Comedy in Modi’s Hindutva Fascist Reign
Narendra Modi’s three and half years of governance has not only taken the country to the verge of a major economic catastrophe and unleashed the terror of cow vigilante groups associated with the RSS, the fountainhead of Hindutva fascism, but it has also breathed a fresh lease of life in the political satire and comedy industry, creating tonnes of humorous content that satirically criticises or makes fun of the Modi government and rhetoric of its Fuhrer. This rise of new-age anti-Hindutva-fascism comedy and satire has now nearly booted out the misogynist, upper-caste, feudal satires and stand-up comedies that ruled the mainstream space for years.
Over these past three and half years, despite threats of severe repercussions and the possibility of state-repression unleashed on them, stand-up comedians, writers, poets, cartoonists and social media users have strengthened the anti—Modi humour wave in the satirical world, both virtual and real. While the post-2014 period saw the constant rise of what’s called the Bhakts, the hardcore Modi supporters, often employed by the IT cell of the BJP or IT companies that are outsourced RSS’ online propaganda campaigns, and these Bhakts are infamous for their racist, communal and misogynist slurs against those who oppose the doctrine of Hindutva fascism, the dissenting voice started asserting themselves with vigour over the internet since 2016, especially after the JNU-fiasco, which was orchestrated by the RSS-led Sangh Parivar to arouse anti-communist xenophobia throughout the country. The attack on students by the RSS and BJP stalwarts and the biased coverage of an incident by the media and its subsequent “nationalist” hyperbole exposed how the entire system is working in tandem to build up mass opinion in favour of the Modi regime and its nefarious agenda of establishing Brahminical fascist rule officially on India. This made the comedians, the cartoonists and the satirists to take on the government the best way they can, through humour and by making the Modi regime, projected by the Bhakts as invincible and strong, as the most pathetic rhetoric-monger, miserable and ridiculous regime that India ever had.
The dissenting voices garnered strength and became vocal on the streets of the country, at the fields and factories, at every nook and corner where the people could be aroused against the pro-corporate and anti-national policies of Narendra Modi-led BJP government. The progressive and democratic section of the comedy and satire world couldn’t remain immune from this anti-incumbency wave at a time when the Brahminical hegemony staunchly supported by the Modi government started consolidating its rule by unleashing massive terror against the Muslim community through hate-campaigns like “ghar wapsi”, “love jihad”, cow slaughter and lynchings over beef consumption, when the upper-caste RSS men flogs Dalit youth in public for skinning dead cows, or when women were abused and threatened with rape and murder by “sanskari” RSS men who are followed by none other than Narendra Modi on the social media.
These comedians, cartoonists, satirical artists and social-media users are voicing their dissent by raising their fists in solidarity with the protesting masses and by making their dissent public through uncontrolled humorous jibes against the regime and its puppet Bhakt army, the very force that unofficially manifests the frustration of the ruling clique by launching mob attacks, virtually and physically, against anyone who dares to dissent against the government. Despite the possibility of getting lynched for mocking Narendra Modi, which is considered sacrilege in Modi-fied India, stand-up comedians like Tanmay Bhatt (AIB), Kunal Kamra, Varun Grover, Sanjay Rajoura, etc. are making people laugh by their humorous jibes at the fascist government and its divisive and devastating policies. The incredible humour that these comedians and satirists create against Narendra Modi’s fascist rule, rubs salt on the wounded pride of the Hindutva mob, who spew their venom against comedy and attempts, in utmost futility, to gag all type of humour that expose them and their Fuhrer through satires.
Popular Facebook pages like Humans of Hindutva, parody accounts like Unofficial Subramanian Swamy, Irony of India, etc. are not only getting immense organic reach due to the powerful satirical content and memes they publish, their popularity and the growing online dissent, largely anonymous, is also forcing the government to clamp down on comedy and satire. Social media platforms are asked to decrease the organic reach of satirical profiles and make them disappear, which forced the founder of Humans of Hindutva to launch a new website. The internet laws are toughened to find out the real people behind anonymous satires and humorous content that criticises the government, though the state remains a mute spectator when women journalists and activists are called names on social media and are threatened with rape and murder. The only people at the receiving end of the state’s crackdown are those who make others laugh at the government and ridicule the regime for being pathetic. Despite this official crackdown and a huge troll deployment to thwart the attempts by these comedy site owners to criticise the government, Narendra Modi-Amit Shah-Mohan Bhagwat clique is not able to totally annihilate the satirical movement against their misrule.
The Modi government’s efforts to gag dissent using state-repression resulted into a police case against AIB for publishing a humorous photo of a look-alike of Narendra Modi, it forced the TV channel Star Plus to not air the comedy audition of the famous political mimicry expert Shyam Rangeela, where he mimicked Narendra Modi, Kunal Kamra and Varun Grover had to face severe threats from the Bhakts and vitriol was initiated way back in 2015 with the RSS’ online portals like OPIndia.com attacking the anti-Modi comedians by posting pathetic fake posts like this. Many cartoonists, satirists and social-media enthusiasts, who were earlier indifferent to political satire are now taking excessive interest in it and adding the best content to make people laugh. The repressive policies of the Modi government, the bullying tactics of the Bhakts and the vitriol spread by the RSS’ thugs are failing to shut up a country that wants to laugh at a miserable and narcissist prime minister and his equally pathetic, communal hatred-monger cabinet, party colleagues, and, above all, his die-hard fans.
