Something’s wrong with Anupam Kher Part-2


Communalising the narrative

There can never be any equitability about describing trauma – one side of the story is always heavier than many others, but in the absence, or near impossibility of finding, an impartial judge who could decide which story deserves more weightage in terms of justice and redress, there is no other way for mere mortals but to provide them equal attention. This may sound unfair to those who may have lost their only son to a cruel torturer in an army interrogation camp, but it is equally unfair to a Pandit family that one of their children got killed in an extra judicial killing in someone else’s fight for azadi. Whether committed by a mujahid or a soldier, a rape, cold-blooded killing of a Pandit or encounter killing of a presumed militant, torture, looting, burning are what they are: crimes of war that should shame us all.

The need to assert the exclusivity of their own suffering while negating and downplaying the pain of others has come to be a special narcissistic trait of Pandit and Muslim Kashmiris. We think as though the grave suffering imposed on our own is somehow some kind of a special affliction in opposition to what afflicts the other community in the same way, and as though these are not the same issues affecting the people elsewhere in India, Pakistan and rest of the world. 

The more disturbing aspect of Kashmir’s collective trauma is not that it has made us immune and indifferent to the tragedy of the other, but that it has divided the people of Kashmir and the narratives of their recent history along communal lines. While for the Muslims, the raison d’ê•tre of their azadi movement may compel them to cast India in terms of a predatory and a wily Hindu nation and the Kashmiri Pandits as a perfect Hindu enemy, the Pandits, in seeing their sufferings entirely as an outcome of Muslim belligerence, complement and strengthen them in that perception. If for the Muslims, their present day sufferings are a consequence of a long reign of Indian subjugation going as far back as the conquest of Kashmir by the Mughals, the Pandits see their exodus as part of a long historical process starting from their emasculation as a dominant community in Kashmir from the times when Sultan Sikandar (Butshikan) converted Kashmiris en masse and destroyed their temples.

Speaking specifically about the Pandits, after their exodus in 1990, this self-professed learned and intelligent community, had two choices to make. They could either cast themselves, in communal terms, as the eternal victims of ancient hatred from days of our mythologised past, and see their present predicament as part of the continuous processes of persecutions, resulting from an aggressive Islamisation process of Kashmir initiated by its first Muslim rulers that culminated in their eighth exodus from the valley. Or, they could see their present predicament, in secularly equalising terms, as the victims of the after-life of Partition that affected and continues to affect the Hindu, Muslim, Sikh and Bengalis in diverse ways across India and Pakistan, as in 1947. The choice they made, as demonstrated by their narratives of various exoduses since Islamisation of Kashmir et al, and the gifting away of their story to the Hindu-Nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party makes them stand irrevocably on the communal path.

Thanks to Kher’s effective performances of their narrative, most Pandits of Kashmir today stand, in an incongruous alliance and on the same pedestal with their equally communalised Muslim brothers in Kashmir (though with their backs touching) who seek Pakistan or azadi because they are Muslims.

This is where our tormentors wish us to be, so that they can feel justified and point at us with glee: “So you too turned out to be like us!”

The Political Buffoon

Anupam Kher, as the new, self-professed narrator and champion of Pandit story in the national media and for the ruling party, is no ordinary actor and certainly not the first in history who has chosen to serve up his gift and talent to the powers intent on altering the very character of the country. That in the process he has also become a political buffoon and laughing stock in the social media may bring no discredit to him in the long run (professionally at least), but it certainly harms the causes he so ardently professes to champion.

Anupam Kher’s phenomenal rise, in the political esteem of many Hindutavaadis and fascist elements following his dubious march against award-returners, and the corresponding decline in his stature and esteem as a respectable Kashmiri for many Kashmiris like me, reminds me of a German actor named Gustaf Grundgens, immortalised on screen, by Klaus Maria Brandauer in Istavan Szabo’s masterpiece Mephisto, who in his quest for power and greater glory abandoned his conscience and good judgment to serve Hitler’s Nazi Party. In Kher’s case though, one cannot be certain whether charging him with abandoning his conscience and good judgment is even appropriate till one is certain that he had either of those to start with. I am certain, however, that he was a happy go lucky, jolly good fellow till something hit him hard about two years ago: It was Modi.

Modi is not only a political but also a social and cultural phenomenon. Since his coming to centre-stage, it seems that not only have the diehard Hinduvadis got a fresh lease of life, but even those who were lying quietly in the recesses of rotting woodworks, have found sunlight. The phenomenon of Modi has emboldened many in our extended circles, many of our erstwhile pseudo-secular uncles, aunts, friends, retired professors, scientists, writers, historians and civil servants to renounce their old avatars and suddenly rediscover their repressed Hindu past. Topics, which had remained confined to closed drawing room discussions, could now be articulated in the open. Suddenly, “appeasement of Muslims”, their “meat eating habits”, “propensity to violence”, “love jehad”, “deliberate disrespect of Hindu rituals and national symbols”, and their “tendency to dominate when in majority anywhere”, could be discussed even on television without inviting secular outrage, censure or charge of being communal.

And if you were to look at Anupam Kher’s public pronouncements on many issues since Modi’s first day in power, and his propensity to hog the headlines (recently, championing free speech after denial of visa by Pakistan) it would be apparent that as a well-known actor with unlimited access to the top of the BJP leadership and mainstream as well as social media, he is just the most popular public face of a farcical conversation about Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh version of nationalism and majoritarian privileges that Modi’s ascension has unleashed in the country.

Like India before and after Modi, the Anupam Kher of today and of old is not the same person. But that he has also taken upon himself the mantle to represent the Pandit story and thereby push it determinedly into the majoritarian Hindu camp should, however, be a cause of serious concern to every secular Kashmiri – Hindu or Muslim – even if the intellectually-stilted, so called liberal, emasculated secular Indian has given up on them already as people of no consequence.


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