Francois Gautier, the France-born, India-based journalist of “Nostradamus predicted the rise of Narendra Modi” fame, is a pained man. He recently, as is his charitable wont, took up cudgels on behalf of “Hindu pride”, raising an important point: “Why should Aamir Khan, a Muslim, play in most ancient and sacred of Hindu epics, the Mahabharata?”
Gautier was reacting to reports of a planned on-screen adaptation of Mahabharat, in which Khan could possibly play Krishna.
Why should @AamirKhan, a Muslim, play in most ancient & sacred of Hindu epics, the Mahabharata? Is @BJP4India Govt of @narendramodi going to be like the @INCIndia & just stand by in name of secularism??? Would Muslims allow a Hindu to play life of Mohamed?https://t.co/fC7bvbHkZE— Francois Gautier (@fgautier26) March 21, 2018
Only, turns out, Hindus don’t seem to care about the issue as hotly as Gautier does. His comments sparked a tweet-war, with lyricist Javed Akhtar taking the lead in calling out his communal statements, and a lot of Hindus chimed in to say they were perfectly fine with Khan as Krishna, thank you very much.
You scoundrel, have you not seen peter brooks production of this great epic Mahabharsta in France . I would like to know which foreign agency is paying you to spread this kind of perverse and poisonous thoughts in our country— Javed Akhtar (@Javedakhtarjadu) March 21, 2018
A bitter Gautier later posted: “It’s funny, when I objected to Aamir Khan playing Lord Krishna in Mahabharat, most of those who trolled me, saying I was raking-up communal disharmony, were Hindus. Show how much Nehruvianism has taken firm roots in the intellectual class of Hindus’ minds and how much the spirit of Kashtrianism in Hindus has fallen down. Shame to a nation and a people, who lose the pride in their culture and spirituality and are ready to abandon it to a religion who repeatedly raped, enslaved and massacred their temples, men, women and children. Shame on you Hindus !”
It is valiant on Gautier’s part to rally back, and attempt to put the blame on the recently much-maligned Jawaharlal Nehru. He also borrows liberally from the WhatsApp brand of history currently in production and circulation. Who knew an actor playing a character could lead to the fall of an entire religion, culture and spirituality? Also, who knew all Hindus were supposed to have imbibed the “spirit of Kashtrianism”, which, one can only assume, is a reference to Khsatriyas, one of the many castes into which Hindu society is divided?
However, the row has some important pointers – movies and actors are easy targets to attack for some publicity, communal rants run to a similar script, and it only takes a few sensible minds to flatten such narratives.
The starter pack for maligning Muslims seems as follows – lots of inaccurate but evocative references to Muslim barbarity, treating “Muslim” as a monolith identity, and generous amounts of whataboutery and false equivalences. Sample this tweet:
Behind every Muslim, even seemingly moderate such as @Javedakhtarjadu ,there is a soldier of Islam.They may compromise on some aspects, but if u scratch ,they despise u and will secretly excuse terrorism such as 1 that happened in France, in name of Palestine, Chechnya or Kashmir— Francois Gautier (@fgautier26) March 24, 2018
So confident are trolls of this formula that its failure leads to the kind of frustration Gautier has displayed – “shame” on Hindus, vile, personal attacks on Akhtar, and, as he found it important to mention, “2nd wife” Shabana Azmi.
Butc oz of Nehruvianism,taken as an insult. And of course @Javedakhtarjadu & 2d wife @azmishabana, who when with @INCIndia gave interviews giving impression that every Indian woman raped, take refuge behind these Hindus, while secretly believing that Islam is only true religion— Francois Gautier (@fgautier26) March 24, 2018
The incident has once again shown that communal rabble-rousers lack an understanding of not just Islam, but Hinduism too, whose one true character, if indeed the religion can be tied to one trait, has been flexibility and acceptance of pluralism, and of India, whose syncretic traditions stand proof to millennia of assimilation and acceptance.
Friendly reminder to the likes of Gautier – in BR Chopra’s monumentally successful TV adaptation of Mahabharat, the character of Arjun was played by Firoz Khan, who changed his name to Arjun after the popularity of his portrayal of the Pandava prince. The script-writer of the show was Urdu poet Rahi Masoom Raza.
This was in 1988. In 2016, however, Nawazuddin Siddiqui was prevented from playing in a Ram Leela in Budhana, Uttar Pradesh, reportedly because the Shiv Sena did not like it.
This is an example of how the film industry has become a convenient advertising vehicle for any newly risen defender of community or caste pride, and Muslim actors are increasingly becoming soft targets, from the Padmaavat controversy to attacks on Shah Rukh Khan.
However, there is an important distinction here – such voices gain credence only when someone with sufficient political clout endorses them.
The BJP government in Rajasthan, and later Haryana, utterly copped out to the Karni Sena. Karan Johar faced heat from the Shiv Sena for hiring Pakistani artistes.
Aamir Khan himself was attacked viciously for “maligning Hinduism” in his film PK by the Hindu Mahasabha, and after he spoke of a “sense of insecurity” in India in 2016, then Union minister Manohar Parrikar said he “deserved to be taught a lesson”. Claims were later made that the BJP IT cell worked actively to get Snapdeal to dump Khan as the brand ambassador.
Divisive, trollish voices gain an unjustifiable and dangerous amount of power only when they are amplified by those in power. The Gautier row dying a natural death shows people don’t care about idiotic issues unless there is a determined attempt to rile them up. Hopefully, in the future, more Hindus and Muslims will choose to be “shamed” by the likes of Gautier, rather than bring shame upon the religions they profess to fight for.