For anybody moderately active on Twitter, it is hard for them to be not hit by the scores of rave reviews for Hasan Minhaj’s take on the Indian elections on his comedy series, The Patriot Act. Minhaj, an American whose family’s roots can be traced back to Uttar Pradesh, recently covered the Lok Sabha General Elections (or so says the title) and received great appreciation from many for “balancing the right- wing rhetoric of the BJP with the corruption scandals that beset the UPA government” (more about that later).
As a person who does like a good laugh about Indian politics every now and then, my interest was piqued. I must say, I had been warned- the number of leftists, not people whose recommendations I usually take seriously, who cheered on Minhaj was high. Minhaj too has often pandered to liberal audiences in the US and is a well- known critic of Trump. Nevertheless, I sat down to watch what has been called by some in the Indian media as a “primer” on Indian politics.
That’s where the problem with The Patriot Act lies. As a comedy show, the episode and its host is funny at parts (certainly no John Oliver). In that way, it fulfils its purpose. Normally, it would have been laughed off at best or ignored without a second glance at worst. But what is worrying is that it takes upon itself to “educate” Americans and Indians alike about basic Indian politics, with many Indians agreeing to it willingly. Some of the usual suspects even expect it to be a guide to first-time voters.
Both my daughters will be voting for the 1st time in 2019. They asked me who to vote for?
— Atul Khatri (@one_by_two) March 18, 2019
Here is where the obvious one-sidedness of the show kicks in. Minhaj uses the same trope that most columnists in the Washington Post would use to describe the Modi government while sitting out there in faraway America. Hostility towards minority groups- check. The resurgence of Hindu Nationalism- check. Weakening secularism- check. Fight for India’s soul- check.
Then comes the odd, if not an immature comparison of Modi to Trump. Apparently, a few clips of Modi proclaiming “India first” and similar ones of Trump chanting “America first”, regular use of Twitter, similar supporters, whom Minhaj describes as “rabid” and distinct ways of greeting people is enough reason to do so. Never mind that Modi is a statesman who doesn’t log into Twitter for 3 AM rants and holds a far more pro-women approach than Trump ever has. Minhaj does accept later that this is “reductive” but not for reasons of policy and quickly moves on the “Oh, Modi has never given a press conference” argument.
As expected, the Gujarat riots enter the picture. Minhaj rather conveniently forgets to mention the burning of the Sabarmati Express and sticks to simply saying, “Modi received international condemnation for not speaking out and stopping violent riots”. Here again, the fact that Modi called in the army on the 28th of February itself, after riots broke out the previous day, that the then Defence Minister personally arrived in Ahmedabad to oversee the situation is hidden in what appears to be a selective show of facts used to weave a bigoted image of Modi. One is left to wonder why a done-and-dusted issue like this had to be used to describe the PM, 17 years on. But then, when the entire episode seemed to be about casting Modi in a negative image, it really isn’t that surprising.
The Congress and its corruption scandals, along with Shashi Tharoor’s charges of abetment to suicide to find a mention for all of 6 minutes in a 29 minute and 12-second video. Yes, so numerous corruption scandals and charges are covered for a whopping 6 minute and even this is then played into being a general disease found in all political parties. Rahul Gandhi’s, the prime ministerial candidate of the INC is let go scot-free, with Tharoor, who is nowhere near the INC’s pan-Indian face being the one on the firing line. The unmentionable sins of the Congress are ignored and this, ladies and gentlemen, is somehow what many people refer to as an “unbiased” view on Indian politics.
But perhaps the worst arrives when Minhaj talks about the disenfranchisement of 4 million, mostly Muslim “immigrants” in Assam aka the National Register of Citizens. Again here, the writers of the show have seem to overlooked the fact that the Supreme Court is involved and monitored the process, that this isn’t some conspiracy of evil Modi to disenfranchise Muslims or for that matter, that these people mildly described here as “immigrants” are actually illegal migrants settled in the country since a long time. This is an obvious attempt to pull at the heartstrings of Minhaj’s largely American audience who have drastically drifted left on the issue of immigration
The next thing we know, an Indian version of Alexandra Ocasio- Cortex might pop up and vow to roll back the NRC, like the American one wants to kill ICE.
With Modi and the BJP being whipped, can the RSS be left behind? The customary RSS- bashing, the jokes surrounding the footage of a few overweight RSS men (body-shaming anybody?), a casual mention of the RSS being banned in India (who cares if they were banned because they fought for democracy during the Emergency) and the clichéd “A religious extremist killed Gandhi”, all these elements are present.
The worst part, however, is that some people seem to equate Minhaj’s show to path-breaking journalism that exposed the Modi government. Far from it, the man or his team seemed to have twist facts to suit a certain agenda in a classic case of cherry-picking, utilising sources such as Al Jazeera.
I did not expect Minhaj to herald Modi’s achievements but to simply devote almost the entire of a half- hour to try and convince his audience that Modi is this strongman who likes to exploit minorities and destroy India’s constitutional values makes one wonder if he had any sort of ulterior motives. The virtue-signalling is unbearable towards the end and perhaps Minhaj was simply trying to apply American standards to Indian situations.
But what is more appalling than his biased views is the fact that articles are being written glorifying it, in a nice little waltz between an obviously prejudiced comedian and the “neutral” press. Here’s a brief look:
Minhaj might be funny, irreverent and trying hard to be relevant, but the fact remains that this particular episode of the Patriot Act was a shoddily researched video that tried to educate people about Indian politics by someone who clearly does not have his facts in order and doesn’t seem to understand India and her problems very well. If indeed Indians will be learning about politics by Minhaj’s video, then we might just have to prepare ourselves for a new generation of voters who don’t care to go on the streets and learn about India but rather rely upon an ill-informed but popular comedian.
India, brace yourself.