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What John Oliver (and Western media) fails to get on India, CAA, Modi and everything in between

Updated: Jul 12, 2020

A man named John Oliver

What is the next worst thing to a Monday morning? A Sunday evening, because it reminds you of what's coming. For many folks here in the US, John Oliver is the guy who has consistently worked to bring some cheer to their Sunday late evenings.

Through his distinctly British accent, tongue in cheek humor and metaphors stuffed with X rated wisecracks, he has carved out a niche for himself in the ever competitive world of late night shows on American prime time TV. Thanks to his personalized brand of political satire his fame is spreading far and wide to most English speaking corners of the globe and that is good news for him and HBO, the hosts of his Last Week Tonight show.

I have watched many of his Last Week Tonight episodes and find them fairly well researched on contemporary politics with humor and sarcasm sprinkled in right proportions at the right places. However, all of that content accuracy holds true when westerners write a script on events in the western world.

I fail to understand why with all their intel, technology, talent and resources western media flounder when it comes to reporting events in the non-western side of the globe. Factual accuracy is the first casualty in such an event, and in the absence of any conscientious effort at “on the ground” research, journalistic integrity takes the next fall.

What John Oliver got wrong about India, Modi and the CAA protests

The Last Week Tonight show aired here in the US on Sunday, February 24th, 2020 late evening was to be all about President Trump's visit to India. But, instead of an expose on the visit by our President, the show quickly turned into a mudslinging fest on Modi, the reigning Indian Prime Minister.

Trust me, I am all for an open discussion on the good and the bad on any topic, so long as the opinion makers have a more than basic understanding of the issues involved. What gets me is when opinion makers indulge in just that - airing opinions and masking them as facts.

I have given the link to the original video at the end of this blog post for your viewing.

Let's analyze some key assertions made by the show and let us validate how those statements hold up to a test on factual accuracy.

(8:00) Modi is a Hindu nationalist. And at the core of that is a belief that India is a fundamentally Hindu nation which is provocative given that India's founders - Gandhi and Nehru explicitly disavowed that with Gandhi saying, "The state should undoubtedly be secular".

You may not believe me, but India is far more secular than any of the liberal western democracies! What I mean by that is in India, Muslim mobs may go on rampage vandalizing public property and attacking law enforcement personnel (even causing bodily harm to some) including the police. While this drama plays out, the left leaning liberal media in India, which considers itself the self appointed guardians of India's secularism will ensure that the government machinery will bend to the hooliganism of the crowds but not have the option of taking stringent action to restore law and order. Try using simple water canons on the protesters and the media will amplify the "atrocities" of a Hindu dominated government on minority Muslim protesters.

A Muslim protester burning a copy of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) 2019


Imagine such a scenario playing out for weeks in cities across the US, or Britain or France (which is the birthplace of Western style secularism). It would not only be unthinkable but completely unacceptable under prevailing laws in those lands. Law enforcement there would use all force available to quell such a breakdown of the social order. Such remedial action by the authorities would not be construed as anti-secular. Contrary to that scenario, law enforcement in India has its hands tied. That's the strength (or rather weakness) of Indian style secularism.

I have written about in detail about how India chose to embrace secularism but in a format that was diametrically opposite to the French version of secularism, in my blog on the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), 2019 (listed below... the link will open in a new tab).

John Oliver's scriptwriters may not know but, the word Secularism was consciously kept out of the first draft of the Indian Constitution, by the Constituent Assembly. Pt. Nehru and Dr. Ambedkar (father of the Indian Constitution) were opposed to the use of the word Secular, in the Preamble to the Constitution.

Most members of the Indian Constituent Assembly (the convention that developed and published the first draft of the Indian Constitution after India's independence) were convinced that a Jeffersonian "wall of separation" between religion and the state was neither conducive nor practicable in a country like India. In their mind, they foresaw a need to balance the constitutional rights of the Hindu majority population with special privileges that they believed were needed for the Muslim, Christian, Sikh and other religious minorities so that minority religions could feel at home with the majority Hindu population. The minorities needed to be pleased and appeased beyond their wildest imagination, just to assure them that they were not being dominated by the majority Hindus. As a leading Indian journalist once remarked, "In India Muslims follow Islam while Hindus follow secularism".