As repression is failing to contain the dissenting voices due to the waning of the “56-inch-chest” male chauvinist rhetoric, the failure of the government in delivering on its promises except for spewing communal hatred, the disaster caused by demonetisation and GST rollout, the growing unemployment and economic crisis, the youth of the country, at least for the time being the urban, educated youth, started showing immense interest in the political developments of the country. If not in mass movements, they are enthusiastically crowding stand-up comedy shows at pubs, bars, etc. and hooting when Modi and his coterie is roasted by comedians virtually. This is something that couldn’t have been imagined three years ago when Modi ascended to the throne.
These youth, or the majority of them, are no more cowed by the death threats issued by the RSS goons, rather they have started raising questions on what rights these half-witted mobsters have to dictate the country on what to do and what not to do, what to eat and what not to eat. The strong protest and outburst of the youth against the harassment meted out to young couples by the frustrated men of Yogi Adityanath’s Hindutva thug organisation, Hindu Yuva Vahini, forced the government of Uttar Pradesh to discontinue the “Romeo Squad” operation in the state, which was a veiled attempt by the saffron thugs to eve-tease and molest women. Several more student-youth protests, especially in campuses around the country against Hindutva fascism, are forcing the government on the backfoot and causing the Modi government to tremble in panic, at it is visioning the collapse of its Hindutva empire much before it can repeat the “Mandir wahi banayenge” (we will construct the temple there) rhetoric to polarise the people along communal lines.
For years, the BJP mimicked Congress leader Rahul Gandhi as “Pappu” which means a stupid and worthless guy. The saffron camp also called AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal as “Khujliwal”, i.e. the man with itching, it named Mamata Banerjee, the Trinamool Congress supremo, Mumtaz Begum to portray her as a converted Muslim who is hell-bent to appease the minority community in West Bengal. While these nomenclatures were developed in the RSS laboratory of Gujarat, Narendra Modi was projected as a strong leader who has a vision, a clear decisive approach and who can transform India into a highly developed country even when his guiding ideology is pathologically regressive. But as the reality began unfolding itself, irony laughed its way to death as Modi slowly became the focal theme of jokes, he is named “Feku” (one who brags and lies continuously) and Rahul Gandhi, the “Pappu” despised by the BJP and written-off as a non-factor by the toady media of the Hindutva camp, started taking satirical swipes against the strong-man Modi and his khaki knicker-clad Hindutva comrade-in-arms, not in a Congress stronghold, but in the home turf of Narendra Modi, Gujarat, where the people cheered the sarcasm and jokes loudly.
The experience of anti-fascist struggles waged by the common people around the world shows that satire and comedy played a crucial role in strengthening and hastening their victory. Even during the dark days of national emergency imposed by Indira Gandhi, the underground political satire played an important role in arousing consciousness at the grassroots level against the tyrannical regime, apart from providing people with “illicit humour” amidst a censor-reign that curtailed democratic rights of the people, gagged free speech and trampled human rights. Satyajit Roy’s “Hirak Rajar Deshe” or Amrit Nahata’s Kissa Kursi Ka, released post-emergency, criticised the despots of their times, but at present, there is a dearth in the courage of the filmmakers to create critical films that can expose the utmost fascist character of the Modi government. The vacuum created by the sheer lack of humorous criticism of the regime in Indian films is filled by the comedians and satirists, who are becoming gradually popular on Facebook and YouTube, while Modi and his coterie are losing their popularity every passing day.
At present, Narendra Modi wants to dwarf the tyrannical reign of Indira Gandhi through his own despotism by consolidating his fascist rule and forcefully migrating India into a monochromatic frame, where people, politics and culture will be judged in black and white, stamped according to the regime’s convenience and dissenters will be tormented to provide the rulers the sadistic pleasure they seek madly. This fascist threat looming large now on India, its polity and society, which is rapidly realised throughout the country where the BJP and the RSS have gained political monopoly due to the extensive funding they have received from corporations owned by Indian comprador and crony capitalists like Ambani, Adani, etc. and their foreign masters based in the US or Europe, needs a strong political resistance from the grassroots, from the broad masses of workers and peasants, supported by toiling masses, students and youth, and dissenting intellectuals, whose unity consists a lethal threat to the fascist Hindutva camp’s rule on India. A massive people’s struggle against fascism cannot progress on its trajectory to victory unless a large scale cultural movement supports it and helps it to arouse the people against the tyranny of the Hindutva fascist forces. The importance of satire and comedy comes here and they perfectly fit the shoe.
Varun Grover rightly says, “…I’m very hopeful about dissent in India. In comedian Jeff Ross’ words, “If you can laugh at yourself, you are one step closer to freedom.” I think both comedy and dissent are liberating, for the listener as well!(sic).” India, choked by the fascist jackboots, shrill-voiced threats to dissenters, boisterous cacophony of xenophobia and jingoism in the name of a distorted version of “patriotism” promoted by thugs in khaki knickers, whose predecessors acted as agents of British imperialists during the latter’s colonial rule on the country, now needs that liberty and that emotional boost very strongly to march ahead on the path of liberating the country from the evil Hindutva fascist menace, from communal vitriol, mob lynchings, genocide, fratricide and feudal-patriarchal dictatorship to take the country to the realm of democracy and freedom of expression, long-desired by the people. Despite all threats issued by those who hate to laugh and hate those who laugh, it’s time to say Vive la comédie, long live comedy.
An avid reader and a merciless political analyst. When not writing then either reading something, debating something or sipping espresso with a dash of cream. Street photographer. Tweets as @la_muckraker