A dash of humour to score political brownie points

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Rajeev Dhyani

By Our Bureau Chief Vijaylakshmi Nadar, Edited By Adam Rizvi, TIO: “Even if the whole of India, ranged on one side, was to declare that Hindu Muslim unity is impossible, I will declare it is perfectly possible. I believe in Advaita, I believe in the essential unity of man and for that matter of all that lives”, Mahatma Gandhi.

India has been treating its minority and poor very badly for a few years now which is now being
noticed and questioned by the world too, after years of protests by well-meaning citizens in the
country, against the rising Islamophobia in the country. Since the Indian national media has
abdicated its responsibility of reporting about it and no longer holds the present government
accountable for it, well-meaning citizens are now using humor to drive home the point, very
successfully too.

It has been noted and found to be true that when some of the satirist and comedians criticize dangerous and absurd  politicians  in ways that Indian known journalist are unable to do because of fear of being considered partisan

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At a time when politicians and news anchors have become actors, while actors have become
political commentators, stand up comedians like Kunal Kamra, Varun Grover, Rajeev Nigam
among others have gained millions of followers with their stand up acts on present-day politics.
Former journalists turned satirists like Akash Banerjee too are rocking the boat. Social media
has made heroes out of ordinary citizens like Dhruv Rathee, now followed by millions, simply for
sharing news and views ignored by the media.

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Saloni Gaur ( Nazma Appi)

Among the newbies who have decided to use humor to reach out to the viewers, from the confines of their home, with just their phone cameras for the task, are Rajeev Dhyani, Saloni Gaur and Chesta Saxena, gaining thousands of followers, within months. All of them have however escaped persecution so far by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, the leaders of which are extremely sensitive to criticism of every sort. This could be because of their rising popularity, not to forget their Hindu names. So far the party seems to be satisfied gunning for the minority, making them sound not Indian enough to stay in India.

Cheshta Saxena

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The protests against the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and the Citizenship for Amendment Act (CAA), targetted at the Muslim minority, raising doubts about their citizenship, created a lot of activists, amongst ordinary men and women. Rajeev Dhyani, was one of them, operating from Lucknow which was one of the hotspots of the agitations, besides Delhi. Though the key directors, organizers of the protests were Hindus, the government, especially the Uttar Pradesh government came down brutally only on the Muslim agitators at the venues and on the ordinary Muslims, who had nothing to do with the agitations. They left the Hindus untouched, barring a couple of known activists, in keeping with their narrative, that the agitations were an Islamic game plan only.

Kunal Kamra’s Airline ban

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Though Rajeev describes himself as “nonpolitical”, focussing on grassroots work instead, the prevailing disturbances in the country have forced him to take a stance. “Activism has its limitations” and “no change is possible without politics”. He believes that the state of affairs that prevails in the country today is because “those influenced by fascist forces are very together, but those who are liberal are fragmented”. His journey as a satirist started about a year ago when he was working on a novel, a very serious political fiction, minus his usual satire to lighten it. The yet to be published novel captures an adolescent’s journey who goes on to become a seasoned politician, as he navigates his way between the left and right ideologies, only to land in the middle.

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Since the book has references to the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) and therefore not favorable to the present political dispensation, publishing it would be quite a challenge. One day to take a break from the book, he leaned back in tiredness, only to suddenly jump up in excitement/frustration deciding to go live on Facebook, with just 8-10 points as a reference on the present political scenario in the country. Within a few minutes and in the following days, there were reactions from everywhere, even from countries like Dubai and the USA, which kept landing in his own WhatsApp.

Varun Grover

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After a couple of similar FB lives, he felt a monologue in a serious discussion was not engaging enough. Having another character in the frame involved technical difficulties. Hence a fictional character emerged on the other end, to establish dialogue as seen in his highly successful videos. One of his videos about the jailor from Meerut who was needed to hang the Nirbhaya rape killers had over lakh views on Facebook alone.

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Rajeev has a masters degree in social work and has put in several years in grassroots movements, working with several non-governmental national and international organizations (NGO’s), including the BBC world service trust, CARE and Unicef contributing to training and
development communication. One of the major problems encountered by satirists like him is that since there is one major
issue dominating the political scenario in the country now, that of communal disharmony besides the economic meltdown, the majority community has largely gone silent.

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Dhruv Rathee

They are incomplete denial of what is happening in the country, pretty much like the ‘good’ Germans who turned their backs on the mass massacre of Jews in Germany. They were made to believe that the Jews somehow invited this fate on themselves. An identical situation prevails in India today.
The minority community is reaching out for any voice raising their concerns. As a result, his
viewership amongst the Muslim youth has jumped. Not the ideal situation, since that is only a reflection of the polarization that is getting deeply entrenched in the country. No change can happen after all without the participation of the majority. With no platform available to voice their concerns, especially for educated Muslims, and no
political parties standing up for them either, for fear of being ridiculed themselves, it has become a scary situation.

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The polarisation has also upset friends and family, and the only way to maintain peace is by
unfriending them from his Facebook pages and staying away from WhatsApp groups, where his
content would not be appreciated. According to him, when someone is deeply in love, angry, or drunk or in bhakti (devotion), there is no point in trying to explain anything to them, choosing
Instead to express himself through his videos. Life for many in the country including him is changing drastically with old connections falling off and new ones forming. He does hope that the old would return, once there is a shift in the political equations.

Akash Banerjee

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His Facebook page aptly called “Pranam Walekum”, is a combination of Hindu and Muslim greetings, commonly used during his university days in Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh. His observation is that Hindus were never this triggered before 2014, and were able to make fun of their gods/goddesses and spiritual gurus but are now fast losing their tolerance. On the other hand, Muslims who were easily offended, because of the way their religion is structured is becoming more and more tolerant. Though their display of tolerance may seem strategic, driven by fear and insecurity, the differences between the various sects do not validate this.

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An average Muslim’s behavior on social media at least is very mature, compared to the behavior of an average Hindu.”There are some fear and insecurity but also lots of understanding. Sometimes hope and fear of the future also increase understanding’” he says. A 25-year-old Hindu today would be more aggressive and vocal than a 25 year Muslim who is talking more of brotherhood and communal harmony “The fascist forces have exposed us Hindus completely. The things we used to joke about in private, blaming other castes, communities, religions, cracking jokes against sardars, against South Indians and against northeast Indians in what was thought of as good humor, now lay bare.

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Rajiv Nigam

What we whispered in private, has now become part of national television debates. What should be discussed on national television, is now on the streets. The messages being circulated in the Hindutva groups is an absolute embarrassment”, he says. Rajeev, as a student of mass communication, along with seniors was able to see the prime minister Narendra Modi up close when he was made in charge of Murli Manohar Joshi’s Ekta Yatra from Kashmir to Kanyakumari in 1993-94. “The press briefings and the afternoon speeches exposed
the Sangh ideology”, he says. His disillusionment was further compounded with the RSS, with the demolition of the Babri Masjid.

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Despite him being a Hindu brahmin, and despite his RSS links, his childhood was spent in a small town in Nainital where a lot of Sikh and Hindu Punjabi farmers from Pakistan had come and settled. Bangladeshis who came to India in two rounds in 1947 and 1971 too settled here, making his upbringing very secular.

By Vijaylakshmi Nadar

Compiled By Arisha R

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