How Modi-haters became his PR angels

Last Updated: Tue, Jun 25, 2019 11:54 hrs
PM Narendra Modi supporters

You can’t fault the BJP’s public relations cell for the careful planning that went into what was, in fact, a dreadfully banal interview.

They chose the right man to play interviewer – Akshay Kumar, a Bollywood A-lister who made his debut at the lowest ranks of the industry and went on to achieve success and fame with no family backing, who has recently made a dramatic shift from fun action films to movies that hammer “social messages” into the script, and who has a reputation for being patriotic, irrespective of the colour of his passport. Let’s also remember that while Non-Resident Indians cannot vote, they remain among the staunchest supporters of Modi and the BJP’s vision of India.

Akshay Kumar came across as the nice guy who treats his driver’s daughter as an equal, who faithfully relays her questions about Modi’s mango-eating habits to the latter.

Narendra Modi himself came across as a nice guy, who struggled to educate himself, who went to Ramakrishna Mission and searched for the room in which Vivekananda stayed, who dreamt of being a soldier in the Indian army, who was keen on sanyas, who hoped the farmers in his town would be kind enough to donate a mango or two to him since he could not afford to buy any, who only wanted to take care of his mother when he grew up.

It’s easy to forget his comments on Godhra; it is easy to forget that he turned people’s life savings to paper overnight; it is easy to forget that escalating tensions along the border with Pakistan in the wake of his posturing have claimed the lives of many, many soldiers; it is easy to forget that his pursuit of sanyas was interrupted by a marriage which ruined the life of one woman, whom he abandoned seemingly without regret.

The interview is so boring it is hard to watch unless one is a die-hard fan of at least one of the men in the video. It turns particularly painful, when, about ten minutes in, Akshay Kumar makes a seer of Modi, asking him for advice on dealing with his own anger issues, as someone who is “much younger” than the Prime Minister.

Under normal circumstances, people would have yawned about a quarter of an hour in and moved on to something else.

As far as the BJP was concerned, there was little damage to be done. Here was a man who was synonymous with power, grinning from ear to ear and speaking about his penury and helplessness and giggling about his lofty childhood ambitions.

The PR cell could have hoped that a man whose name has for long been associated with one of the most horrific religious riots in independent India might have come across as mostly harmless while speaking of mangoes and tea.

But then, it was Modi’s sworn enemies who made the interview a bigger success than it would otherwise have been.

First up, all the news channels, which have been crying foul at the Election Commission’s ineptitude in checking the BJP’s violations of the model code of conduct, telecast the interview, so they would not be left behind in the race for TRPs. So much for the triumph over the Modi biopic being delayed. Here was the original himself.

The Opposition made such a hue and cry over the telecast that those who were too busy living their lives to spend an hour watching the news went and looked up the interview on YouTube.

Modi haters then did one of the stupidest things they could have. They took a leaf out of the sanghis’ book, and began to question Akshay Kumar’s Indianness, making capital of his holding a Canadian passport. This is the kind of controversy that is regularly stirred by the BJP and its supporters over Sonia Gandhi and her offspring. It is also the kind of controversy that is stirred by idiots over Vishwanathan Anand and Sania Mirza’s credentials to represent India.

So, Akshay Kumar responded with a dignified clarification about never having denied that he held a Canadian passport.

He made the mistake of referring to his Canadian citizenship as “honorary”, which prompted Alt News to do a fact-check. So now, it is clear that he is not an “honorary” Canadian citizen, but a passport-holding citizen – a fact he had already disclosed. And what is the point of this controversy, really? Is their argument that only Indian citizens should interview Modi? That only Indian citizens can be famous actors? That only Indian citizens should have any love for the country of their birth, which also happens to be the country in which they live? The best thing that happened in the wake of the interview was a spoof by comedian Shyam Rangeela, whose mimicry of Modi has already made his career. With some brilliant acting by Rangeela and Vikalp Mehta, the 6-minute video was far more entertaining than the actual interview.

Unfortunately, it was co-opted by Modi haters to the extent that Pakistani news channels played the video, advertising it as a spoof by an anti-Modi comedian.

This prompted Rangeela to issue a video clarification, saying he is a comedian and not an enemy of Modi’s. In the video, he asks why no one has seen his spoofs of Rahul Gandhi and the Congress. He goes on to speak about how the “energy” is with Modi as far as putting Pakistan in its place is concerned. He finally declares that his vote is for the person who declares himself an enemy of Pakistan, and who is firm that Pakistan should not exist.

The BJP does not really need to manipulate the media.

The asininity of the haters is quite enough to ensure that Modi gets all the PR he needs in the middle of a very tight election.

More Columns by Nandini Krishnan:

Why the Indian elections will always go wrong

When the people want a change

Abhinandan Varthaman: Hero, yes, but victim first


Tokenism won't stop terror attacks

Pulwama attack: When humans become symbols


The legislative dangers of election year

Priyanka and the inheritance of power

The G.O.A.T vote: When opinion offends

The hooligans in our homes

Why the Ambanis should rule India

Ten things the chowkidars failed to protect


Nandini is the author of Invisible Men: Inside India's Transmasculine Networks (2018) and Hitched: The Modern Woman and Arranged Marriage (2013). She tweets @k_nandini. Her website is: www.nandinikrishnan.com