Only the rich and famous in the country are talking about intolerance while the poor are concerned about their livelihoods, actor Anupam Kher said, training his guns at Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi.
Speaking at an event in Kolkata, the actor known for his pro-BJP leanings on social media said there was no nationwide debate on rising intolerance – a claim by opposition parties that accuse the Centre of not doing enough to rein in fringe right-wing elements.
“This is a no debate. The rich and the famous are talking of intolerance. If you ask a man on the street, they won’t talk about intolerance. All they want is food two times a day,” Kher said at the Telegraph National Debate on intolerance on Saturday.
“Those with champagne in a glass are only talking about it. Are you living in India or America?”
Kher said the “biggest” form of intolerance was during the Emergency when all those people who spoke against the government were jailed.
Mocking Rahul Gandhi, he said, “Congress is the most tolerant in India because they are tolerating a person whom they want to project as a prime minister of this country. If you can tolerate that person then you can tolerate anything in the world.”
Kher’s comments come amid a raging debate over intolerance and free speech in the country, first triggered by the mob lynching of a Muslim man in Uttar Pradesh over beef consumption rumours.
Since then, the burning alive of Dalit children in Faridabad, a string of incendiary comments by BJP leaders, the suicide of PhD student Rohith Vemula due to alleged caste discrimination and the murder of author MM Kalburgi, among others, have provided more ammunition to opposition parties.
But Kher dismissed the argument, saying the opposition was talking about tolerance to take revenge for their electoral losses.
“Did you hear the word intolerance before the last eight months? This has been marketed to take revenge for the defeat in the last elections,” Kher said.
He said the most talked-about topic in the past 10 years – corruption – was not being talked about anymore.
Congress spokesman Randeep Surjewala said in the past two years it often appeared that intolerance was now part of the mainstream discourse.
Bollywood actress Kajol said there are different types of intolerance and political intolerance is only one of them.
“To make all social issues a political one is absolutely wrong. I also think that we have to work together to make a stronger and richer India and only then intolerance cease to exist. The debate on intolerance does not recognise this,” she said.