SRK detention saga Part II: My name is … Kaun?

All the time, money, and effort that he expended in declaring “My name is Khan and I am not a terrorist” evidently had little impact on US airport officials. The Indian government on Friday intervened strongly on behalf of Bollywood icon Shah Rukh Khan after he was stopped for extended questioning by US airport authorities who, by the star’s own account, “kick the star out of stardom.”
The second episode involving Shah Rukh Khan vs US airport officials (the previous one was in 2009) went something like this: Khan arrived at White Plains Airport on a small private plane along with industrialist spouse Nita Ambani and some others en route to Yale University, where the Bollywood megastar was to receive a Chubb fellowship and deliver a speech.
While Ambani and others were cleared swiftly, Khan was reportedly stopped for extended questioning about his program. By Khan’s own account, related in interactions with students when he finally reached Yale some three hours behind schedule, he was held back for 90 minutes. Others said it was two hours.
On the face of it, Khan appeared to take the episode in his stride and even joked about it, telling students “whenever I start feeling too arrogant, I take a trip to America.” But his supporters and aides put a much more serious spin on it, saying the star was furious and it required the intervention of Yale authorities to expedite his release, although at no point was he considered under detention.
Khan also spoke snarkily about some of the off-the-cuff answers he gave authorities, flippantly underplaying the gravity of the episode which India’s ministry of external affairs considered serious enough to intervene in.
External Affairs Minister SM Krishna is said to have asked Ambassador Nirupama Rao to take up the matter with the highest US. authorities. MEA sources (and not the minister himself) was quoted by wire services as saying, “Repeated problem for same person followed by clearance on account of consulate intervention and mechanical apology is not adequate.”
The reference evidently was to a previous episode in 2009 when Khan was stopped for a similar length of time on arrival in America with questions about his program in the US, an incident which was followed by profuse US apologies, as was this one.
While that episode erupted into headline news based on exaggerated accounts of his “detention,” US sources later told ToI that Bollywood stars and other Indian artists were under the scanner for financial transactions, including illegal cash payments, that some of them get through dodgy promoters.
At that time Khan had complained that “They were asking me silly questions like if I knew someone in the US. who could vouch for me, if I could give them numbers of people they could get in touch with.” It turned out that they had a good reason to ask those questions.
There is also another American narrative: US officials privately say that many so called Indian elite have a sense of privilege which makes them think they are beyond scrutiny. They also blame the Indian media for exaggerated distorted accounts, including use of words such as “detention” and “strip search” where all that has happened is extended questioning or what they call “secondary inspection.”
For instance, in this case, it was also not immediately cleared if Khan and others had arrived in White Plains on a domestic commuter charter after landing in JFK, in which case his international arrival would seem to have passed off without incident. Flying private charters if a name is already flagged would invite extra scrutiny.
Still, US officials reacted to New Delhi’s complaints with the usual show of regret over the episode, leading MEA sources to dismiss it as part of a “mechanical response.”
No one in US denies that airport officials are anything but mechanical — and in their own eyes — rule-bound, and overzealous. In the years before his death in 2009, Senator Ted Kennedy, one of America’s most famous faces, was “detained” several times and not allwoed to board flights because his name matched an alias used by a suspected terrorist.
Things got so bad that Kennedy, in frustration, called a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee, in which he presented himself as witness and an “Exhibit A.”
“Instead of acknowledging the craggy-faced, silver-haired septuagenarian as the Congressional leader whose face has flashed across the nation’s television sets for decades, the airline agents acted as if they had stumbled across a fanatic who might blow up an American airplane. Mr Kennedy said they refused to give him his ticket,” the New York Times reported about that hearing.
It continued: “He said, ‘We can’t give it to you,’ ” Mr Kennedy said, describing an encounter with an airline agent to the rapt audience. ” ‘You can’t buy a ticket to go on the airline to Boston.’ I said, ‘Well, why not?’ He said, ‘We can’t tell you.’ ”
“Tried to get on a plane back to Washington,” Mr Kennedy continued. “‘You can’t get on the plane.’ I went up to the desk and said, ‘I’ve been getting on this plane, you know, for 42 years. Why can’t I get on the plane?’”
The hearing room erupted in laughter.”
But for the Indian MEA and Shah Rukh Khan, it is no laughing matter.

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