Salman Khan's tweets on Yakub Memon: Right to express one's opinion or needless controversy?

Updated: Jul 28, 2015, 08:57 AM IST

In a democratic country like India do we have the freedom to express our opinion? Yes, we do. Going by that account, top Bollywood star Salman Khan was probably well within his right to question the hanging of 1993 Mumbai blasts accused Yakub Memon and call him 'innocent'.

However, in a highly polarised country like ours, where opinions on almost everything is divided, it was not surprising that the tweets posted by Khan on the micro-blogging website snowballed into a huge controversy in no time with hashtag #SalmanWithTerrorist trending on Twitter and television channels running the story all day long with few debates thrown in for good measure.

About a dozen tweets posted by the 49-year-old actor in which he said that the wrong man was being hung for the crimes of his brother (Tiger Memon) who was described by the actor as a 'lomdi' (fox) who ran away, resulted in people suggesting that the megastar should stay away from social networking sites once he's had a couple of drinks.

But jokes aside, the question to be asked is whether the controversy that was created in the aftermath of the tweets was needless. On the face of it, it can be said, yes.

When a politician like All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen chief Asaduddin Owaisi questions the hanging of Yakub, almost suggesting that Memon was being targeted because he was from the minority community, he gets away with it because the MIM leader is pandering to a certain section of the society and has been practising a certain brand of politics.

However, while film actors and sportspersons and others must speak their minds and stand up for various causes and have all the right to do so, what Salman posted on Twitter seemed off the cuff remark and not well thought out.

For example when he wrote - “Get tiger, hang him” - he was echoing the sentiments of many who feel that real justice will only be delivered and the victims will only feel a sense of closure when masterminds of 1993 Mumbai blasts Tiger Memon and Dawod Ibrahim will be brought back to India and made to face the law.

And when he asked Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to send Tiger (Memon) back to India if he was in his country, he seemed almost earnest.

But when Salman wrote - “Parade him (Tiger) not his brother (Yakub). One innocent man killed is killing the humanity” - one gets the feeling that the actor had not done his homework.

It may also have left those aggrieved who lost their loved ones in the horrific blasts that rocked India's financial capital.

While it may be argued whether Yakub should be hanged or should be given life term for reportedly cooperating with intelligence authorities and giving incriminating evidence to India to nail ISI's role in the blasts, the fact is that it has been proven by investigating authorities and upheld by the apex court that Yakub conspired and helped in the events that led to the killing of 257 people on March 12, 1993.

And not to condone what Owaisi said but even the AIMIM leader did not call Yakub innocent. While saying that Yakub should be punished for his crime, Owaisi asked why killers of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi and Punjab chief minister Beant Singh were not being executed and suggested that it was because of political pressure.

Or as TADA Judge PD Kode who sent Yakub to the gallows, said that while Salman's had a right to his 'opinion' as a right to freedom of speech, the question was how 'relevant' was it.

This is the question that Salman needs to ask himself. Calling Yakub 'innocent' does seem a bit difficult to digest and did have the potential to anger a lot of people.

Interestingly, Khan also wrote that he had been wanting to tweet on Yakub for three days but was afraid to do.

As it turned out his fears were not unfounded.

After the storm that it created, after protests by BJP workers outside Khan's residence in suburban Bandra, after Shiv Sena's demand of cancellation of the actor's bail in the 2002 hit-and-run case and after disapproval from his father and writer Salim Khan who called the tweets 'meaningless' and 'ridiculous' and not to be taken seriously, Salman was forced to withdraw his comments, delete the controversial tweets and tender an apology.

In a fresh set of tweets the actor said that his father had asked him retract his tweets as they had the potential to create 'misunderstanding' and apologised 'unconditionally' for any misunderstanding that he may have created 'unintentionally'.

He also put on record that he “respects all faiths” and that he had “complete faith in the judicial system” of the country.

Whether the rap by his father or the fear of backlash or the scare of his films being attacked made Salman to go back on what he said is not clear but one can say that after the apology the massive uproar that was created on a quiet Sunday may wane for now, till the man who is not new to controversies, creates another.

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