about my last name when I was going to present the film in America for the first time. I wonder, at times, whether the same treatment is given to everyone whose last name just happens to be McVeigh (as in Timothy)”

However, where the article attracted most controversy was over troubles the actor faced closer to home. “I sometimes become the inadvertent object of political leaders who choose to make me a symbol of all that they think is wrong and unpatriotic about Muslims in India," he wrote. "There have been occasions when I have been accused of bearing allegiance to our neighboring nation rather than my own country – this even though I am an Indian whose father fought for the freedom of India. Rallies have been held where leaders have exhorted me to leave my home and return to what they refer to as my 'original homeland'.” 

The controversy gained momentum when Hafiz Saeed, chief of extremist group Jamaatud Dawa, advised Khan to move to Pakistan, if he feels unsafe in India.  “Shah Rukh will be welcome here", he said. Then, at a reception hosted by the Indian High Commission, Pakistan’s Interior Minister also waded into the controversy, saying “He was born Indian and would like to remain Indian, but I will request the government of India to please provide him [with] security. I would like to request all Indian brothers and sisters and all those who are talking in a negative way about Shah Rukh that they should know he is a movie star.”

These comments  irked many in India. The Home Secretary RK Singh commented:  "We are capable of looking at the security of our own citizens. Let him (Rehman Malik) worry about his own," Singh said. Frankly, he is correct.

Pakistan has its own Pandora's box full of problems with minorities, including discrimination against the Hindu community, some of whom have migrated to India as a result. One has to wonder what the Interior Minister was thinking by making such a statement? Malik later tried to cool matters down. He tweeted “Shahrukh Khan is equally famous in Pakistan and India. I am sure that threats to Mr.S. Khan are being handled as per the relevant Indian law.” And Khan himself clarified: “I would like to tell all those who are offering me unsolicited advice that we in India are extremely safe and happy. We have an amazing democratic, free and secular way of life.”

Yet the question arises why there was a need for the two countries to engage in such a childish squabble over some comments by a celebrity? Why was there a need to try and turn Khan into a disputed territory? Some people spend a lifetime looking for external enemies, and playing the victim card. However the biggest enemy is often the one which lurks within. Pakistan and India have enough of their own problems with endless poverty, environmental degradation and mammoth corruption. Relations have already been tense between the two countries in recent weeks. To top it by indulging in such petty spats is a useful way for politicians to play to the gallery and keep the people distracted from their ineptitude. That is the only lesson, if there was one, to have come out from this unfortunate episode. 

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Mosul falls: Talk of Iraq retaking the town, held by IS since June, is unconvincing  

Isis on the run? The US portrayal is very far from the truth

Patrick Cockburn
Harvey Proctor's home was raided by the Met under a warrant investigating historical child sexual abuse  

Harvey Proctor: A gay sex ring in Westminster? I don't believe it

Harvey Proctor
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk