Americans, it seems, do not care two hoots for celebrities. Especially at airports. If somebody has to be frisked, he is frisked. We learn that sometime in the past, the late Edward Kennedy was frisked; so was another celebrity, Al Gore. Neither complained. Obviously, VIP culture doesn’t exist in America. Even Barack Obama reportedly was subjected to security checks at airports when he was a presidential candidate. So why all that fuss when Shah Rukh Khan was detained for two hours at New York Airport and questioned endlessly?
Frisking is one thing; detaining for two hours is something else. But our liberal press has been full of praise for the American security people for doing their job. After all, they were merely doing their job, weren’t they? So what is so great about Shah Rukh Khan getting a common-and necessary-treatment? According to Deccan Herald (August 18), “The fuss in India is a sign of our excessive VIP fixation and poor security consciousness.” US immigration officials “were doing their duty and should have been complimented for their professional attitude”. Said Deccan Herald: “Our security is lax because there is no respect for regulations, and VIPs are above the law. The bloated egos of many VIPs cannot stand a few questions by a lowly official who is only doing his duty… . It is a feudal mindset…we have not yet imbibed the democratic idea that all are equal before the law… . The truth is that his (SRK’s) ego was hurt because his ‘status’ was not recognised.”
The Indian Express (August 17) said that “America must take the Shah Rukh Khan outrage seriously” because “it impacts the domestic politics of friendly nations and it is rapidly reaching the point at which it affects a large section of the Indian middle class thinks of America”. It said: “People are all-too-willing to believe that a great liberal nation has betrayed its principles egregiously by ‘harassing’ Khan. It is a short step from there to a festering belief-erroneously-that this is the act of an arrogant, racist society.” And, for good measure, it added: “America’s authorities at highest level need to recognise that this apparently minor problem could have very major implications indeed.”
The Free Press Journal (August 18) thought that all that fuss over Khan was “needless”. “We do not see,” it said, “why the actor should have got hot under the collar for what is a routine security drill at most points of entry into the US”. It added: “Khan would not have reacted the way he did had he not become a victim of the hype around him back home. But the Americans are not vulnerable to the nauseating VIP culture… How we wish our authorities from the police to the airport security too could treat everyone as an equal as demanded by law.”
The Times of India (August 18) following the line taken by almost all newspapers asked: “If we treat our film stars and sportspersons-especially cricketers-like they were demigods, can you really blame them for expecting preferential treatment? The VIP culture in vogue here allows some people to believe they are somehow different from the rest of us… This is simply not acceptable in a democratic republic.” And it added: “The US is well within its rights to lay down the law on its soil…this incident should lead us to examine the inadequacies of our own system-on the security front, and our social attitudes. A rule-bound system such as the US’s may have its excesses, but one that allows too many exceptions, such as in India, can give rise to greater problems.”
And now, on a more delicate subject: the controversy raised by the publication of Jaswant Singh’s book on Jinnah. On August 21, The Hindu re-published the editorial it had written two days after the death of the founder of Pakistan (September 13, 1948). Probably, it must be one of the longest editorials the paper had written in its long history. The paper gave him due credit for his earlier days as a staunch adherent to Hindu-Muslim unity, and for keeping away from the Muslim League. But it also noted that he was “a man of ambition who had a high opinion of his own abilities” and how it irked him “to play second fiddle”, which accounted for his casting about “for materials wherewith to build a separate platform for himself”! That is subtly put! The paper said that Jinnah came to see how a backward community like the Muslims “could be roused to action”, to the “point of crudeness” by playing on their faith” and how he learnt from Hitler and Mussolini to perfect “a technique of propaganda and mass instigation to which atrocity mongering was central”. And it added: “And the megalomania which unfortunately he came to develop hardly would allow him to admit that he was wrong.”
The Hitavada (August 21) discussing Singh’s book said: “It is difficult for any average Indian to accept that the late Mohammad Ali Jinnah was a great nationalist leader who has been ‘demonised’ in India.” It added: “The efforts to show Shri Jinnah in good light and show Indian leaders in a bad light in comparison just do not go well with the Indian people.” The Free Press Journal (August 20) had no qualms in criticising Jaswant Singh. For one thing, the paper said that “BJP is no Congress for it to ape the imperious ways of the latter’s leadership” and added that “having said that we must say that Singh called for his expulsion”. “You do not publicly reject the core belief-system of your party and then expect to be part of its top decision-making bodies…. Singh invited the extreme disciplinary action from the BJP for clubbing Sardar Patel with Nehru and for endorsing the charge that Muslims were treated as second-class citizens,” said the paper.
K Subramanya, writing in Deccan Herald (August 28) pointed out that in India “politicians have seldom written history (and ) when they write…it is doubtful if somebody who dwells on contemporary history with any degree of honesty can at be same time also remain a successful politician”.