“Yes, Sir!”: Bollywood nods to PM Modi
March 14, 2019
On March 12, Tuesday, Prime Minister Modi tweeted 29 times in an hour, urging famous Bollywood personalities to influence their fans to vote in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections. The messages were customised according to each actor/filmmaker’s most popular works. For instance, the tweet tagging his “young friends” like actors Ranveer Singh, Vicky Kaushal, and Varun Dhawan, reads: “It is time to say Apna Time Aa Gaya Hai and it is time to turn up with high Josh to a voting centre near you.”
Many youngsters admire you.
It is time to tell them: Apna Time Aa Gaya Hai and that it is time to turn up with high Josh to a voting centre near you.
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) March 13, 2019
Sample another one especially curated for Salman Khan and Aamir Khan:
“It is time to inspire the youth in your own Andaz to vote so that we can try to strengthen Apna democracy and Apna country.”
Voting is not only a right but it’s also a duty.
It is time to inspire and motivate youth in your own Andaz to vote so that we can strengthen Apna Democracy & Apna country.
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) March 13, 2019
As was expected, Bollywood actors soon flocked to Twitter, retweeting PM.
Modi’s tweet. Actor Akshay Kumar wrote, “Well said @narendramodi Ji. The true hallmark of a democracy lies in people’s participation in the electoral process. Voting has to be a super-hit prem katha between our nation and its voters.” Filmmaker Karan Johar wrote, “Honourable Prime Minister @narendramodi we as a fraternity are dedicated to the cause of creating high voter awareness and will make sure every endeavour is made to communicate the power of voting for a solid and Democratic INDIA! Jai Hind!”
Music composer A.R. Rahman also expressed his agreement with the message.
We will ji ..Thank you ?? https://t.co/5VAhFRbMpE
— A.R.Rahman (@arrahman) March 13, 2019
There is nothing wrong with the Prime Minister being the flagbearer of democracy, but the fact that such a move comes two months before the elections exposes the shrewdness of the appeal to lure young voters. BBC India Head, Ayeshea Perera, observed how, “[i]n 2014 Mr Modi's Twitter feed was a powerful electoral weapon, a game changer for how politicians engaged on social media. This time around, he appears to be banking on the power of the silver screen. And yet again, it has worked. Unsurprisingly, it's now the hottest topic of social conversation. Each tweet has thousands of retweets and responses, and India has seen millions come online in the past four years – 140 million were added in 2018 alone, many of them young – so this really counts.”
In February, a sting operation by an investigative website, Cobrapost had exposed how many popular Bollywood actors like Jackie Shroff, Shreyas Talpade, Vivek Oberoi, and Amisha Patel among others, had agreed to share BJP propaganda messages on their social media for money. The sting operation had thrown light on the orchestration of social media messaging, which under the garb of harmless good-citizen appeals, manipulates their fans into voting for the BJP. The content does not simply stand for the greater good of the nation but is an endorsement of the PM and in effect the BJP. What the actors retweeting Modi are doing, is exactly what the Cobrapost had foreboded.
BJP’s use of Twitter hashtags to gain political mileage is well known, but this is not the first time the Prime Minister has capitalised on the power of Bollywood for propaganda. In January this year, a delegation of Bollywood celebrities met the Prime Minister in New Delhi to discuss the role of film in youth empowerment. Ekta Kapoor, Alia Bhatt, Karan Johar and other filmstars shared their pictures with the Prime Minister on their social media.
— Ekta Kapoor (@ektaravikapoor) January 10, 2019
On Monday, speaking at a press announcement for an upcoming award function, actor Ranveer Singh revealed that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had advised the young members of the film industry to choose content which propagates the idea of “inclusive India and unity” at the meeting. The ruling party’s idea of “unity” is skewed. At the 49th International Film Festival of India (IFFI) held in Goa in 2018, for the first time in recent years, no Kannada film was included in the sought-after Indian Panorama section of the festival. Six to seven films were also rejected from the festival because they were deemed “anti-national”. This blatant exercise of state-censorship is directly in line with the right-winger’s concept of patriotism. Speaking to the Indian Cultural Forum, Dr Karen Gabriel, Professor at St. Stephen’s College, said, “If a film, or art, is in line with the idea of state nationalism, it is allowed, but if a film goes against this idea then it is called an anti-national film and banned in the best interests of the nation-state.” The full throttle of the Modi “wave” was also felt when films like The Accidental Prime Minister, Uri, and Thackeray, were all released in the same month. These films served the purpose of promoting the far-right agenda.
The silence of the same celebrities when actor Amol Palekar was cut-off mid-speech by a government official at an exhibition recently, or complicity with the #MeToo assailants within the industry, indicates the selective and convenient politics of Bollywood.
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