In a statement on his blog, Mr. Bachchan said :
"I have been witnessing, with great dismay and shock, the recent violent attacks on Indian students in Australia, on the electronic media the entire day. I mean no disrespect to the institution that honours me, but under the present circumstances, where citizens of my own country are subjected to such acts of inhuman horror, my conscience does not permit me to accept this decoration from a country that perpetrates such indignity to my fellow countrymen."
This is indeed a grand gesture, sure to get some media attention. But in my view, a rather meaningless, and possibly a dangerous one. Obviously, the racist attacks are obnoxious, and need to be nipped in the bud by Australian authorities. However, this should not elicit, at least at this stage when such attacks are acts by violent individuals and we have no evidence of any administration support or encouragement, such grandstanding. In my opinion, Mr. Bachchan did precisely the wrong thing by turning the Ph D down.
Let me explain. The Honorary Ph D conferred upon Mr. Bachchan was meant to be a mark of inter-cultural bonding, which must not have happened without the active participation of the Indian diaspora in Australia. World over, as the economic gloom prompts a culture of unreason and chauvinism, various Asian Diasporas in different countries need to bond together more than ever, more within themselves and with the host country. Mr. Bachchan going over to Brisbane and accepting an honorary Ph D, alongside talking about his long and illustrious career in mass entertainment, would have shone the limelight on Indian cinema, modern India and the Indian diaspora in Australia. By turning down the Ph D, Mr. Bachchan will please the audience at home, but put the Indians in Australia at the edge of the culture divide.
Also, Mr. Bachchan is no ordinary man, and his act is sure to have some resonance in India. This will create greater awareness of problems in Australia - which is welcome - but discourage Indian students and professionals to look at Australia as a possible location for study, work and investment. Besides, by refusing a degree from an University, Mr. Bachchan paints all Australians as one, a serious mistake, and treats the miscreants as representatives of the country. This is indeed the wrong view he should preach - every country has their share of thugs and we must be responsible in our emotions not to view the countries through the prism of their miscreants.
This time, as in the past, Mr. Bachchan, an iconic figure in Indian cinema, proved himself to be rather naive in the social affairs. I recall his 'I slept with a revolver under my pillow' in the aftermath of Mumbai 26/11, and his rather indiscreet thumbs up to the spoof passed under the name of Lord Macaulay. But then, he is who he is - a matinee idol and role model in India. While he indeed is entitled to his private opinion, one would hope that he realize what effect he has on other people, and that he will behave in a more discerning and responsible manner in the days to come.