New Delhi: Singer-musician Adnan Sami, who has found himself in the middle of a controversy after being conferred the Padma Shri, said the award is purely on the basis of his merit as a musician.
Sami was one of the 118 people whose names were announced on Saturday for the Padma Shri awards, with the Ministry of Home Affairs list showing his home state as Maharashtra.
The government’s decision to bestow the award on Sami has led to vociferous criticism from several opposition parties. Congress spokesperson Jaiveer Shergill on Sunday had asked why Kargil War veteran Mohammad Sannaullah was declared a foreigner after his name was excluded from the National Register of Citizens (NRC) for Assam, while the son of a Pakistan Air Force pilot was conferred with one of India's highest civilian honour.
Shergill was referring to Sami, whose father, Arshad Sami Khan, was a Pakistani Air Force veteran-turned-bureaucrat and fought against India in the 1965 war.
“You cannot hold a son responsible for the acts of his father and the father cannot be held responsible for the acts of his son,” Sami told CNN-News18 in an exclusive interview.
"As far as my father is concerned, he was an honourable soldier. He exhibited patriotism for his country and I am proud of that. I learnt many lessons from him on how to be a loyal citizen," he said.
“Today I happen to be a proud Indian. My patriotism and allegiance is towards my beloved country and me getting the award is purely on my merit as a musician and has nothing to do with my affiliation with my father,” said Sami who has taken to Twitter on several occasions to respond to trolls raising objections.
Sami said people need to understand this is an extraordinary moment in his life as well as in his family's life.
"I have been given one of the ultimate honours an individual can ever receive from his country. Nothing gives me greater pride, gratitude and elation in this regard," he said. "It is also sad that an award of this kind of stature, dignity and purity is being marred and politicised completely out of context."
"If you have issues with the government on other matters, then by all means. But to bring in an irrelevant issue like an award into this context is most unfortunate and extraordinarily undignified," he said, adding he got the award in the field of art, which is "beyond boundaries and is above everything".
"People need to understand and not mix the two things together," he said, referring to art and politics. "If people want to do it, then so be it. It doesn't change my positivity."
Hours after the award was announced, the Raj Thackeray-led Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) had objected to the Centre bestowing the award, claiming Sami was not an "original Indian citizen". There has been speculation that Sami was given the award as he has expressed support for the government’s contentious Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).
“I have fans from every divide you can think of, I have fans in the government and fans from the previous government as well,” he said.
Responding to Shergill’s criticism, Sami said, “I don’t see how the Congress will have any issues; no one from the top brass has said anything. A few juniors have tried to seek attention by doing these things.”
Congress leader Digvijaya Singh on Sunday also questioned about the need to bring in the CAA if someone like Sami can get Indian citizenship and a Padma Shri.
Sami, born in Lahore in Pakistan, first arrived in India on a one-year visitor’s visa on March 13, 2001. He was granted Indian citizenship with effect from January 1, 2016, after his Pakistani passport expired on May 26, 2015, and was not renewed there. Sami had requested the Centre to legalise his status on humanitarian grounds.
On being asked what was the rush behind the government pushing through his award considering he was granted citizenship as late as in 2016, Sami said he cannot answer the question. "It is a decision they have taken," he said.
Sami, whose career has spanned 34 years, said 20 of those were spent in India "with my services being rendered to India and during this period, I got many awards from the previous government, be it the Naushad award and that too as a Pakistani".
"Today if the government is recognising my hard work I put in for the last 34 years, I don't think it has anything to do with 2016 to now," he said. "There are people who aren't Indians and have received Padma awards. There is a person who died recently from Japan and Afghanistan and got the award. I think these comments are irrelevant and frivolous."
“It took me 18 years to get the citizenship of India, that too with a lot of rejections. The only difference is I did not come in front of the television and started whining about it. I never complained,” he added.
Maharashtra's Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) on Monday termed Sami's award as an "insult" to the 130 crore Indians and a "damage control" act by the NDA government "facing questions" over the CAA, the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and the National Population Register (NPR).
"If anyone from Pakistan chants 'Jai Modi', he can now get citizenship of India as well as a Padma Shri award. Selection of Sami for the award is a damage control exercise," said party spokesperson Nawab Malik.