Has Narendra Modi reduced governance to a joke?

After Modi’s four years in office as PM, the joke is now on him. Cartoonists are having a field day, Twitter is on fire and the Internet is full of memes and barbs making fun of the Prime Minister

Has Narendra Modi reduced governance to a joke?
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Ashutosh Sharma

Stand-up comics and satirists have kept away from cracking jokes on Narendra Modi and Amit Shah, arguably the two most powerful politicians in the country. A candid Cyrus Broacha explained to an audience in Kolkata: “We try not to be personal. But I must say there are lots of people we haven't touched. We never touch Mahatma Gandhi. We won't touch Amit Shah. We didn't touch Bal Thackeray while he was alive. This is purely, purely out of fear.

“He hit the nail when he said, “We like laughing at others. We like watching others. We are a voyeuristic society...” Another reason why political jokes about Modi and Shah were relatively rare is because of the fierce, violent and often abusive retaliation by trolls on social media.

But it is not just Broacha but the Prime Minister himself who admits to ‘ fear’ while cracking jokes. Modi, who loves to ridicule political rivals and often uses street-smart jokes, is on record as saying, “I am in fear, there is no humour left in public life because of this fear. Everyone is scared. I am in fear. My speeches used be humourous. I see it in Parliament, that humour is finished there too. It is a matter of concern.”

But notwithstanding the Prime Minister’s own endorsement for humour in public life, people, comics and cartoonists who tried to have some fun at the expense of the PM have paid a price, detained by the police, transferred by state Governments and hounded by trolls.

At least 18 people were arrested and another questioned in just one month since the BJP won the general election in 2014 , 16 of them in Kerala alone for posting content perceived to be against Modi.

In a report in 2017, Forbes reported that Indians were struggling to discover a sense of humour. It said, “India’s most popular comedy group All India Bakchod (AIB) was booked by the Mumbai Police Cyber Cell for posting a meme of Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Snapchat's puppy filter. Mumbai Police filed a First Information Report (FIR) against AIB cofounder Tanmay Bhat. in response to rightwing outrage around the tweet, on the grounds that it insults and defames the Prime Minister.” The post from July 13 showed a Modi lookalike using his phone at a train station, alongside a selfie-like image of the prime minister’s face superimposed with the Snapchat puppy filter and the hashtag “#wanderlust,” presumably making a light hearted joke about Modi’s flurry of foreign travel.

“It was arguably a rather cute meme, casting Modi in much the same sort of cuddly light he seems to enjoy casting himself in when he hugs heads of state across the globe. But India seems to be struggling to find its sense of humor. Hundreds of conservatives on Twitter lashed out at Bhatt and AIB for “hurting national sentiment,” reported Forbes. The tweet was soon deleted.

Last year TV channel Star Plus first recorded and then dropped the performance of comic Shyam Rangeela after he mimicked the Prime Minister. The channel had invited him after his mimic on Youtube had become viral but developed cold feet even after the judges at the audition of the reality show gave Rangeela a standing ovation. The judges ironically included Bollywood star Akshay Kumar.

The channel got back to Rangeela and suggested that he could mimic Rahul Gandhi but not the Prime minister.

And still, the situation has changed considerably since 2014. In a newspaper report published in 2013 in the run up to the general election, the writer pointed out that there was not a single political joke on Narendra Modi that could be found on the Internet. The jokes were all on Rahul Gandhi.

After Prime Minister Modi’s four years in office as Prime Minister, the joke is now on him. Cartoonists are having a field day, Twitter is on fire and the Internet is full of memes and barbs making fun of the Prime Minister.

During the Gujarat election a spate of jokes on the PM’s pet theme of ‘ Vikas’ or Development did the rounds. While waiting for a son who would have been named ‘Vikas’, one of the jokes maintained, the Modi Government had already given birth to three daughters, namely Notebandi, GST and Inflation.

Another joke put a poser, What is the one thing that you can hear but cannot see? The answer of course was ‘Vikas’ (Development). Heart-shaped potholes appeared on social media with the caption ‘Vikas has fallen in love’ and posters were put up close to road full of potholes that read: “Be careful, there is too much of development ahead”.