The outcome of that ultra liberal brand of secularism adopted by India is now evident on its streets. Hoards of Muslims behaving like unruly, obstreperous kids used to having everything their way for a very long time, now throwing up the worst kind of tantrum when things do not turn out as per their expectations.

Source: The Indian Express

In that context, preaching secularism to India would be like “preaching to the choir”.

(12:00) Modi and his party are now trying to actively erase whole sections of India's history. Nehru, for instance has been edited out of some history textbooks altogether.

That is exactly the kind of line, Nehru's Congress party (now in the opposition) uses against Modi on a regular basis. Wonder how John Oliver jinxed it!

It so happens, and John's scriptwriters would not have cared to find out, Nehru was a master of the vanishing trick himself. He is singularly responsible for erasing some of his political opponents not only from books but also from the face of this earth, made them disappear without a trace. Yet, all history under Nehru was written to portray him as independent India's knight in shining armor.

On Nehru's orders, all details of an equally (if not more) illustrious son of India were suppressed from the Indian people - the details of a man called Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose. Details that have started emerging only after the BJP government came to power (after replacing Nehru's Congress party) from classified archival material now being released reveal that Nehru had falsely promoted news of Netaji's death in an air crash in Taipei in 1945, whereas Netaji was alive and Nehru had arranged to keep Netaji in confinement and under guard, out of the public domain for as long as he could. All of this because Nehru considered Netaji a serious threat to his political career. Many Indians believe that Netaji Subhash Bose would have been elected the first Prime Minister of India, had he been on the public stage when independence was becoming an imminent reality.

Nehru (right) in conversation with Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose (left)

Source: The Wire

Nehru is even suspected (widely) of having plotted the death of the man who founded the very party that Modi brought to power - the BJP. That man is Shyama Prasad Mukherjee. He founded the party called the Bharatiya Jana Sangh in 1950, which became the precursor to the present day BJP. It is alleged that Shyama Prasad Mukherjee died under house arrest in mysterious circumstances, when Nehru was Prime Minister. Nehru used his powers to quash all demands for an independent inquiry into the death of another of his political opponents.

Nehru (right) with Shyama Prasad Mukherjee (extreme left)


If fact much of India's history that children in India have been made to study in schools for 70 years post-independence is in serious need of rewriting, just to get some very painful and hard hitting facts and events (from the past) right… facts and events which were too blasphemous for Nehru and his Congress party to handle, while they ruled for well over 70 years in India.

But, for consumption every story needs a villain. Modi has got to be demonized for removing references to Nehru from some text books.

Great research Al Jazeera!

Kudos to John Oliver for bringing such a monstrous crime against humanity to light.

(3:50) His government has pursued a steadily escalating persecution of religious minorities. Persecution so intense that for the last two months Indians across the country have been taking to the streets in anger.

(13:55) It is true. Modi and his party may be about to strip millions of Muslims of citizenship. And they did it in a diabolically clever 2 step way. First, they announced they will be rolling a National Register of Citizens or NRC, where everyone would need to provide documents proving they were Indian citizens, something that many people particularly the poor or illiterate simply do not have. Now, that alone did not target Muslims but here is the second part - Modi's government also introduced something called the Citizenship Amendment Bill or CAB which granted citizenship to undocumented people if they were basically from any religious minority but Muslims.

This is precisely the kind of conspiracy theory being concocted by the political parties funding the street protests in India. Nothing of that sort has happened yet. No illegal immigrant has been deported nor been incarcerated in any detention center. But fear mongering is never tied to ground realities.

There are 2 stereotypical assumption “templates” that the western media readily applies to all of the developing world.

