A ROW involving India’s biggest Bollywood star, Pakistan’s most notorious terrorist leader and its mercurial Interior Minister reached farcical proportions yesterday after Indian-born Muslim actor Shah Rukh Khan was forced to rebuff an invitation to move to Pakistan.
Khan addressed the issue at a press conference in Mumbai on Tuesday night amid an intensifying controversy over a column in which he described the difficulties of life as a prominent Muslim in India.
In a piece for a special New York Times edition of India’s Outlook magazine, Khan wrote of his interrogation at a US airport during a 2010 visit to publicise My Name is Khan, a movie exploring anti-Muslim sentiment after September 11, and his decision to give his children non-Muslim names to spare them discrimination.
He wrote that he had on occasion “become the inadvertent object of political leaders who choose to make me a symbol of all that is wrong and unpatriotic about Muslims in India”.
“Ironically, the same has happened through this article,” he said in the press conference. “I don’t even understand the basis of this controversy.”
Khan sparked a diplomatic row between New Delhi and Islamabad after Lashkar-e-Toiba founder Hafiz Saeed responded to his column by posting an invitation on Twitter for the actor to move to Pakistan.
The Punjab-based terrorist group is believed to be responsible for the 2008 Mumbai siege in which Pakistani gunmen killed 170 people and injured hundreds.
As if that wasn’t red rag enough, Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik weighed in during an Indian Republic Day celebration in Islamabad on Monday, calling on the Indian government to “please provide him (Khan) 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,” he added.
India wasted little time in responding. Home Secretary RK Singh said India was capable of protecting its people and suggested Pakistan should worry about its own citizens’ security.
As social networking sites lit up with comments, an irritated Khan – whom Forbes listed this month as India’s highest grossing entertainer – hit back at both his critics and unwelcome Pakistani defenders: “Nowhere does the article state or imply that I feel unsafe in my country, India. It doesn’t even vaguely say that I am ungrateful for the love I have received in a career spanning 20 years,” he said.
“I would like to tell all those offering me unsolicited advice that we in India are extremely safe and happy. We have an amazing democratic, free and secular way of life. It’s irksome for me to clarify this non-existent issue. My safety has genuinely never been a matter of concern to me and so it should not be of concern to anyone else either.”
Whether that can still be said after this week’s controversy remains to be seen.