PLAYING POLITICS Comment

In films and real life

Basharat Peer

Basharat Peer  

Cosying up to the ruling party and always playing the good cop are just some things the star did.

On May 26, 2014 there was a single venue where every powerbroker and political animal wanted to be: Rashtrapati Bhavan, where Narendra Modi was being sworn in as Prime Minister. At the ceremony, prominent in a black suit with a loopy silver bracelet dangling from his right wrist, was actor Salman Khan, sitting between his father, the legendary screenwriter Salim Khan, and Zafar Sareshwala, a car dealer from Gujarat.

The ceremony had in attendance several card-carrying members of the film world, MP Shatrughan Sinha, Chandigarh MP Kirron Kher, and her husband, actor Anupam Kher, whose relationship with the Bharatiya Janata Party and the larger Sangh Parivar are well known. Yet, it was a bit of a surprise to see Salman Khan in attendance.

The liaison

The reason for Salim and Salman Khan’s presence at Mr. Modi’s show was Mr. Sareshwala, the main dealer for BMW cars in Gujarat. A bearded, diminutive, middle-aged man, Mr. Sareshwala does not belong to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh but to a conservative, proselytising Muslim religious group, the Tablighi Jamaat. He emerged on the political landscape through the fog of the 2002 riots in Gujarat, in which buildings owned by his family were burnt down by mobs. A fierce critic of Mr. Modi after the riots, Mr. Sareshwala, who had moved to London, returned after a meeting with Mr. Modi in 2003 and grew under his patronage. He ran businesses in Mumbai and Ahmedabad and through some friends in the film industry got to know Salim Khan.

Over the years, Mr. Sareshwala took on the role of propagandist, using his visibly Muslim appearance and identity to canvass support for Mr. Modi’s candidature. During the heated 2014 election, as the ghosts of 2002 seeped into the campaign, Mr. Sareshwala seemed to have enlisted both Salman Khan and his father to showcase Mr. Modi’s inclusive credentials.

On April 16, 2014, at the height of the election campaign, >Salim Khan inaugurated the Urdu version of Mr. Modi’s website, www.narendramodi.in. A short film on the website shows the older Khan typing on the keyboard of a laptop, while a picture of Mr. Modi hugging a visibly Muslim man with skullcap appears on the site’s Urdu homepage. When Mr. Khan inaugurated the website, Mr. Sareshwala sat by his side.

Earlier, in mid-January 2014, Salman Khan, flanked again by Mr. Sareshwala, spent an afternoon in Ahmedabad flying kites with Mr. Modi. The star, who was then already an accused in the hit-and-run case, spoke highly of Mr. Modi, describing him as a “great man” and praising the development in Gujarat. Yet he did force a strained smile on Mr. Modi’s face when he asked people to vote for the best man, hinting that the best people in his Bandra constituency were perhaps the Congress leaders Priya Dutt and Baba Siddiqui.

Mr. Khan didn’t only cosy up to Mr. Modi. A week before he flew kites in Ahmedabad, the superstar participated in a song-and-dance show at Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav’s Saifai village home in Etawah district of Uttar Pradesh. His participation, along with that of Madhuri Dixit, came under intense criticism as, around the same time, the Yadav government was bulldozing the camps of the victims of Muzaffarnagar riots. “It is not about the money,” a friend in Mumbai said, “It is about patronage and protection.” Like most other filmstars, Mr. Khan has campaigned for almost every political party in Mumbai and has made appearances at celebrations organised by the Mumbai Police as well.

Post-case makeover

Interestingly, after he was charged in the hit-and-run case, Mr. Khan changed his image from romantic actor to action star, mostly playing a selfless, brave police officer or spy, an unpaid exercise in unquestioning glorification of the law enforcement agencies. Mr. Khan played an encounter specialist in Garv, an undercover IPS officer who takes on the underworld in Wanted, a spy for RAW, India’s external intelligence agency, in Ek Tha Tiger, the loveable, rogue cop in Dabangg and Dabangg 2, an ex-army man in Jai Ho, and in Kick, an undercover police officer with a heart of gold battling a greedy pharma moghul to bring healthcare to impoverished children.

A defining feature of most of Mr. Khan’s films is a stylishly delivered piece of dialogue, which his fans repeat till the next blockbuster. In Kick, Mr. Khan’s character draws the curtain with the words, “ Main Dil Main Aaata Hoon, Samaj Main Nahin” (You will love me, but you won’t get me.) Looking at his flirtations with politicians, one might be tempted to modify Mr. Khan’s line a bit: “ Tum Dil Main Aate Ho, Aur Samaj Main Bhee” (You might be loveable, but we do get you).



>

Salman Khan convicted in hit-and-run case


Justice D.W. Deshpande held the Bollywood actor guilty of all counts rejecting his claim that his driver Ashok Singh was at the wheel when the accident took place. > Read more

>

How the hit-and-run case unfolded


From initial charges to the final verdict, here's a timeline of the case that spanned over a massive 13 years..

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Bollywood offers Salman Khan words of comfort


Actors across Bollywood took to Twitter to offer solace to the actor. A look at some of the tweets:
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  • Other Controversies
  • Blackbuck case: He was accused of poaching two Blackbucks in 1998 near Jodhpur during the shooting of 'Hum Saath Saath Hain'. He was sentenced to one year prison.
  • Comments about 26/11 attacks: “It was the elite that was targeted this time. So they panicked. Then they got up and spoke about it. My question is why not before? Attacks have happened in trains and small towns too, but no one talked about it so much,” Salman said in 2010. He claimed that Pakistan cannot be held responsible. He later apologised.
  • Aishwarya Rai in the picture: After their presence in ‘Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam’, the couple’s relationship was in the eye of the storm. After they broke up in 2002, Aishwarya alleged that the actor harassed her, as he was unable to come to terms with the ending of their relationship. A case was also registered by Aishwarya’s parents.
  • Brawl with SRK: In 2008, the two actors allegedly got into a fistfight during a party. The relationship between the two stars has never been the same since then. However, the two actors got back together on a good foot in an Iftar party and SRK attended Salman’s sister’s wedding. SRK visited Salman hours before the verdict on hit-and-run case.
  • Vivek Oberoi’s allegations: The actor accused Salman of "threatening to kill him, abusing and indulging in character assassination." It was rumoured that Vivek Oberoi and Aishwarya Rai were in a relationship.


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Printable version | Jun 3, 2020 8:32:43 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/2002-hitandrun-case-basharat-peer-on-salman-in-films-and-real-life/article7181527.ece

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