Actor Salman Khan affixes an adhesive bandage to protect the forefinger of chief minister Narendra Modi at the kite-flying festival in Ahmedabad on Tuesday. The taut thread attached to kites sometimes cuts into unprotected fingers. (Reuters)
Jan. 14: Salman Khan flew kites with Narendra Modi on Tuesday but stopped short of flying a kite on who should occupy the Prime Minister’s chair.
The kite-flying event, part of the colourful kite festival that has become synonymous with Makar Sankranti in Gujarat, was expected to be a platform where the Bollywood star would endorse Modi as Prime Minister.
The two had met in the morning and after a traditional festive lunch of undhiyu — a mixed-vegetable-and-lentil dish — arrived together for a 30-minute kite-flying session that was marked by much banter. Then it was time for the actor to sing for his supper.
“Salman’s joining the kite festival will fill new colour to Gujarat’s efforts to promote tourism,” the Gujarat chief minister had said in his introductory remarks.
Kite-flying on Makar Sankranti or Uttarayan — the day that symbolises the Sun’s movement towards the north, and is seen as the day to begin a new journey or endeavour — is a tradition that is a few centuries old in Gujarat, according to social scientist Gaurang Jain. The soaring kite is taken as a symbol of one’s dreams and endeavours.
“Everyone is happy, khush khush,” Salman started.
The crowd cheered. He smiled at them and paused.
“There is colour in the sky,” was his next line.
Meera Zaveri, a BJP supporter and local resident, recounted to The Telegraph: “The crowd waited with bated anticipation — it was clear he was measuring his words.”
Salman praised development in Gujarat, saying he was visiting the state after four years and was taken by the change.
But the crowd wanted more. What about Modi, it prodded him.
“I am standing next to a good manÖ God will decide who is the best man for the country. May the best man win — Jo Modi saab ki taqdeer mein ho, woh Modi saab ko mile (Modi should get what is in his destiny),” Salman said, speaking with pauses, and then sent up a prayer.
But what did he think, the crowd persisted, according to Meera.
Salman negotiated the slippery cirque like an expert off-piste skier.
“You vote for Modi saab. I am from Mumbai, I live in Bandra. I will vote for Baba Siddique and Priya Dutt,” he responded. Siddique, the three-time MLA from Bandra, and Dutt who is a Lok Sabha MP from the area are both from the Congress.
Modi betrayed the shadow of irritation, his smile switching off for a moment.
“Every desh ka hona chahiye development. Everybody is pareshaan. I am pareshaan. (There should be development in every land. Everyone is harassed. I am harassed.) I would be glad if everybody loves their chief minister as much as you do,” Salman continued.
The cheers swelled.
The actor now invoked his father, iconic scriptwriter Salim Khan. “My father talks to him very often,” Salman said, looking at Modi.
“I like him very much. I have met him for the first time, I hope we meet more, we get along. He is a great man, he is doing a lot for the state and I wish Modi saab all the very best in life,” Salman concluded, his catch-me-if-you-can statements leaving Modi and the BJP befuddled.
The actor is travelling across the country to promote his film Jai Ho, due for a Republic Day weekend release.
“As part of the promotions, Salman bhai will meet as many chief ministers as possible — as the film is about issues concerning the common man. On Monday he was in Madhya Pradesh to meet BJP chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan,” said a source close to Salman.
Salman had generously praised Chouhan after the meeting, as he had Uttar Pradesh chief minister Akhilesh Yadav of the Samajwadi Party last week while attending the controversial Saifai festival.
“The appointment for a meeting with Modi had come with a price-tag — a request to attend the Gujarat government-sponsored kite festival in Ahmedabad with Modi,” the Salman aide said.
While the festival has been organised by Gujarat’s tourism department for three decades, Modi has taken it to another level.
Zafar Sareshwala, a businessman and a critic-turned-admirer of Modi who is also close to Salim, said Salman was in Ahmedabad to promote his film and there was no political agenda.
“It was just a coincidence that today happens to be Uttarayan and Id. There was no agenda, no attempt to appease the minority community to garner votes ahead of the Lok Sabha elections,” he insisted.
But sources in the Maharashtra BJP said there was a proposal to invite Salim to contest the Lok Sabha elections on a party ticket from Gujarat.
In 2009, Salman had raised the “Jai Ho” slogan at Congress election rallies and the BJP had countered it with “Bhay Ho”.
In the quicksand of politics and stardom, tables turn easily.