Dhruv Rathee, the man who will keep asking hard questions

With every new video, the social media influencer has chipped away at the edifice of the Modi government

Video screengrab (courtesy: @dhruv_rathee)
Video screengrab (courtesy: @dhruv_rathee)

AJ Prabal

No matter which party wins the election, he would continue to ask questions and tell truth to power, declared the influencer whose political videos have taken social media by storm since February this year. With every new video, Dhruv Rathee has chipped away at the edifice of the Modi government, reaching millions of ordinary voters and converting a sizeable chunk.

In his final video before counting began, Rathee summed up his journey. The brazen manipulation of paper ballots in the Chandigarh mayoral election, he recalled, followed by the arrest of Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal and the income tax department freezing the bank accounts of the Congress, acted as triggers. Against his avowed intention to steer clear of politics, therefore, he decided to speak out against creeping authoritarianism even if his remained the lone voice. 

Horse trading, defections and the media kowtowing to the government were already distressing; the final straw was the stark choice between democracy and dictatorship, which made him take the plunge, the young YouTuber from Haryana based in Germany says in the video. It was a herculean task taking on the ‘WhatsApp mafia’, and BJP’s IT cell and paid trolls. He received death threats, was abused online, and accused of being funded by Pakistan and China, he mentions.  

Rathee says he drew inspiration from Bhagat Singh and August Landmesser. Bhagat Singh, he says, did not think whether sacrificing his life on the gallows in 1931 would help India become independent; nor did Landmesser think twice about the consequences of being the only one in a stadium full of Nazi supporters to resist the temptation of offering the Nazi salute to Adolf Hitler.

Rathee's first video in his 'new' series, titled Dictator, astonished him by adding 21 million subscribers to his YouTube channel, which has had 70 million unique viewers since then.  

In other words, he explains, his lone YouTube channel reached out to seven per cent of India’s voters. If other platforms like Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp were added, he estimates, the videos would have reached 20-25 per cent of voters.

Contrary to allegations that most of his viewers were from Pakistan, the audience profile showed that 81 per cent of his viewers were from India. He was not stupid enough to spend money on buying bots and paid comments, he asserted, and claimed that all the comments on his videos were genuine. 

It was satisfying to see a spectator in a cricket stadium engrossed in watching his video, he says. He also noticed a comment that someone had forwarded one of his videos to as many as 850 people on WhatsApp.

Celebrities reached out to him to thank him and an actor from Bollywood claimed that his videos had inspired him to fly back to Mumbai in the middle of outdoor shooting in a different city to cast his vote.

It was also satisfying to find a young boy telling a YouTuber that he had learned about agencies like the ED (Enforcement Directorate) by watching videos of Dhruv Rathee. It was equally satisfying to find people taking a break from work to arrange outdoor viewing of his videos by projecting them on portable screens.  

Rathee acknowledges that the fight against authoritarianism was waged by millions of Indians, among them independent journalists like Ravish Kumar, Akash Banerjee, Abhisar Sharma and Ajit Anjum. He makes special mention of women journalists at the vanguard of the fight, such as Poonam Agarwal, Manisha Pandey, Arfa Khanum Sherwani, Faye D’Souza, Meena Kotwal, Sangapriya Sangwan, Pragya Mishra, Fatima Khan, and Meera Devi among others.

He also named social media influencers like Dr Medusa, Ranting Gola and Neha Singh Rathore and admitted that he was unable to name countless others who fought the good fight. 

What if the BJP wins? And what if the Opposition gets to form the government? He will continue to ask questions because there will always be room for improvement until discrimination ends and people are treated equally. 

Every Indian, Rathee ends by saying, needs to do his or her or their bit to improve the country. Carry a water bottle to reduce use of plastic, buy directly from farmers and local produce as much as possible; and above all, get rid of the communal, casteist and classist mentality.  

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