Indian actor Akshay Kumar (C) gestures during the promotion of the new Bollywood film Kesari in Ahmedabad on March 15, 2019. (Photo: AFP / SAM PANTHAKY

The Hindi film actor Rajiv Hari Om Bhatia, popularly known as Akshay Kumar, and known for his proximity to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), confessed that he is no longer an Indian citizen.

His admission that he holds a Canadian passport comes soon after he conducted a “non-political” interview of prime minister Narendra Modi while general elections were underway. In the interview, questions like whether Modi likes mangoes and how he eats them drew a lot of mirth and derision from social media users.

Kumar is also known for projecting himself as a uber nationalist. One of his recent films, Toilet – Ek Prem Katha, was seen as a vehicle to promote a much-touted scheme of the BJP government.

His earlier films are seen as vehicles of a muscular government ready to take on enemies of the state through assassinations and kidnappings. His films like KesariRustom, Gold and Airlift, among others, focus on themes relating to nationalism.

Meanwhile the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party has stoked nationalism while using the national security plank for its electoral campaign.

Kumar’s citizenship issue has become a big deal because BJP supporters frequently subject people from India’s religious minorities to “loyalty tests.” For instance, Muslims and other government critics are frequently asked to “go to Pakistan.” Kumar’s colleagues in Bollywood, Amir Khan and Naseeruddin Shah, had to face such questions when they stated that they were not feeling safe under the current government. Kumar had snubbed Khan for his comments.

As social media users raised questions over the citizenship of Bollywood’s poster boy for nationalism, the situation got worse as Mumbai went to the polls when Kumar’s wife, Twinkle Khanna, turned up at the polling booth on April 29 but he was not seen voting.

Moreover, the actor chose to ignore and walk away when he was questioned by journalists about not voting in the Lok Sabha elections in Mumbai, the capital of western Indian state Maharashtra. Kumar responded to the question with “Chaliye, chaliye (let’s go, let’s go)” as he walked away. Later, he would state that he is a Canadian citizen. Trolls had a field day on social media.

It was out and out ironical as the actor was recently tagged by PM Modi in a tweet urging him to encourage people to vote. Kumar did so. He tweeted saying: “The true hallmark of a democracy lies in people’s participation in the electoral process. Voting has to be a superhit . . . between our nation and its voters.”

The row over his already controversial citizenship issue started after his recent interview with PM Modi. The prime minister, known for rarely giving interviews to journalists, spoke to the actor in an interview described as “informal and non-political.”

Kumar issued a statement on May 3 on Twitter acknowledging his Canadian citizenship while underlining his Indian patriotism: “I really don’t understand the unwarranted interest and negativity about my citizenship. I have never hidden or denied that I hold a Canadian passport. It is also equally true that I have not visited Canada in the last seven years. I work in India, and pay all my taxes in India. While all these years, I have never needed to prove my love for India to anyone, I find it disappointing that my citizenship issue is constantly dragged into needless controversy, a matter that is personal, legal, non-political, and of no consequence to others.”

Kumar proudly declared that he pays his taxes in India. In fact that is not something he does by choice. It is mandated by law.

India has a residency-based taxation system, not a citizenship-based one. Indian citizens who are persons of Indian origin (PIO), overseas citizens of India (OCI) or foreign citizens and who are residents of India for more than 182 days have to pay tax and file income tax return in India. Furthermore, when someone is a resident in India for income tax purposes, income earned anywhere in the world is taxable in India.

Kumar, who had been at the top position for several years among the highest taxpayers in Bollywood, had paid Rs. 295 million in 2017.

Bhatia’s citizenship controversy is not new. In 2017, in an interview with Times Now, Kumar claimed he was an “honorary citizen” of Canada: “About the Canadian thing. I am an honorary citizen. I have been given an honorary thing. It is a thing that people should be proud of. I have an honorary doctorate as well.”

However, according to a fact-check done by Alt News, The website of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau lists the people who have been given honorary Canadian citizenship and it names six individuals including Pakistani Nobel Laureate Malala Yousafsai. Kumar’s name does not appear in the list. The report also says that an honorary citizen cannot hold a Canadian passport, as Kumar does.

After Kumar’s statement, actor Anupam Kher came out in his support on Twitter. Kher is known as a vocal supporter of the BJP and his wife, also an actor, Kirron Kher is a BJP lawmaker.

Kiren Rijiju, Union Minister of State for Home Affairs of India, also expressed his support for the actor on Twitter. He wrote, “Dear @akshaykumar ji, no one can question your patriotism. Your motivation to our Armed Forces personnel and the way you generated funds for our martyrs through #BharatKeVeer programme will remain an example for every patriotic Indian.”

Rijiju was referring to the website www.bharatkeveer.gov.in, which was launched by the Ministry of Home Affairs after a suggestion from Bhatia, who also promoted it. The website and the app of the same name are meant to raise funds to financially support families of slain soldiers of India’s armed forces.

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