Why Anupam Kher’s mission to become a right-wing intellectual sank without a trace

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Some months ago, renowned actor Anupam Kher presented some logical points before Gajandra Chauhan, whose appointment as the FTII head generated much controversy, in a primetime news programme while explaining why the latter should not take up the post.

The actor also spoke against the non-stop controversy on "intolerance" in India and took out a counter rally criticising those from the artistic fraternity who were returning awards as a protest against "intolerance".

Anupam Kher

Till then, Kher looked a man of reason who in the capacity of a concerned citizen of the country, raised relevant questions. But the year 2016 saw the man taking a turn which failed to impress his audience any more.

Kher's fall: First U-turn on Padma, then Pak visa fiasco

First was his sharp U-turn on the Padma awards. Kher, who had claimed in 2010 that these awards lack credibility, was overwhelmed after he was chosen for the Padma Bhushan this year.

The drastic change in the veteran actor's thought process saw him trolled on the social media with many saying he got the award for his proximity to the BJP.

And with the flip flop, the actor's November counter rally against anti-tolerance also came under question. Was it a reward for Kher more than an award?

The actor's next controversy came over his failure to procure a Pakistani visa to attend the Karachi literature festival starting on February 5.

Kher said he was denied a visa while Pakistani authorities said he had never applied. Later, when the Pakistani high commissioner called him up to offer him a visa, the actor turned it down saying he had no free dates.

These two events of early 2016 say much about Kher's activism, which is perhaps not without a plan.

What looked as an established artiste's take on critical issues of the day may be in reality a long-term aiming of a political harvest (a nomination for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls?) but Kher did himself a gross disservice by talking too much and creating too many unnecessary controversies.

Kher tried hard to become a right-wing intellectual

The 60-year-old Kher might have thought of making himself known as a right-wing intellectual at a time when a lot of leftist and centrist liberals were taking on the Modi regime over claims of intolerance.

There is a big market available in India for those aspiring to become a right-wing intellectual but it is not an easy task to become so either, thanks to almost zero tradition. Unlike in the West, India never had any grounding in political philosophy and liberal governance as it did have on spirituality or divinity.

The country even had a proximity to Leftist traditions that still have a presence, in the garb of extremism, centrism or populism.

India never had a tradition of practising liberal political philosophy

But never did India have any equivalence of John Locke or Thomas Paine in history and that has left its right-wing camp devoid of any definite philosophy.

The Indian right has been left with nationalist tenets that are, as ironical as it sounds, inspired from the West but fashioned more as an ‘India only' brand. Thrust on the market, army, jingoist sentiments and the middle-class has become the foundation stone for the Indian right-wing tradition.

There is clearly no political philosophy to follow but just a set of polarising ideas nurtured after years of failure of the centrist regime.

Why it is difficult for the Anupam Khers to fit themselves in India's right-wing culture

And here is where the likes of Anupam Khers fail. It is easier for them to take a political stand (criticising the Shiv Sena for throwing ink on Sudheendra Kulkarni) but they sink without a trace when they try to merge intellect with prejudice (when he questions the same Kulkarni over releasing a book of a former Pakistani diplomat during which he was attacked by the Sena).

Kher criticises Pakistan as the right-wing sentiments in this country do and speak little in support of the cricketers and artistes from that country when they are stopped from entering India but when he himself hits a wall while visiting Pakistan as an intellectual, he cries foul.

This double standard is a genuine ailment that India's right-wing intellectuals suffer from because they don't have the philosophical sophistication to avoid the traps, even more in these parts where blunt nationalism marks the finishing line of the race.

The task of polarising is also mastered by those who wish to excel in India's own right-wing style but when a Kher calls Congress MP Shashi Tharoor a "Congi Chamcha", it does more harm to the former's credibility and the tradition of liberal philosophy.

An artist only harms his goodwill through this game

For opportunist politicians, this is a no-loss game but people like Kher, who has earned a goodwill over the years by the means of creativity, run in a serious danger of losing their credibility (when Shashi Tharoor and Nandita Das supported Pakistan's decision to not give Kher a visa) when they too try their luck in the game to become a pseudo right-wing intellectual in India.

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