NEW DELHI: Bollywood actor Aamir Khan’s comments on rising intolerance in India have sparked a major controversy, with the barrage of criticism and insults coming not just from online trolls but the country’s political elite.

Khan was speaking at a journalism awards ceremony, where he said that he was “alarmed” at the rise in acts of intolerance in the "last six to eight months" in India, adding that his wife Kiran Rao had even suggested leaving the country.

Ironically, the comments against intolerance were met with intolerance, with the lead being taken by BJP leaders who hit out at the Bollywood actor with responses ranging from “disappointment” to all out threats.

BJP MP Sakshi Maharaj accused Khan of having a “very bad mind,” adding that Khan is set to “defame” the country despite having earned crores from films made and released in India. Maharaj then drew a comparison with repressive regimes, rhetorically asking whether Khan and Rao would prefer to live in Iran or under the Taliban?

"Aamir Khan is the face of 'Incredible India', how can he make such a remark? I request Aamir Khan not to leave India and he won't find another nation like it," said BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra.

"It is unfortunate that Aamir Khan says intolerance is on the rise in India. What has India not given to Aamir Khan?" BJP MP Manoj Tiwari added.

In the same vein, BJP leader and Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said, “the country has given him so much love and respect. I am sure, he said it in a hurry or maybe under influence from others… Tolerance is in the DNA of this country. Neither is he going anywhere nor will we let him go.”

BJP spokesperson Nalin Kohli brought up Khan’s film PK as an example of tolerance in India, saying that although the film hurt the sentiments of a particular community, it had been a resounding success.

Fellow Bollywood actor Anupam Kher, whose wife is linked to the BJP, joined the criticism against Khan in a series of Tweets that have since sent Anupam Kher’s name trending on social media.

The BJP even went as far as slamming those who moved to defend Khan, including Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi. Aamir makes a comment and Rahul Gandhi supports it. It has become clear from Gandhi's comment that there is a conspiracy going on in the country to defame the nation,"BJP spokesperson Shahnawaz Hussain said at a press conference.

Others took it a step further, with the Hindu Mahasabha’s national general secretary Munna Kumar Sharma, saying, "Aamir Khan should either indulge in 'ghar wapsi' which will help him getting free of 'crimes of love jihad' of his previous as well as his present wife Kiran Rao or go to Pakistan for the benefit of India."

"A case of treason should be filed against Khan and other traitors like Shah Rukh Khan, who has also made such statements before,” Sharma added referring to a statement made by Shah Rukh Khan earlier in the month.

Hindu Mahasabha leaders then gathered at their party office in Meerut "to discuss Aamir's statement", and came to the conclusion that Khan should convert as his current and former wife are Hindus.

Pandit Ashok Sharma, national vice-president, Hindu Mahasabha, added, "If Aamir Khan's wife doesn't like India because it is intolerant, then the Khan family should go and settle in Syria. Only then will they understand how tolerant India is. It is the same country which allowed the actor to marry Hindu women, not once but twice."

Meanwhile, Hindu Mahasabha members took to the streets of Aligarh, burning posters and banners. Pooja Shakun Pandey, one of the leaders there, said, "We request the Central government to take necessary action against such traitors. Do not harm the dignity of the country by making statements that reek of publicity stunt. The country gave you name and fame and this is how you malign it” (as quoted in TOI).

Others misdirected their anger at e-commerce site Snapdeal, who have a running advertising campaign featuring Aamir Khan. #AppWapsi was trending as those opposed to Khan’s statement called on others to uninstall the SnapDeal app from their phones and tablets as a measure of protest.

At the time of writing, a sedition case was filed against the actor at a court in Kanpur. Advocate Manoj Kumar Dixit, who filed the case against Khan, said his 'anti-national' statement amounts to sedition. The case has been filed under IPC section 124 A (sedition), 153 A (promoting enmity between different groups on religious grounds) 153 B (Imputations) and 505 (statements conducing to public mischief) (as per a report in TOI).

