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Shah Rukh Khan no VIP, India should stop acting up

After he was subjected to detailed security checks at Newark airport in the US, actor Shah Rukh Khan says America should realise it lives in a world and not in its own bubble.

“It wasn't pleasant or nice but I also do respect the fact that it’s meant to be a procedure which needs to be followed if you want to enter America. I understand that a country has to be a little careful specifically with the things that have happened,” Saha Rukh Khan told CNN-IBN.

“But I have a simple logic that once you have been to a consulate, you've done your retina scan and fingerprints...I'm assuming those are the same ones that are sent to immigrations here, why is it that one needs to figure out other things besides that? And at the end of it all what’s ironic is that they didn't even do my retina scan and finger scan...so that’s a little strange. They kept telling me that you know it’s because your name is common and I was too polite to ask common to what?” he said.

“Everybody loves coming to America and everybody loves what America has to offer but I think it needs to offer a little more warmth and speed in its processes. America needs to understand one small thing...that there are about 190-195 small countries and that makes the whole world. It’s not an isolated, parallel universe existence for this country. There is a whole world which makes all the good and bad that is happening. So if we are scared of violence and terrorism, all of us are responsible for it. It’s not that the world is and America is not,” he said.

However, it’s noteworthy that on the same day as Shah Rukh Khan was checked at the airport, American legend Bob Dylan was also asked for identity checks by police in New Jersey by two policemen who did not recognise him.

So are Indians overreacting? Could this – as many are suggesting – possibly be a timely grabbing at the opportunity to garner publicity for his upcoming release My Name is Khan?

To debate the issue on CNN-IBN’s Face the Nation were theatre personality Amir Raza Hussain, columnist Lord Meghnad Desai, Congress MP Jayanthi Natarajan and South Asia Bureau Chife of Der Spiegel Padma Rao.

Senior Congress leaders were the first to react on the issue with Tourism Minister Ambika Soni even going to the extent of suggesting a tit-for-tat. Others who reacted included Shashi Tharoor, Praful Patel and later on Monday night, even P Chidambaram. It seems the politicians simply cannot snap out of the VIP syndrome.

But Jayanthi Natarajan felt the issue was only worthy of being spoken about and did not amount to overreaction. “That’s not a charitable view. The reason why it’s a matter of debate is because it happened to Shah Rukh Khan. Everybody who travels knows that in the US, it’s not really random checking. There’s a certain typecasting and usually it’s Asians with a particular kind of surnames who get picked out” she said, also referring to Abdul Kalam’s frisking case.

Ironic that Natarajan would seem to speak for everyone considering the Government never reacted to the humiliation that many Indians were put through immediately after 9/11.

While SRK insists he was frisked because of his Muslim name, the same day musical legend Bob Dylan too was asked to go through a security check, America’s very own Senator Kennedy was also made to go through the routine checks and so was ex-vice president Al Gore.
How valid or right-placed then are SRK’s concerns? But Amir Raza Hussain sympathised with SRK and said it would be unfair to compare his case with Al Gore and others. “With Ted Kennedy, a terrorist had been using his name. He was getting caught at the airport again and again. The problem is racial profiling by country who today is responsible for most of the terrorism in the world,” he said.

Look who’s talking

Padma Rao made another interesting but a rather controversial comment. She said no one could object to racial profiling conducted by either the US or any other country. She also said India needed to look in its own backyard where people with a Muslim surname still have trouble finding a house in Delhi and Mumbai.

“It’s none of our business as to how the US or any other country decides to go about its security procedures. What we are objecting to is that someone of the stature of SRK was stopped at the US airport. I think it’s ridiculous because when Angelina Jolie and Matt Demon came to India, the US consulate did not ask for a special protection or consideration. But India needs to look into its own backyard. I have Muslims in my family and I know what they go through,” she said.

So is it yet again a case of celebrity culture that makes Indians obsequious to powerful people and simply cannot understand that they have to submit to a certain law?

Lord Meghnad Desai did not mince words to say that Indians were a victim of VIP culture and that SRK was a publicity-seeking personality.

“SRK and all Indian VIPs are in a bubble. Outside of India, everyone has to go through a proper procedure. This is why India’s counter-terrorism is so pathetic. This is because most of the times, police are not allowed to do their job. No matter how famous you are, you should patiently allow them to do so. In the bargain, Shah Rukh has got a fantastic free publicity for his film and he’s enjoying it,” Desai insisted.

Taking it a bit too far?

So if publicity was all that SRK was seeking, isn’t it a bit of a joke that Minister of Civil Aviation Praful Patel has decided to take up the issue at a national level? Rao also said comparing SRK’s case with Kalam would be erroneous because while Kalam was on a list of protocol for VIPs, Shah Rukh was like any other commoner.

Natarajan was furious at Padma Rao and Desai and said it wasn’t about Shah Rukh but more about racially profiling a person. But when questioned about the racial profiling in India, Natarajan played it safe and said it had nothing to do with the present case.

She found a supporter in Husain who agreed and said the US claims to have great intelligence and that it should make them know who Shah Rukh Khan is. “Why do they have to take two hours to figure out he is a harmless actor? This is not a VIP syndrome. Indian Muslims do face problems in getting a house but they don’t face problem from the Government,” he said.

But the truth remains that world is making fun of India after this incident. Padma Rao quoted from Philadelphia Inquirer that wrote, “In India, the ability to avoid being frisked at airports is seen as a status symbol” – a case in point for India’s VIP culture.

Many would, therefore, also argue that Muslims do sometimes get a little hot under the collar over these issues. Barring certain exceptions, everybody – Muslim or otherwise - gets frisked at airports. But Hussain had a problem with the fact that all Muslims are checked while not all browns/Asians are necessarily.

But Meghnad Desai did not agree with Hussain’s point of view. “When you go through immigration, you spend 25-30 minutes, rather than five or 10 minutes. A country has a right to protect itself from the smallest probability that someone may be a terrorist,” he said.

Natarajan, however, kept defending the Government and maintained that barring few people on a special protectee list, none – including herself – were exempt from security checks. “The manner in which Americans or other Westerners are treated in India is very different from how we are treated there. And if there’s an outrage about it, I see nothing wrong with it,” she concluded.

SMS/Web poll: SRK detained in us: are Indians overreacting?

Yes: 76 per cent
No: 24 per cent