Indian political satire comes of age on the internet
If there was anything that stood revealed in the recent cabinet reshuffle, it was the state of Indian political satire. It appears to be at its best well away from the newspapers and TV channels. On Twitter, the popular social networking site, people enjoyed hearty laughs as Dr Yum Yum Singh and Sonia GaXdhi lampooned the absurdities of politics. For instance, just before the reshuffle, Yum Yum Singh tweeted much to the delight of thousands of his followers, “Dear @SoniaGaXdhi No matter how much I reshuffle, the same jokers turn up!” Welcome to political satire in the tech age.
“Sonia Gaxdhi and Dr Yum Yum Singh give me a much-desired laugh about politicians and daily events,” admits Gagandeep Sapra, the Big Geek at IT firm System3, a follower of Yum Yum Singh. “People feel the need for a responsive government. But despite regulations and despite the RTI, many things happen behind closed doors. Satire is a way to let off steam and makes for interesting and light-hearted conversation.”
Obviously, Dr Yum Yum Singh and Sonia Gaxdhi are spoof accounts of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and UPA chief Sonia Gandhi. Accounts have been set up for other leaders too, except for those in the BJP. Rahul Gandhi’s account is Rauldavinci, Digvijay Singh’s is Raja DiggVijay Singh, DMK leader K Karunanidhi’s is Muu_Kaa and J Jayalalitha’s claims she is “the only hope for TN in 2011”.
The quality of satire can vary. “Some resort to cheap antics. Tweets from Raja DiggVijay’s account are bland and so are those from Rahul Gandhi’s,” says Tarun Sreevats, an advertising professional who signed up for Twitter in 2008. “But tweets of Dr Yum Yum Singh and Sonia Gaxdhi are first-rate. Quality satire and good hearty laughs.” Yum Yum Singh even tweets that he is “in her majesty’s service”. No wonder he’s followed by more than 6,300 users, while Sonia Gaxdhi is followed by more than 3,000 members. Of course Twitter’s true significance is not in numbers, but in the quality of followers and how wellconnected they are. According to Klout, a website that measures the influence and reach of Twitter users, Yum Yum Singh scores 70 points, just one short of Shashi Tharoor, the most widely followed Indian politician. What’s more, Yum Yum Singh has been retweeted by his followers more than 5,000 times. This number assumes some significance considering Yum Yum Singh has generated just a little more than 2,500 tweets altogether. This means that on average, each tweet is retweeted twice.
Entities like Yum Yum Singh and Sonia Gaxdhi are a rarity in a country like India with its all-pervasive political correctness. What’s more, no one knows who they really are. Sreevats fears that in their popularity may lie the seeds of these spoofs’ decay because the leaders may not find these antics particularly amusing. However, Gagandeep is confident that Yum Yum Singh and his likes are here to stay. “Real leaders can’t do much about it. The internet is dependent on noncensorship and has its foundations there. Anything that is reckless and hurts public sentiments is avoided and will be shut down by most service providers, but this is plain humor. It’s all for laugh.”
DOWN THE AGES…
Satire had its origins in Rome and was a decided feature of ancient Greek drama, which had male actors dressed as satyrs to make fun of people during the intermission. In the 20th century, satire moved from print to other media – cartoons, TV shows and websites such as The Onion, ArnoldSpeaks.com and the Happening Happy Hippy Party.
Aristophanes (446 BC–386 BC): the Athenian playwright is called “the father of comedy”
Erasmus: (1466–1536): Dutch Renaissance scholar’s “The Praise of Folly” was a biting satire on church tradition and superstition
Jonathan Swift (1667–1745): one of the greatest English satirists. Best known for “Gulliver’s Travels”
Mark Twain (1835–1910): “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” satirizes the attitudes of southern society, especially slavery
George Orwell (1903–1950): acclaimed for “Animal Farm”, a satire on the Russian Revolution
Jon Stewart (1962-): American TV host of The Daily Show, a satirical news programme
DR YUM YUM SINGH TWEETS
Minutes after the earthquake on January 19 around 2am
Hello? Mr NSA! What was that tremor? Did @wikileaks release the Swiss Bank account list?
Dear @SoniaGaXdhi Madamji you can go back to sleep. We have confirmed it wasn’t due to the Cabinet reshuffle.
In the run up to the reshuffle
Hain? No we don’t have Tatkal scheme for cabinet berths.
After the reshuffle
Why are vegetable prices so high? We have so many in my cabinet.
After Jairam Ramesh’s comments on Akshardham Temple
Hello! Rahul? Ramesh Jairam uncle wants green Horns in the cabinet?
On Kapil Sibal
Dear @kapil_sibal ji always take the first foot out of your mouth before inserting the second one!
The above article is authored by @Javed Anwer in the Times of India on Sunday 30th Janaury 2011. The article is carried here as it carried a few comments by me.