The Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, has frequently claimed that he welcomes criticism, and that criticism is the backbone of democracy. However, his colleagues in the BJP seem to either not understand his words, or it is the party’s conclusion that Modi doesn’t mean what he says. The latest to offend the BJP is a children’s comedy show on Zee Tamil. That’s right, the BJP in Tamil Nadu — which has frequently manufactured outrage over popular culture in a bid to become more popular — has landed on a skit performed by kids on Junior Superstars Season 4 to get angry about this time.
In the skit, two children (aged 11 and 6) are dressed as a king and his minister respectively, reminiscent of the Tamil satirical film Imsai Arasan 23 aam Pulikesi. It’s the king’s birthday, and the two of them engage in a conversation that takes obvious potshots at the PM and the BJP-led Union government’s strategies. This ranges from Modi’s frequent foreign trips, to demonetisation, his limited appeal in the south, privatization, and the Farm Laws.
The two-minute portion from the skit — nothing out of the ordinary for Tamil television content — may have been forgotten but for the BJP’s theatrics. On January 17, two days after the episode aired, CTR Nirmal Kumar, State President of IT and Social Media Cell of the BJP in Tamil Nadu, wrote to Zee Enterprises Limited, demanding that the programme be taken off air and that an apology be issued. According to Nirmal Kumar, the children had no understanding of what they were mouthing, and their guardians and the channel should be held “morally accountable” for the act. He’s also asked for the “person responsible for the content” to be sacked, noting that “young children cannot be used to push someone’s political agenda” since it sets a “wrong precedent in the future”.
We urge @ZEECorporate to take actions & public apology from @ZeeTamil, Producer, program judges & person responsible for the false comments about @PMOIndia in "Junior super Stars" program. We also condemn for using kids for someone’s political agenda.@annamalai_k @Murugan_MoS pic.twitter.com/tIznaBzogx— CTR.Nirmal kumar (@CTR_Nirmalkumar) January 17, 2022
What children do in reality TV shows and if that’s good for them is another debate altogether, and Nirmal Kumar’s concern for young children and their involvement is touching…barring the hypocrisy. If only the organisations he’s affiliated to didn’t use children for content they have “no understanding of” and took any “moral accountability” for the hate they spew using children!
The BJP is part of the Sangh Parivar, the umbrella term used to refer to organisations affiliated to the Rashtriya Swayam Sevak (RSS), a right-wing Hindu nationalist organisation that draws its inspiration from European fascism, and has been campaigning for a Hindu rashtra. The Sangh Parivar includes other organisations like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), Bajrang Dal and many more.
Only boys and men can join RSS shakhas (branches) while women and girls can join the Rashtriya Sevika Samiti. (The given reason for this is that the timing of the meetings in the RSS shakhas as well as the physical activities they engage in aren’t “suitable” for girls and women.) Other Sangh Parivar organisations, too, run camps for boys and girls. While these camps organise games, train participants in yoga, first aid, volunteer work, and so on, they also condition young people into championing the Hindutva cause.
In the Durga Vahini camps run by the women’s wing of the VHP, for instance, girls as young as 15 are taught to chant lines like “Hindustan is for Hindus” and even proclaim their willingness to kill for their beliefs. They’re also trained in handling weapons. Filmmaker Nisha Pahuja, who made The World Before Her, a documentary that follows two young women — one at a Durga Vahini camp and another at the Miss India pageant — said in an interview that she was shocked by the “brainwashing and blood curdling chants” that the participants at the Durga Vahini camp uttered.
In December 2019, a Karnataka school owned by RSS leader Kalladka Prabhakar Bhat, had children from Class 11 and 12 re-enacting the demolition of Babri Masjid and putting up a Ram temple in its place. All through the programme, which was attended by several BJP leaders including DV Sadananda Gowda, Kiran Bedi and many Karnataka ministers, the children also raised celebratory slogans in praise of Ram, Sita and Hanuman. The demolition of Babri Masjid in 1992 was engineered by the RSS and over 2,000 are said to have died in the subsequent riots that broke out in the country. While the Supreme Court in April 2019 awarded the disputed land to a trust for the Ram temple to be built, it also held the demolition of Babri Masjid to be illegal. Despite this, however, nobody from the school or those who attended the programme apologised for what was depicted on stage.
A few weeks ago, a video from an Uttar Pradesh school showed children taking an oath to “fight, die and if required, kill” to achieve the dream of Hindu Rashtra. There are many more such videos of young children speaking at Hindutva events, propagating the RSS and Sangh Parivar’s propaganda.
In contrast to such speeches and events that are a mix of deliberate misinformation, revisionist history, hate, and calls to violence, the skit put up by the kids on the TV show was merely a summary of oft-repeated criticisms against the PM, put together in an entertaining fashion. By going after a two-minute portion of a skit on a comedy show, the BJP only comes off as looking desperate and intolerant.
The party in Tamil Nadu is constantly looking for “issues” to make headlines and improve its vote-base, and that clearly isn’t child’s play. But even by the BJP’s outrage standards, this is a new low. At best, it may achieve the purpose of providing more material for Tamil cinema and comedy shows to mock it.
Views expressed are author's own.