Aamir Khan, of course, hasn’t been the only target of anti-intolerance intolerance. Shahrukh Khan had hit out against intolerance in India earlier in the month, saying on his 50th birthday, "Religious intolerance, or intolerance of any kind, is the worst thing and will take us to the dark ages." Just as Aamir was hit with a “leave India” barrage, Shah Rukh was told to “go to Pakistan.” BJP general secretary and a former Minister Kailash Vijayvargiya had directed him, as is the BJP wont, to go to Pakistan as “his heart lies there.” He had tweeted, “"Shah Rukh Khan lives in India, but his heart is in Pakistan. His films make crores here but he finds India intolerant." Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s Sadhvi Prachi for instance followed the BJP general secretary to attack Khan as a “Pakistani agent”. And went on to say, "Shah Rukh Khan is an agent of neighbouring country Pakistan as he reflects their (Pakistan's) ideology. Such a man should go to Pakistan." Filmmaker Aparna Sen was amongst those to condemn Prachi and issued an appeal for a joint representation to President Pranab Mukherjee to protest against this. “Can't believe Sadhvi's reaction to SRK on tv! They're ones who want to break the country apart! There should be legal action against her!" Sen tweeted.

The two Khan’s have joined the filmmakers, writers, scientists, artists and others who have returned awards in protest after the Dadri lynching provoked by falsehoods of beef eating and cow slaughter, and the assassination of rationalists and scholars.

In fact, “go to Pakistan” has figured at the centre of the anti-intolerance intolerance response. The extreme right wing groups in India have always linked Pakistan to terrorism and both to the Indian minorities. During the 2014 Lok Sabha campaign the minorities were told over and over again to go to Pakistan if they did not want to vote for Narendra Modi. BJP’s Giriraj Singh for instance went a step further to threaten, "those who did not vote for Narendra Modi should be sent to Pakistan". The Election Commission at the time intervened to stop him from campaigning in Jharkhand but after the elections, he was included in the Council of Ministers at the centre by a grateful Prime Minister.

In the Bihar elections both Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and RJD chief Lalu Yadav were repeatedly told by BJP leaders to “go to Pakistan.” BJP MP Ashwani Kumar Choubey was strident, The Election Commission had banned Giriraj from campaigning in Bihar and Jharkhand but he won the election from Nawada and was rewarded with a berth in the Union ministry, "Lalu and Nitish Kumar should go to Pakistan after Bihar assembly polls outcome on November 8.” The same Giriraj Singh, as a Union Minister, claimed attacked the two leaders of the grand alliance with, "Jinnah's jinn (ghost) has entered in Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad and they want to make Bihar a Pakistan.

BJP president Amit Shah made the same linkages when he said that after if the grand alliance won the Bihar polls “crackers will be burst in Pakistan.” He asked a rally, "Do you want the return of Jungle Raaj-2? If by any mistake BJP loses, victory and defeat may be in Bihar but fire crackers will go off in Pakistan. Do you want crackers being burst in Pakistan?" He also invoked the name of a Muslim to claim that “gangsters” like Mohammad Shahabuddin, a RJD leader presently lodged in jail, will celebrate.

Advocating a ban on cow slaughter, Union Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said that all those who wanted to eat beef could go to Pakistan.“Those who are dying without eating beef can go to Pakistan or Arab countries or any other part of [the] world where it is available," the BJP Minister said.

The public intellectuals who have taken a position against the RSS/BJP and the affiliates for seeking to divide India are all now under attack for being “agents” of Pakistan. Social media has been flooded by the Hindutva trolls questioning their ‘patriotism’, ‘nationalism’ and insisting that they are working for Pakistan. Words like ‘sedition’, ‘anti-nationals’, ‘traitors’ are being used freely while the government watches in silence and Ministers join the cacophony with impunity.

Meanwhile, irony just died a final death.