‘I Don’t Like You’ And More Such Feelings For A ‘Highly-Approved’ Modi
Bushra Khanum introduces herself in the pinned video on her YouTube channel. She says she felt compelled to quit Zee Network during the anti-citizenship law protests held across the country in 2019 when the company where she had worked for three and a half years became a “puppet of the government”. Now she’s a “one-woman-army” she tells me over the phone, travelling to report news that doesn’t make it to prime time—like the farmers’ mahapanchayat held in Muzaffarpur, Uttar Pradesh on Sept 5.
In the videos Khanum shares on Facebook and YouTube, farmers urge Prime Minister Narendra Modi to repeal controversial farm laws and say that they are onto his government’s brand of divisive politics in U.P. and Haryana. “Hum Muslim bhi hai, Hum Hindu bhi hai, hum Jat bhi hai hum non-Jat bhi hai,” one says. “Hindu Muslim ki yeh debate nahi chalegi. Ab hum sab bhai bhai hai,” another adds. Essentially, they want the Prime Minister to know that they won’t be divided on the basis of caste or religion.
According to video accounts of the meet—Reuters estimated 500,000 attendees—farm leader Rakesh Tikait chanted Allahu Akbar and the crowd responded with Har Har Mahadev. In a different time, the two chants went hand-in-hand at such meetings. Tikait’s trying to bring back that vibe.
As the Bharatiya Janata Party announced that Modi’s approval ratings “are highest among all major world leaders” (source: Morning Consult Political Intelligence), I examine why some Indians are expressing contrary feelings for their highly-rated prime minister.
A ‘Mood of the Nation’ survey by India Today magazine for example, found that in answer to the question, ‘Who is best suited to be the next PM of India?’, only 24% of Indians picked Modi against 66% a year ago. In recent times, Modi has been accused of mishandling the pandemic, taking credit for other people’s achievements, being vindictive towards a popular former Prime Minister, and upsetting (yet again) his key rival, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.
Around the same time as the popularity poll results were announced, a 24-second clip of Banerjee went viral where she bluntly summarises in four words what Indians haven’t yet figured out how to say to Modi: “I don’t like you.”
Banerjee is not the only one to mock the prime minister’s proclivity for inserting his mug everywhere.
Even my 11-year-old rolled her eyes when she saw his face plastered on the hills of Himachal Pradesh on large posters announcing free vaccinations and free LPG connections.
Ever since posters felicitating medal winners of the Tokyo Olympics with Modi’s face occupying more space than any sports star surfaced, the PM’s narcissism—visible to all since the monogrammed suit of 2015—has been distilled into a meme with a clear format: a tiny image of the newsmaker, juxtaposed against a large image of Modi in the foreground.
After the prime minister’s team recorded his congratulatory conversations with Olympic medal winners and shared them on social media, comedian Shyam Rangeela was inspired to mimic Modi and recorded his own conversation with gold medal javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra where the person playing Chopra struggles to get a word in.
Rangeela’s Modi promises Chopra that they will have “ice cream and mango” once he returns. It ends with Chopra saying “Phekne ki prerna aap se hi mili”. Literally, this translates to ‘I was inspired to throw by you’ but phenkna is commonly used to describe those who bluff/brag. Rangeela followed this up with another video spoofing the event Modi organised for Olympic medal winners where the spotlight was firmly on one person: himself.
If Modi inserts his photo everywhere, his government ensures it skips credit to India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru wherever possible. Opposition leader Sanjay Raut spoke up after Maulana Azad and Nehru’s images were dropped from an Indian Council of Historical Research commemorative poster of freedom fighters. “…the history of the freedom struggle cannot be completed by excluding these two people,” Raut wrote in Shiv Sena mouthpiece Saamna. “This only shows the pettiness of this government.”
“You may have differences with Nehru’s and Congress party’s policies but trying to erase them from history is an insult to every freedom fighter,” Raut added, praising Tamil Nadu chief minister MK Stalin, who allowed the distribution of 6.5 million school bags carrying photos of his political rivals.
Stalin himself expresses his disagreements with the prime minister by writing him letters.
In recent months the compulsive letter writer has urged Modi to cancel the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test or NEET; complained about the poor vaccine allocation for his state; asked the prime minister not to proceed with the Indian Marine Fisheries Bill; and, most recently, asked him to halt the government’s asset monetisation plan that would result in “priceless government assets” going to a few large companies.
Meanwhile on the ground, Bushra Khanum’s reporting, in addition to being a slap in the face for compromised mainstream media, offers a clear picture of how citizens are expressing their dissent and how communities—driven apart in horrific communal riots in 2013—are reconciling.
“They feel ditched on each and every promise this government made to them,” she tells me about the farmers who voted for the BJP in 2014 and 2019. “They say it’s not just about us, we will tell future generations also not to vote for Modi and the BJP.”
When she asks a woman farmer from Punjab how she feels about the government not backing off despite farm protests that have been going on for nine months now, the woman replies: “Let it take nine years. Our revolution will continue exactly like this.”
Priya Ramani is a Bengaluru-based journalist and is on the editorial board of Article-14.com.
The views expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of BloombergQuint or its editorial team.