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John Oliver election episode calling out ‘fawning’ coverage of Modi made unavailable in India

In Europe
June 04, 2024

John Oliver has called out the “uncritical, fawning praise” of Narendra Modi in his latest episode of Last Week Tonight, which is not listed on the show’s official streaming partner in India and is also unavailable for viewing on YouTube.

The show’s latest episode is focused on India’s general elections, the rise of anti-Muslim sentiment, and censorship under prime minister Modi‘s two-term tenure.

A short snippet of the episode posted by a user on X showed a segment talking about Modi’s “pro-Hindu vision of India”, interspersed with footage of a police officer kicking Muslim men in prayer, and another official arrested for murdering three Muslims on a train while spouting praise for Modi.

He added that Modi and his party have a “long history of espousing Hindu nationalism” and have rejected “India’s history as a pluralistic nation and trying to push it toward becoming an explicitly Hindu one”.

The British comedian called this rise in extremism, “not a bug of Modi’s leadership, it is a feature”.

Oliver questioned what he called the “uncritical, fawning praise of a man who is, to put it mildly, a deeply complicated figure”. He said it should be possible to talk about the good Modi has done, as well as be critical of the fact that “many Indians live in active fear of what he seems more than happy to represent”.

“He (Modi) initially campaigned on expanding access to sanitation and water facilities and has invested billions in a nationwide upgrade of the country’s roads, railways, airports, and seaports. On top of that, there’ve been programs to alleviate poverty, for which some citizens thank him personally,” Oliver said.

However, he pointed out that India has changed the definition of poverty to include fewer people than before.

“Right, anyone can get rid of ‘all’ poverty if you just change the definition of ‘poor people’ to something else, like, I dunno, ‘fire hydrants’ or ‘opposite snakes,’” Oliver said.

He said he was unsure if the episode would air in India, and plugged two websites, oppositesnakes.com – which when visited will show users facts about “opposite snakes” – and howtoeatmangoes.com, a reference to an old interview where Indian actor Akshay Kumar interviewed Modi and asked him if he liked mangoes.

“So if this show does get taken down, and if you have friends or family living in India who’d like to see it, just encourage them 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,” Oliver said.

“By some estimates, just one million people now control around 80 per cent of India’s wealth. And as they’ve gotten richer, much of the country has gotten poorer.

“Under Modi, the country has fallen in the Global Hunger Index, and now sits behind North Korea and war-torn Sudan. And you would think that all of this would be fertile ground for Modi’s critics to exploit, but it’s actually hard to do that in India.”

Oliver then pointed out news networks critical of Modi have faced police raids for tax evasion, and that Modi hasnt’t called a single press conference in the last 10 years, followed by clips from various interviews Modi granted with questions that are the “opposite of hard-hitting”.

“Basically, if you criticise Modi, there’s a good chance that things are going to be very unpleasant for you,” Oliver said.

“Meaningful criticism of Modi is scarce on TV in India.”

The YouTube page of the episode when viewed in India (LastWeekTonight/YouTube)

The YouTube page of the episode when viewed in India (LastWeekTonight/YouTube)

A screenshot from the homepage of oppositesnakes.com (Oppositesnakes.com)

A screenshot from the homepage of oppositesnakes.com (Oppositesnakes.com)

A screenshot from the homepage of howtoeatmangoes.com (Howtoeatmangoes.com)

A screenshot from the homepage of howtoeatmangoes.com (Howtoeatmangoes.com)

The episode is not listed at present on the majority Reliance group-owned JioCinema, the show’s official streaming partner in India.

Previously, a 2019 episode of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, which focused on Modi and former US president Donald Trump’s visit to India, was also removed. At the time, the show’s streaming partner was Disney+ Hotstar, which was widely criticised for blocking the video and even called out by Oliver himself.

Bloomberg had reported at the time that a representative for India’s Information and Broadcasting Ministry had said the government wasn’t involved in the matter.

The results are set to be announced on 4 June, with exit polls predicting a big win for an alliance led by Modi’s party to lead a third historic term.

The Independent has reached out to YouTube and a JioCinema spokesperson for comment.

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