New Delhi: India has strongly objected to popular US television host Jay Leno's Golden Temple remarks. But the US government has defended him saying he has the right to free speech. The Indian government has complained about Jay Leno to his employer, the NBC network, and to the US government.
The government was reacting to online protests by Sikh groups over Leno's joke describing the Golden Temple as politician Mitt Romney's summer home. Leno was joking about Romney's wealth at a time when he is trying to become the Republican Party's official candidate against President Obama in the US Presidential elections in 2012, but the joke fell flat.
Overseas Affairs Minister Vyalar Ravi said, "I believe that the person is not ignorant. But the US government has to look into these kind of things. Freedom does not mean hurting people."
The network is yet to respond, but the US government walked a tight rope. It defended Leno's right to free speech, but also reassured the Sikhs that it had utmost respect for the community.
US State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said, "His comments are Constitutionally protected. It's satirical. We have respect for the Sikhs."
Punjab is set to vote soon. The Congress has been trying to dislodge the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD)-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) combine and the Centre does not want to upset electoral calculations. But the Akalis were more mature in their response, willing to give Leno the benefit of the doubt.
The question here is whether Indians are being too sensitive or should stray remarks be ignored, or should no one have the right to hurt religious sentiment. Controversies over both Jay Leno and Salman Rushdie have given rise to the same set of questions.