  1. If citizens are protesting in the streets, they have to be right (regardless of who, what and why).

  2. If street protests erupt against the government, then the government is WRONG.

In December of 2003, the Indian Parliament enacted the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2003. This Act for the first time in India, introduced and defined the notion of "illegal immigrants" who could be jailed and deported, and would be ineligible for citizenship by registration or naturalization. There was a growing concern in some of the eastern states of India, that uncontrolled infiltration of immigrants from Bangladesh into India would not only create a drain on the resources of the geography, but also change the demographics of the region. It is estimated that in the 70 years of India's independence, some 24 million Muslims have illegally entered India and settled down with documents hastily handed over by narrow minded political parties salivating at a growing bank of voters.

Kiren Rijiju, Minister of State for Home Affairs in the Modi government has put the figure at around 24 million. Additional figures coming from independent agencies have revealed that on average around 91,000 Bangladeshis illegally crossed over to India every year during the years 1981-1991.

Such a broken immigration process conspicuous by the non-existence of clearly defined immigration laws and regulations would not be permissible in any of the developed democracies of the west, but has been prevalent in India for close to 70 years.

It is only now that the country is waking up to the need for urgent reform in this area, by establishing a regulatory framework. The CAA and the NRC are steps in that direction. And if you look up the history of independent India neither the CAA nor the NRC are creations of the BJP. That would require a separate discussion.

Sure, this will feel very uncomfortable to many, but for a country that will soon surpass China as the world's most populous nation, but with resources far less than those of China, including land mass, this is a crisis that needs urgent, undivided and unwavering attention from the government of the day.

Modi and Amit Shah have chosen to be those Bad Boys of history.

So yes John, these 2 are the villains that history will remember for doing what had to be done to bring order into a chaos spiraling out of control. But will history absolve them? The western media will have to let the people of the land decide, not make that decision for them.

(16:01) The government is now building detention camps for all the illegal immigrants that they are creating.

When a nation puts a regulatory framework for immigration policies, detention centers are a corollary to that activity. Where do citizens of developed western democracies house immigrants that have entered their country illegally? Select the best option.

  1. In their homes

  2. In detention centers created for that purpose

It is perfectly okay for the developed nations to run detention centers for illegal immigrants... how dare India follow that route!

(17:05) It is incredibly depressing to see India heading in this direction.

When was the last time a self-styled expert on India from the western world pronounced a direction that India should take, which turned out to be a "happily ever after" path for the country? I guess - "Never"?

Finally, why do the western media consistently fail to measure India with their yardsticks?

It is probably because they have no idea of what they are dealing with. They are trying to package a 5,000 year old civilization turned into the largest democracy in the world representing one sixth of the global population, into time-boxed news shows with bite sized captions.

It is like that fable where a group of blind folded men are asked to touch an undisclosed animal and describe it. That animal happened to be an elephant. The one touching the animal's tail says it resembles a rope. The one touching its leg describes the creature as a tree trunk, and so on.


Failure to grasp the full picture is guaranteed so long as the blindfolds remain.

But here's the real question, is the western media really interested in assessing this giant nation without prejudice?

If not, then they will only see what they want to see, which is what John Oliver amply demonstrated.

And here is the sad part… what they see is exactly how they will describe it to the world.

The Full Video

#JohnOliver #LastWeekTonight #Modi


About the Author

As an American, lived in South Asia and love South Asia as one of the most politically and culturally active sections of the globe. My dad's tenure in New Delhi as a journalist from the Washington Post, has provided me the opportunity to travel extensively throughout the Indian subcontinent and get to know its people and the nations it is made up of.

Unlike most American kids of my generation, I did not spend my teenage years in the US. Instead I backpacked with my journalist dad travelling the length and breadth of the South Asian subcontinent, as he covered the region for his daily and weekly dispatches to the Washington Post.

As a result, I came to know this melting pot of cultures, ethnicities and people like few in my generation back home can even dream to acquaint themselves of even if they joined the most prestigious of the think tanks in Washington DC.

What do I do for a living? Having worked with the Big 5 corporations, I currently do free lance technology consulting for corporations struggling to transform their technology of today into where they need it to be tomorrow.

I can be reached at

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1 Comment

OMG..exactly my thoughts on some of the things you mentioned. HBO team can keep their tails in their own country. Half baked knowledge about Indian politics!

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