New Delhi/Mumbai: Bollywood superstar Aamir Khan found himself in the vortex of a political storm on Tuesday over his remarks on intolerance, with the BJP sharply criticising him and the Congress stoutly defending him.
The actor-producer's candid remarks at an awards event in New Delhi on Monday set Twitter abuzz and left the film fraternity divided.
Aamir, 50, had said: "For the last six to eight months, there has been a growing despondency I would say. Kiran (wife Kiran Rao) and I have lived all our life in India. When I sit at home and talk to Kiran, for the first time she said, 'Should we move out of India?' Now that's a very disastrous and a big comment to make to me."
Union Minister Kiren Rijiju contradicted Aamir's suggestion and said: "The record shows that the number of incidents of communal violence in country have come down since NDA came to power. Just to make a blatant statement that during NDA rule the country has become intolerant, it unnecessarily tarnishes the image of the country."
BJP spokesperson Nalin Kohli added: "Some isolated examples, however extreme, are exceptions to India's inherent tolerant nature. It would be unfortunate to let isolated examples be taken as a norm that defines India..."
The Congress, however, supported Aamir, with party vice president Rahul Gandhi suggesting that the Narendra Modi government should reach out to the people to know about the reason they felt disturbed.
Rahul Gandhi tweeted: "Instead of branding all those who question the government and Modiji - as unpatriotic, anti-national or 'motivated', the government would do better to reach out to people to understand what's disturbing them."
"That's the way to solve problems in India - not by bullying, threatening and abusing!"
In a quick rebuttal, the BJP said that Rahul Gandhi supporting Aamir's comment only reeks of a conspiracy to defame the nation.
"We completely reject the comment of Aamir Khan. He is not scared but he is trying to scare people. Aamir Khan makes a comment and Rahul Gandhi supports it. It becomes clear from Gandhi's comment that there is a conspiracy going on in the country to defame the nation.
"India gave him all the laurels and respect. He should not forget that India made him a star...," BJP spokesperson Shahnawaz Hussain told the media.
A police complaint was lodged against the "PK" star by short filmmaker Ullhas PR with Delhi Police over the remarks.
During the event, the actor also said that Kiran "fears for her child, she fears for the atmosphere around us, she feels scared to open the newspapers every day. That indicates there is a sense of growing disquiet, despondency apart from alarm".
He added that "one part is alarm, another part is that you feel depressed, you feel low...you feel why is this happening. So, that sense does exist in me, to be quite honest."
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal supported the actor, and tweeted: "BJP should stop silencing voices through abuses and threats. It's high time that central government took concrete steps to instill a sense of security amongst people."
Some film fraternity members, including Anupam Kher, Ram Gopal Varma and Ashoke Pandit, slammed Aamir, saying that he must spread hope and not fear.
Anupam questioned Aamir if he had asked Kiran "which country would she like to move out to".
"Did you tell her that this country has made you Aamir Khan," the veteran actor and BJP supporter, tweeted.
He added: "Dear @aamir_khan. Did you tell Kiran that you have lived through more worse times in this country and but you never thought of moving out... When did 'Incredible India' become 'Intolerant India' for you? Only in the last seven to eight months? #AtithiDevoBhavah."
Aamir, in 2008, was appointed to endorse the tourism ministry's Incredible India campaign.
Ram Gopal Varma too questioned that when "Aamir, Shah Rukh and Salman -- the three biggest stars of the Hindu country India are Muslims, I don't understand where intolerance is?"
There were few who supported Aamir -- music composer Vishal Dadlani of the Vishal-Shekhar duo, and filmmaker Sanjay Gupta.
Dadlani said: "More power to your voice, @aamir_khan Sir! This is OUR country, it belongs to ALL Indians. Not to rabid lunatics from any party/religion. Thanks to Aamir Sir, for speaking against intolerance! Proud to see the giants of film, use their voices for India."