In the name of Khan

There is a politics of ownership that is being played out here



The recent controversy and the politics thereafter in the name of Shah Rukh Khan was triggered by an article entitled “Being a Khan” that the Bollywood actor wrote in the Outlook magazine in January 2013. Pakistan’s half-witted Interior Minister Rehman Malik, obviously without having read the article, offered an unsolicited piece of advice to the Indians: “He (Shahrukh) is born Indian and he would like to remain Indian, but I will request the government of India (to) please provide him security”. The actor clarified saying that he is safe and secure in India. The Indian Home Secretary responded to Pakistan, “We are capable of looking after the security of our own citizens. Let him (Rehman Malik) worry about his own.” To add fuel to fire, the Chief of Jamiat Ulema-I-Hind, Mahmood Madani said, “It is better to die than to live a life with the support of Pakistan.”
This might look like a straightforward and sequential narration of a recent controversy that is no more the headline of the day. Since this column is late by a day this week, I have had some free Sunday time to deconstruct the politics that lies beneath this otherwise inconsequential controversy. Of course, I am reading into it, but then that’s what I do for a living.

The politics of competitive protection
The Khan controversy is nothing new in the India-Pakistan context. A considerable amount of Indians and Pakistanis revel in pointing out that the minorities on the other side of the border are unsafe, that they would be better served if they were elsewhere (meaning if they crossed over), and often offering unsolicited protection to those “persecuted” by the other side. Of course, those indulging in this politics of competitive protection do not bother with what might happen to the minorities once they become the enemy country’s object of protection. The Pakistani offer of protection to the Indian Muslims and the return offer to Pakistani Hindus by the Indian side have only made their lives worse. More importantly, there is a need to take a step back and ‘read further into’ this protection offer from a sociological point of view. Legendary historian Charles Tilly argued that governments are in the habit of running ‘protection rackets’. Governments extract resources from people in exchange of giving them protection from dangers which, Tilly famously observes, are often imaginary or are created by the governments themselves by their own activities. Those Indian and Pakistani leaders who are in the ‘business of offering protection’ to select audiences on the other side should consider for a moment whether their own actions are contributing to insecurity and danger for those they are offering to protect.

Politics of ownership
There is also a politics of ownership that is being played out here. When the Pakistani statesmen talk about protection for Kashmiris and other Muslims in India and when Indians talk about the need to protect Hindus in Pakistan, what they are actually doing is symbolically crossing the border to own a part of the other country’s construction of the self. Making sure that the objects of their concern, Kashmiris, Muslims and Hindus, are indeed safe is really not their objective, and we know that for sure from history. Consider, for instance, the fact that both India and Pakistan have killed scores of Kashmiris in the name of protecting them!

Politics of hate
Lurking under the politics of protection is also the politics of hate. The Shiv Sena which lost no time in responding to Rehman Malik, has in the past threatened Shah Rukh Khan, more than once. In 2010, for instance, when Shah Rukh, himself a IPL team owner, argued that Pakistani players should allowed to play in IPL games and that 'Mumbai belongs to all Indians', the Shiv Sena asked Shah Rukh to apologise or face the consequences. How ironical it is then that they are today claiming that “the Indian government is capable of protecting its citizens”. Wonder who will protect Shah Rukh from the Siv Sena!

On the other side of the border the Jamaat-ud Dawa (JuD) chief Hafiz Saeed invited Shah Rukh back to his ‘original homeland’ so that he could be safe there. That this comes from a man whose ideology and designs have killed scores of Indians and Pakistanis, including Muslims, shows the irony of the politics of hate.

Politics of symbolic protection
Another famous American historian, Frederic Lane, examining the interlinked development of war making, state making, and capital accumulation, argued that the “governments are in the business of selling protection ... whether people want it or not”. Indeed, this is precisely what we are seeing today where some overzealous and over-concerned Pakistanis are offering protection to Shah Rukh Khan, Indian Muslims and even to the Kashmiris even when the ‘objects of their protection’ do not want it.

The government of India justifies the stationing of the Indian armed forces in Kashmir and the continuation of special legal provisions such as the Public Safety Act, Armed Forces Special Powers Act and the Disturbed Areas Act on the basis of the need to provide protection to the people of Kashmir when the Kashmiris do not need or want such protection, and have consistently made that argument clear to the government in New Delhi. The problem is that governments, including the one in New Delhi, are so used to the logic and rationale of ‘protection business’ that they ‘force’ protection on people without bothering to ask the people what their real aspirations/needs are. What is even more unfortunate is that this “uncalled for” protection itself is responsible for the insecurity of the Kashmiris.

Lastupdate on : Mon, 4 Feb 2013 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Mon, 4 Feb 2013 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Tue, 5 Feb 2013 00:00:00 IST

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