Ironically, one of the earliest jokes cracked on him was by Rahul Gandhi when in a spin on the slogan ‘Ghar Ghar Modi’ by Modi supporters, he described the PM as ‘Arhar’Modi when the price of the pulse Arhar or Tur Daal went through the roof, doubling from Rs 70 a Kg in June, 2014 to Rs 175 a Kg one year later.

Demonetisation provided one more occasion for people to coin jokes on him. Immediately after Demonetisation, the Prime Minister called for feedback from the people. Days later he tweeted that an overwhelming number of Indians supported Demonetisation and his effort to take out black money.


One of the more popular jokes is a spin on the Prime Minister’s habit of making tall promises. So much so that husbands promising the moon to their spouses are affectionately chided by the wives by saying, “Hatt, Modi kahin ka” (Naughty, you are now talking like Modi)

The only trouble was that the Modi App had asked no question that could have elicited a dissenting opinion. One of the jokes compared the PM with a child who sets the exam paper himself, administers it to himself, marks it himself &declares himself a topper.

Others lampooned the survey which, they pointed out, asked questions like the following:

  • Are you inconvenienced by long queues?

And the answers it would have elicited:

  • 15% I LOVE LONG QUEUES
  • 13% I live for stampedes
  • 11% Seeing folks faint is fun

There were several jokes spawned on the PM’s 10-lakh suit and his fondness for getting photographed. Photographs that showed him shoving people away who came in the way of photographers and him. One of the jokes that made the rounds was that of the PM walking into a trial room to try out a dress. Then he notices a camera, stops, takes a deep breath and launches on a speech.

Earlier this year, following the PNB fraud in which diamond trader Nirav Modi fled the country after defrauding the bank of a whopping Rs 12,000 crore, placing the health of the Public Sector Bank in jeopardy, a fresh spate of jokes swept through social media. One of them archly said :

• If u put money in bank -Nirav Modi takes it away

• If u put money in cricket, Lalit Modi takes. it and

• If u keep money at home, Narendra Modi takes it away

While many of the memes, cartoons and jokes are circulated by Modi baiters and political rivals, there are as many jokes coined by the people at large as well. Jokes about his endemic foreign trips, for example, spawned a large number of jokes. While many were variations of the “Breaking News” like “After visiting, Seychelles, Australia and Mauritius, Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrives in Delhi for a short trip of India,” there were others which struck a more original note. One of them has the Prime Minister greeting Sachin Tendulkar on his birthday. The surprised cricketer then is made to exclaim: “Arrey, sir, aap yahan, India mein ?” (What a surprise to see you here in India)

A cartoon by Satish Acharya shows Modi boasting during the run-up to the election campaign, “Ek-ek paisa wapas laaoonga” ( I will bring back each paisa of black money stashed abroad). The second section of the cartoon shows him bowing before a judge and pleading, “It is taking time to count each paisa” (Ek-ek paisa count karne mein time lag raha hai).

One of the more popular jokes is a spin on the Prime Minister’s habit of making tall promises. So much so that husbands promising the Moon to their spouses are affectionately chided by the wives by saying, “Hatt, Modi kahin ka” (Naughty, you are now talking like Modi).

The Prime Minister’s pet schemes have also been at the receiving end. The ‘Make in India’ scheme with an impressive logo of a lion made of gears, wheels and cogs was soon being called ‘Break in India’ in a reference to Chinese parts being assembled in the country. When the Prime Minister flew to France and signed an agreement to buy 36 Rafale fighter jets off the shelf from France, people joked that the scheme had changed from ‘Make in India’ to ‘Make in France’ while alluding to the PM scrapping the deal under which the fighter planes were to be manufactured in India by Hindustan aeronautics in Bengaluru.

Yet another joke was about a contest to display technological supremacy. The Americans made a hollow, fibreglass tube barely one millimetre in radius and sent it to Russia. There the Russians put a conductor wire inside the tube. The Japanese decided to bore a hole in the wire. And then it travelled to India. On its return, nobody could see any change and asked Prime Minister Modi what India had done to the tube. He then produced a microscope and invited his ‘friends’ to peer into it. On the wire Indians had painstakingly and delicately painted, “Made in India”.

When the Prime Minister made a slip of the tongue and spoke of Nepal and Ladakh while addressing the Parliament in Bhutan, people joked that as Prime Minister of ‘ Akhand Bharat’, he saw no difference between Nepal, Bhutan and Ladakh.

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