No Modi Jokes Please; We're 'Patriotic' Indians

By Ashwin Tombat
29 October 2017 13:59 IST

"I think we need more satire and humour... The power of a smile or the power of laughter is more than the power of abuse or any other weapon. Humour builds bridges instead of breaking them... And this is exactly what we require today." The Speaker was Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He was speaking over video conferencing this January, at the 47th anniversary of Tamil magazine 'Thuglaq', founded by the late Cho S Ramaswamy.

Regrettably, Mr Modi's ministers, his party the BJP, and his supporters who are active on social media — often satirically called 'bhakts' — don't seem to agree. Jokes in any way critical of our beloved prime minister can have serious consequences.

Someone sent me a WhatApp video of a TV programme in which budding comedian Shyam Rangeela imitates Mr Modi's (and Rahul Gandhi's) style of speaking. It's hilarious. The studio audience loved it, as did show host Akshay Kumar.

But the video clip that went viral on social media was never aired by Star Plus. A month after the episode was recorded, the producers of 'The Great Indian Laughter Challenge' asked Rangeela for a new act. The channel feared it would offend some people and they might protest.

He was then told to re-record his act without mimicking Modi, though he could do Rahul Gandhi. Then they told him he couldn’t do Rahul either. Now, the video has been taken down from social media too, following a copyright claim by a subsidiary of Star TV...!

Nobody says that anyone in the PMO or government has intervened. But, as BJP patriarch L K Advani once said (about the 1975-77 Emergency imposed by then PM Indira Gandhi) — when asked to bend, much of the media is ready to crawl.

The message put out by the powers-that-be is clear. Jokes on the PM — or even on important government policies — are not welcome.

On Thursday, Riyaz Khan, a 20-year-old ITI student in Bhopal, was arrested under Sections 500 and 505 of the Indian Penal Code. Just the day before, he had allegedly posted a morphed picture of Prime Minister Narendra Modi on his Facebook account.

On Friday, Chhattisgarh Police arrested former BBC journalist Vinod Verma for allegedly trying to extort money from the state's PWD minister Rajesh Munat. Police claimed he had over 100 copies of a sex tape of the minister. Verma, who has also worked with newspapers like 'Deshbandhu' and 'Amar Ujala', has an impeccable reputation as a journalist.

In neither of these cases did the victim complain. Yet, arrests were swift.

Contrast this with the recent case of the brutal beating up of a young Swiss couple in Fatehpur Sikri, near Agra. Though both suffered grievous injuries (the boy was in the ICU), the police did not initially register a case, claiming that the two had refused to file a complaint. It was only after central ministers intervened that the alleged assailants were arrested.

It seems that prevention of jokes critical of the prime minister and the threat of exposure of the alleged sexcapades of a minister are greater priorities for our police than foreign tourists being brutally beaten. Is it any surprise that telecasters like Star TV don't want jokes on Mr Modi?

Now, the scope of 'unjokeables' is being widened. Tamil superhit film 'Mersal' has attracted the ire of BJP leaders because of dialogues against the new Goods and Services Tax (GST). BJP leaders have demanded that the dialogues be removed, or the film be banned.

On Thursday, the Madras High Court rejected a petition to ban the film by a Chennai advocate who claimed the film "shows India in a poor light". The Judges said: "It is only a film and not real life. Freedom of expression is for all."

But the film did not release as scheduled in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana on Friday, because the censor board has not cleared the dubbed Telugu version. And this is after the producers have removed the dialogue critical of GST, as demanded by the BJP...

Whither democracy and freedom of speech?

Disclaimer: Views expressed above are the author's own.

Blogger's Profile

Ashwin Tombat

Ashwin Tombat has been the Editor of Gomantak Times and Herald. Worked as an Associate Editor of national magazine Gentleman in Mumbai, before shifting to Goa. Loves sailing, also participates in Marathons. Has worked as an activist in students's union and trade unions in Maharashtra. Also an artist of Street Theatre during student days.

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