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Not a private matter

Had he not interviewed PM Modi on national television during elections on national and notional issues, a doting audience may not have questioned his politics

Mr Akshay Kumar didn’t vote.

He didn’t vote because he chose not to. He chose to give up his Indian citizenship for a Canadian passport. A few years ago, in a video that has since gone viral, he explained that Toronto was his home, and that he’d stay there once he retires from films.

After he was confronted with why he didn’t cast his vote, Kumar tweeted that his vote was a private matter and not anyone else’s business. It is important to note that Mr Kumar, a Canadian citizen, has earlier advised Indian women to use sanitary pads and has also made a movie telling Indians to use toilets. Had Mr Kumar possibly just danced and beat up bad guys at the end of two-hour melodramas (as some of his colleagues limit the agenda to), social media may not have sounded as affected as they did over his citizenship.

Had he not interviewed Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on national television during the elections on national and notional issues, a doting audience may not have questioned his politics. Lastly, if Mr Kumar hadn’t publicly endorsed Mr Modi’s advice to exercise the right to franchise, his fans may not have asked him why he didn’t cast his vote.

Family matters are best kept within the family. It is the parent who takes it upon himself to spoil or shape the child. Likewise, some matters of the nation are best addressed by the nationals themselves.

In India, cinema and cricket run deep and have as much impact. So, when it was ascertained that Mr Kumar had forsaken his nationality for the seductive wilderness of Canada, it hurt. In light of that, his right to participate and, further, to preach was debated, questioned and criticised.

Your national loyalty became everyone’s business, Mr Kumar.

While recently giving permission to fourth-grade students of a Maryland school to visit the White House (in what has been a customary practice over the years), the administration issued a notification that children who were not citizens would not be allowed on the field trip. A liberal polity may be outraged at this seeming narrow-mindedness. Truly, new-found nationalism can sometimes seem unpleasant. In Donald Trump’s White House, the equivalent of an Akshay Kumar wouldn’t be entertained as he was on Lok Kalyan Marg.

It is not uncommon, as may be argued, for celebrities the world over to lead an international lifestyle. Mr Kumar’s earnings rank admirably when compared to his peers in Hollywood. So, for him to purchase an entire hill in the Blue Mountains or a mall in Edmonton is entirely possible. Celebrities from other countries have switched nationalities. A controversial case is that of the French actor Gerard Depardieu, who first moved out of France for tax reasons and then acquired Russian citizenship. His iconic status let to understandable heartburn and a very public squabble with the erstwhile Prime Minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, who termed Monsieur Depardieu’s decision as “shabby” and “unpatriotic”.

Avoidance of higher taxes has led to a fair degree of migration amongst the wealthy. However, the acquisition of foreign citizenship by a billionaire businessman rarely raises eyebrows. It reads as commonplace, possibly just a professional decision. Mr Pallonji Mistry, the reclusive billionaire patriarch of the Shapoorji Pallonji Group from Mumbai, took up Irish citizenship in 2003. This, however, wouldn’t go unnoticed in the case of a cricketer or a high-profile actor.

Mr Kumar obviously misread his popular standing and decided he could have his cake and eat it too. Through the course of a well-managed and successful career, he has not refrained from a charade of nationalist loyalty. In these days of heightened fervour, his mismatched citizenship lends it a hollow ring. The culmination for some was the exclusive interview with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Simultaneously, Mr Kumar’s spouse Twinkle Khanna displayed that she had cast her vote. Needless to say, the extremely efficient public relations team that has managed his career thus far shall need to go into overdrive. With time, this issue too shall dissolve into obscurity. But it has brought to the fore a hollowness of intent that rattles anyone whose commitment to the nation is genuine. Contrast this with the deceased actor Tom Alter: born in India to American missionary parents, he renounced his American citizenship as an affirmation of commitment to India.

In the case of the White House note that was not intended to be made public but was circulated, the principal of the school in question was asked to resign. Whosoever suggested Mr Akshay Kumar as Prime Minister Modi’s interviewer should explain the unavailability of an Indian national as the celebrity for the occasion. The citizens deserve an answer.

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