In August 2010, Salim Khan had condemned Amitabh Bachchan for agreeing to become Gujarat’s brand ambassador on Narendra Modi’s request. On Wednesday, Salim launched Modi’s Urdu website from his own residence.
“How long can one cry over the deaths of their loved ones? My father died in 1951. Kya main unki death par aaj bhi rota rahoon? (Should I keep crying for him?)” he asked.
Salim, one half of the Salim-Javed scriptwriter duo that made Bachchan the “angry young man” but who is now better known as Salman Khan’s father, continued: “Nobody’s justifying the deaths. These deaths (in the Gujarat riots) should have never happened. But I’m sure Modi has learnt his lessons and will make sure ki ab koi begunaah aadmi nahin marega (no innocents will be killed).”
Then he parroted the BJP line: “No riots have taken place in Gujarat in the last 12 years.”
Salim, whose partnership with Javed Akhtar created blockbusters like Zanjeer and Sholay, also took a swipe at the Congress and asked who remembered the name of the chief minister — Sudhakarrao Naik — who governed Maharashtra during the 1992 riots.
“Muslims have to move forward. They have issues of unemployment, education and housing. I will contribute to Modi’s Urdu website,” he declared.
Galaxy Apartments, the Arabian Sea-facing eight-storey block at Bandra Bandstand where Salim lives with his two wives Salma and Helen, is a local landmark because it is home to Salman. On Sundays, hundreds assemble outside its gates for a glimpse of the actor if he is in town.
This is also where the Khan clan, whose members belong to different faiths, celebrates every major festival — Holi, Id, Ganeshotsav, Diwali, Baisakhi and Christmas.
Salim likes to flaunt his secular credentials. In 2008, he had ripped into Islamic clerics when a fatwa was issued against him for celebrating Ganeshotsav at Galaxy. “What is the locus standi of these people? Who are they to question people’s religious beliefs... They only pick on secular Muslims,” he had said.
But for some time now, he has been warming up to Modi whom he first met in early 2011 — a few months after his outburst against Bachchan.
“Modiji had met some luminaries of the city at a gathering. Narendrabhai got talking to Salimbhai in that gathering and their chat went on for over an hour. It was at that meeting that the two got to like each other,” remembers Ashish Shelar, the Mumbai BJP president.
Modi told Salim he was keen on a dialogue with Muslims. “I have always felt a dialogue can solve any problem. Nobody can justify the riots, but instead of going on and on about the past like a broken record, it is sometimes better to put the past behind and make a fresh start,” Salim had said then.
The scriptwriter got in touch with Muslim friends in Ahmedabad and they bought the idea that they needed to talk to Modi. “Salim bhai was actively involved in facilitating the first meeting between about 20 Muslim intellectuals and Modi in 2011 at Gandhinagar,” a BJP source said.
A year later, Salim got together with Mahesh Bhatt, another secular mascot of Bollywood, to convince Nai Duniya editor Shahid Siddiqui to interview Modi. Siddiqui quizzed the Gujarat chief minister on a range of subjects, even touching on the riots, but was careful not to put him on the backfoot.
The interview brought Salim and Modi closer, with each expressing admiration for the other.
Salman, who is facing trial in a hit-and-run case as well as a poaching case, also shared the stage with Modi this January and flew kites with him. But he stopped short of endorsing Modi for Prime Minister, praising the BJP leader but saying he would vote for the Congress.
On Wednesday, after launching the Urdu website for Modi, Salim tried to do a Salman. “I have been a loyal Congress voter. I have always voted for them although I have been a little disappointed with them this time. That said, I will still vote for them if they field a good candidate,” he said.