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Govt scans Padma Shri, Saif sees politics

Saif Ali Khan

Mumbai, Aug. 7: Saif Ali Khan’s lawyer today said the Union home ministry’s decision to examine whether the actor should be stripped of his Padma Shri “smacked of political mal-intent”.

The controversy erupted after a senior RTI activist wrote to the ministry asking why Saif’s Padma Shri, awarded in 2010, should not be recalled since a Mumbai court had admitted criminal charges against him.

Subhash Chandra Agarwal, 64, holds the Guinness world record for having written the highest number of published letters to newspaper editors.

“I had written to the government earlier too. When Saif’s name was being considered for a Padma Shri, I mentioned that given that he had been charged in 1998 by a Rajasthan court for poaching two black bucks along with Salman Khan, he was not a fit candidate for the award,” Agarwal told The Telegraph today.

“I had also mentioned his involvement in a brawl at a Mumbai hotel in 2012. But nothing happened.”

In March this year, after a Mumbai court admitted the charges framed against the actor in the brawl, Agarwal wrote to the home ministry again, seeking withdrawal of the actor’s Padma award. He was thrilled to receive a reply last Monday.

The letter from section officer Sunil Kumar said: “I am directed to refer to your public grievance No. MINHA/E/2014/00549 dated 14.03.2014 raising issue to take back Padma award from Saif Ali Khan, as some charges framed against him by a Mumbai court for scuffle in a Mumbai restaurant. The matter is under examination.”

Saif, 43, couldn’t be reached for comments. His lawyer Mohan Jayakar was “appalled” that a man “facing a chargesheet” was being seen as guilty even before the trial had begun.

“I sense political mal-intent. Saif was given the Padma award at the discretion of the President. This is a frivolous petition filed by someone seeking attention as it involves a celeb. The case is in court and the verdict is not out,” Jayakar said.

“There has been no moral turpitude involved — yet a lot of credence is being given to the query by the government. It (withdrawal of the award) cannot be done at someone’s whim. He has to be given a notice and allowed to explain himself.”

Jayakar refused to explain what he had meant by “political mal-intent”. Saif’s mother Sharmila Tagore is known to be close to some Congress leaders and had been considered for a Rajya Sabha nomination during UPA II rule.

The brawl had taken place in February 2012 in the Wasabi restaurant of the Taj Mahal Hotel. Saif, who was dating Kareena Kapoor, was in the restaurant with Kareena, her sister Karisma and their friend Malaika Arora Khan (Arbaaz Khan’s wife) and her sister Amrita Arora.

With them were filmmaker Kamal Amrohi’s grandson Bilal Amrohi and Amrita’s husband, builder Shakeel Ladak. An NRI businessman, Iqbal Mir Sharma, was at a nearby table with his wife and her family.

The chargesheet, filed in December 2012, says the trouble started after Iqbal protested to a waiter against the ruckus the Bollywood stars were making.

Iqbal has alleged that a little later, when he and his father-in-law Raman Patel were going to the washroom, they were accosted by Saif who allegedly abused Iqbal. When the businessman retaliated with words, Saif allegedly punched him in the face and fractured his nose. Bilal and Shakeel are accused of assaulting the septuagenarian Patel.

The incident led to a furore before the release of Saif’s movie Agent Vinod. Saif later filed a counter-complaint against Iqbal, who has since returned home to Africa.

Agarwal, though, followed the case. A regular RTI petitioner against alleged wrongdoings in the selection of Padma awardees, he has filed 608 queries so far. He claims that at least half of them have reached their logical end.

“My first RTI query was over a family dispute against a sitting judge. It resulted in a verdict in my favour. It gave me an immense sense of empowerment,” he said from his Dariba Kalan home in Old Delhi’s Chandni Chowk area.

“The entire Padma awards process is steeped in corruption and the culture of doling out favours. If my RTI queries help correct some anomalies, it will be a small step in the right direction.”