The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Big Brother India strikes Blair, others to Shilpa aid

New Delhi, Jan. 17: If Britain’s Channel 4 is scouting for publicists, it need look no further than Delhi’s corridors of power.

From a star-struck foreign ministry to a politically correct information and broadcasting minister, the Centre today reacted with howls of protest on behalf of screen siren Shilpa Shetty, allegedly subjected to “racist slurs’’ in a Channel 4 reality show.

The hullabaloo in Delhi would have done the broadcaster no harm, the controversy having already boosted the ratings of the programme, Celebrity Big Brother. The highlights averaged 4.5 million viewers last evening, up from 3.5 million on Monday and 3.9 million on Tuesday last week, a BBC report said.

Shilpa has allegedly been called a “dog” and a “Paki” by some fellow participants, reducing her to tears. Her media publicist Jaz Burton, however, has said the remarks were in the nature of “bullying” rather than “racism”.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair has already reacted by telling Parliament that all forms of racism should be opposed while his likely successor Gordon Brown, now in India, has condemned any show of British intolerance.

But South Block wasn’t so easily pacified. “We have taken up the matter with UK through the (Indian) high commission and asked them to take action,” foreign ministry spokesman Navtej Sarna said.

The Indian show of thin skin had begun in the morning, when a news conference to publicise the Congress’s commemoration of satyagraha’s centenary this month ended with junior foreign minister Anand Sharma eloquent on behalf of the damsel in distress.

“India has always been against racism. We reject the charges made (against her). We will take appropriate action,’’ Sharma said.

Shilpa, however, has not complained to any Indian or British authority. Nor has she dropped any hint she might be considering an exit from the show, for which she is being reportedly paid Rs 3.5 crore.

The actress is in the show as a private person and not as a representative of the Indian government or film industry, I&B minister Priya Ranjan Das Munshi acknowledged. Yet he “appealed” to her to “give (the) factual position” to Indian government representatives in London so that an “appropriate response” can be firmed up.

At the specially called news conference, Das Munshi urged an inquiry by the foreign ministry. He read out a letter he had written to foreign minister Pranab Mukherjee.

There have been protests in Britain, too, with TV regulator Ofcom looking into 19,300 complaints — a record for a TV broadcast. Another 2,000 complaints have been made directly to Channel 4.

In Bangalore, Brown said he condemned “any behaviour that would detract from the view of Britain... that we want to be a nation of fairness and tolerance”.

But Indian politicians continued to wade into the controversy. The CPM’s Sitaram Yechury insisted the alleged racist taunts were “completely unacceptable and completely despicable, if it has happened’’.

To the BJP’s Prakash Javdekar, it amounted to “apartheid’’. He confessed he “appreciated’’ Shilpa as an actress. “That song, Chura Ke Dil Mera — she was quite nice in it.’’

He hastened to add he was protesting against the slurs purely “on principle’’.

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