Why Narendra Modi is certain to win— per John Oliver of 'Last Week Tonight'

The comedian hosts a weekly HBO series that airs every Sunday in the US and is made available in India by Jio Cinema the next day

Narendra Modi chairs a meeting in New Delhi on 2 June (photo: PTI)
Narendra Modi chairs a meeting in New Delhi on 2 June (photo: PTI)

A.J. Prabal

The latest episode of the HBO series Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, titled 'Indian Elections, Trump & Red Lobster', is yet to be aired by HBO’s official streaming partner JioCinema in India—though it was expected to turn up on Monday, 3 June.

It is also expected to be available on Indian YouTube on Thursday, 6 June. Will it be? 

Oliver has won 16 Emmy Awards and 2 Peabody awards, and was described by Time magazine as a ‘comedic agent of change… powerful because he isn’t afraid to tackle important issues thoughtfully, without fear or apology’.

And in this episode, he turns his gaze on the general election in India, on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and on the Indian media—and on how to eat a mango and what the exact opposite of a snake may look like.

Oliver notes that Modi is said to have an approval rating of 74 per cent— more than any world leader — and says that many Indians feel personally indebted to him for free foodgrain, ‘especially’ since they are delivered with Modi’s face on the grain bags.

He points to selfie points at railway stations to credit every achievement to Modi, including the preposterous claim of having stopped the war in Ukraine (for a time, at least).

Modi, Oliver says, is also credited with lifting the poor out of poverty and goes on to make the tongue-in-cheek comment that ending all poverty is easy if you can change the definition of poverty. He refers to the wealth and income disparities in India and suggests that 1 million Indians today have 80 per cent of the nation's wealth.

Acknowledging Modi and his steady push to convert India into a Hindu nationalist state, Oliver takes a dig at the former Australian prime minister calling Modi a ‘boss’, describing it as ‘weapons-grade ass licking’.

He notes Modi’s speech accusing the Congress of planning to distribute wealth to Muslims and describing Indian Muslims as infiltrators (ghuspaithiya) and people who give birth to more children.

He also notes the ugly and communal advertising by the BJP during this election.

Oliver cites the Ram temple built on the ruins of the torn-down Babri mosque, apparently the crowning achievement of the Modi years, the now-commonplace lynching of Muslims and ‘bulldozer justice’ as examples of how Muslims are being targeted in India, and plays a song—‘Jeet gaya Baba bulldozer-wala (the bulldozer-baba has won)’—to buttress his point.

He also refers to a police officer in Delhi kicking a Muslim person who was offering namaz on the roadside and another who shot three Muslims in a train and then posed for photographs while towering over the bodies.

He takes note of BJP’s reputation as the ‘washing machine’ for cleansing ‘dirty politicians’.

Oliver speaks of how critics and critical media have been stifled in Modi’s India.

"Basically, if you criticise Modi, there’s a pretty good chance things are going to get very unpleasant for you. And given that we’re here in America, I’m honestly not too worried about Modi’s goons coming after me," Oliver joked.

"But on the off chance their reach does extend this far, you know what? F***ing try it. You want to try and shut us down for being critical? I dare you. Do you have any idea who I am? I’m Bill f***ing Maher, and my show has been on for — holy s**t — over 20 years now, and if you want to take us down, take your best shot."

He refers to the "embarrassing questions" put to the prime minister by Indian TV anchors ahead of the elections — bearing in mind this is a man who has avoided press conferences and interviews like the plague hitherto. These have included ‘Do you have a best friend?’ and ‘From where do you derive your energy?’

He lampoons a BJP promotional video crediting Modi with halting the war in Ukraine to facilitate the return of Indians from the war zone. Oliver exclaims in exaggerated horror ‘Are you serious?!’ and has a suggestion for the Indian government: “I have a lead for the fact-check unit (proposed by the Modi government). Check out the batshit line that Modi stopped the war in Ukraine.”

This episode is almost definitely not going to end up airing in India. And depending on what they do with the laws around YouTube, I’m not totally sure what’ll happen to it there, either.

Anticipating the show might be censored in India, he encourages Indians who’d like to see it to visit OppositeSnakes.com, "where they’ll find tons of fascinating facts on opposite snakes, as well as a 25-minute video titled 'Opposite Snakes', which is, in fact, this entire story".

He has two of these micro-sites ready, in fact. The other is How to Eat Mangoes. Both declare there will be a video available on 6 June.

He takes note of the arrest of political opponents and the freeze on the bank accounts of the Congress (the largest opposition party), crippling its campaign just before the election.

The chilling effect of the crackdown on political rivals and politicians, he suggests, explains why a large section of TV media and newspapers in India have succumbed to deifying Modi.

Criticism of Modi is scarce and critical voices have drifted to becoming Youtubers. The government now plans to control the YouTube platform too, so their reprieve could be temporary.

Modi critics gleefully shared the episode and sarcastically commented: 'How can any outsider make fun of our honourable PM and Unbiased Media? Sharing only for awareness purpose so that you know what you shouldn’t watch.'

The more patriotic Indians reacted by saying: 'Every Indian should watch this video to see how international agencies are interested in creating an adverse opinion & make mockery of Indian democracy, if the same kind of video is done by an Indian on Uncle Sam during US elections they would have cried hoarse.'

Follow us on: Facebook, Twitter, Google News, Instagram 

Join our official telegram channel (@nationalherald) and stay updated with the latest headlines