American comedian Hasan Minhaj has finally turned his gaze to his country of origin. In the latest episode of Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj, which is being streamed on Netflix and is also available on YouTube, Minhaj looks at the drama and comedy that surrounds the upcoming Indian general election. He floats the idea to family members and well-wishers as a prelude to his stand-up comedy act, and the reaction is instant and universal: Just don’t.
You will be labelled a Pakistani spy, Minhaj is told. “There is lots of garbage outside, and that garbage is going to come on your face if you open your mouth on Indian politics,” is one reaction. Another is more blunt: “You are an NRI, an ABCD… You will be no more!”
The 33-year-old performer, whose parents hail from Uttar Pradesh, and who was born and raised in the United States, soldiers on. The episode has an explanatory tone since it is aimed at a global viewership. Minhaj runs audiences through who Narendra Modi is, comments on the similarities between Modi’s India first slogan and Donald Trump’s America First battle cry, and observes that Modi is a “hugger”. The episode covers the unemployment crisis, the impact of demonetisation, the controversy over the draft National Register of Citizens policy, and the manner in which Modi has attempted to cash in on tensions on the Indo-Pak order.
“In classic Indian fashion, Modi had to mix revenge and finance,” Minhaj observed about one of Modi’s speeches. “We will retaliate with 6% interest and it will compound to 9%. Then we will refinance.”
Rahul Gandhi is positioned as Modi’s major rival, and Congress party Member of Parliament Shashi Tharoor agrees to be subjected to questions by Minhaj. Tharoor’s avuncular style does not go unnoticed: Minhaj says he his guest “sounds like a wise moose in a Pixar movie”.
Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party reportedly did not agree to send a representative on Minhaj’s show. The comedian also notes that Modi has never given an interview since he became prime minister in 2014.
The episode focuses on Modi’s links with the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh, the organisation’s fundamentalist beliefs, and the uptick in attacks on minorities. “Once again, you guys, Muslims – you’re number one, baby,” Minhaj says ironically.
Also among the cast of characters is Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Adityanath, described as “a monk with a gun” by Minhaj.
India “shouldn’t allow itself to be divided again”, Minhaj says, adding, “What do I know? These are just a bunch of thoughts.”
The weekly show was premiered in October 2018. According to the official synopsis, the 32-episode series will “explore the modern cultural and political landscape with depth and sincerity”. Each week, Minhaj will “bring his unique comedic voice and storytelling skill to investigate the larger trends shaping our fragmented world”.
An episode that criticised the murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi and Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s alleged role in the killing was dropped after a complaint by the kingdom’s rulers, Financial Times reported. The episode was later posted on the show’s official YouTube channel.