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regular-article-logo Monday, 20 May 2024

The truth teller

Whether it is in the video on the Adani Group or in the video about unemployment, Rathee likes to examine the biggest companies from the lens of jobs they are creating

Sevanti Ninan Published 22.04.24, 07:28 AM
Dhruv Rathee

Dhruv Rathee Sourced by The Telegraph

The YouTuber, Dhruv Rathee, might seem like an unlikely saviour of democracy but he does not think so. He thinks that he can inspire India’s people to overthrow this government and save India from becoming a dictatorship. By doing what exactly? Producing videos on YouTube. The one titled “Is India Becoming a DICTATORSHIP?” got over 24 million views and Rathee’s math tells him that if he can motivate each of his viewers to convince 100 people of all that is wrong with this government, even 10 million viewers can motivate 1,000 million right-thinking citizens to vote this government out. He does not look the part of a saviour either. A slim, pleasant-looking 29-year-old in a tee shirt with a chatty “doston” approach, Rathee has built his reputation on a tirelessly prolific video output, which keeps up with controversies as they break.

Rathee’s career as a political YouTuber began around 2016 when he started to think that the first Narendra Modi government was already looking like bad news. Before that he was making educational videos, getting sponsors for them, and he had a tidy business going here while living in Germany with his German partner. Now he excels in stating bald truths about Modi in matters of governance, free speech and secularism, ones that the country is not used to hearing. Recently, his cheesy Ram Navami tweet said “All sensible Hindus need to unite and save Ram from Nathuram...”

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You cannot hold Rathee to journalistic standards of behaviour because, as he says, he sees himself as a YouTuber and an artist — “Can’t call myself a journalist.” He has a dim view of journalism as it is practised today, even as news journalism provides him with all the grist for his mill. The documentation for every damning video unfolds in a series of news clips. But after Modi, it is the media that he blames the most for what is transpiring in the country today.

In 2019, he did a two-part assessment of the government’s track-record over five years, giving it a range of scores for different portfolios with a few zeros but some higher scores too. The dictatorship video — posted in February this year — is far more damning. It brings together several incidents and trends to suggest that India is about to become ‘One Nation, One Party.’ “If you care about this country, it is very important for you to watch this video,” he exhorts. It is a long listing of many sins of commission: media manipulation to silence the Opposition, horse trading of members of the legislative assemblies through unethical deals, undermining the authority of elected governments, taking away the right of citizens to protest, using tear gas on protestors, weaponising investigative agencies for political gain, pressurising and imprisoning Opposition politicians, interfering in the working of state governments through governors, and withholding funds from state governments.

“I would like to tell Mr Modi — have some decency!” he says. He also mentions manipulation and frauds in elections — things that we already know but which anchors on prime-time television are not exactly screaming about. He cites the election fraud in the Chandigarh mayoral elections, using CCTV footage and clip after clip from the media to make his case. He even mentions the “EVM stolen reported in Saswad ahead of the LS elections.” Rathee goes on to educate citizens about what democracy is and is not. It is not about voting in elections; North Korea has elections too. As does Russia.

His style is to stitch together disparate incidents to bolster his case. He talks of reports by the Comptroller and Auditor General showing major government irregularities, after which the government transfers the CAG officials. “But how will this reach you if the media doesn’t talk about it?” The Election Commission of India has been accused of being partial and biased. He documents the clean chits it has given to offenders on several occasions.

His team has 10-15 Indian researchers and editors, all working remotely from India. Electoral bonds are a “ghotala ka bhandar” (a storehouse of scams), he tells viewers. Seven pharma companies that failed drug quality tests gave funds to political parties through electoral bonds. He tracks the details of these donations given to the Bharatiya Janata Party and also to some other parties. He investigated Gautam Adani and put together a long document on which investor in Gujarat got land for how much per square metre when Modi was the chief minister — the Adani Group getting it for as little as Rs 32 per square metre while buying land for a port or even for Re 1 per square metre in other instances, compared to other companies who paid in hundreds or thousands of rupees per square metre. Meanwhile, the State Bank of India is underwriting Adani’s debt, we are told.

Whether it is in the video on the Adani Group or in the video about unemployment, Rathee likes to examine the biggest companies from the lens of jobs they are creating. The episode he has just produced on unemployment is a long stitching together of many different facts that suggests a rather tentative understanding of economic issues. He is better at ranting about scams.

The foreign press is happy to seize upon him for their programmes. France 24 has just run a show titled “Indian elections: Dhruv Rathee, the YouTube sensation holding the government to account.” Five years ago, on the eve of the 2019 elections, the BBC collaborated with him to produce a damning ground report on “Reality of Modi’s Varanasi after 5 years”.

He doesn’t have the hang-ups a journalist would have about plugging his business while doing a current affairs presentation. On The Deshbhakt, Akash Banerjee’s YouTube show, Rathee talks about himself and then offers a discount to the audience on his courses. “Access Dhruv’s YouTube Blueprint Course https://academy.dhruvrathee.com/youtube Use Coupon: DESH40”. He also plugs his tutorial videos on the electoral scam episode. After his YouTube channel touched 10 million subscribers, he posted a video about himself and his childhood — “The real story of Dhruv Rathee”, son of an engineer from Haryana. It tells you that at the age of nine, he made his first video on a computer with a webcam his father bought.

Before the 2019 elections, he posted his Facebook engagement numbers to show that he was not that far behind in popularity than Narendra Modi himself. His posts that week had received 2.8 million engagements compared to Narendra Modi’s 3.2 million (the latter with far fewer posts, though). Modesty, clearly, is not Rathee’s strong suit. Meanwhile, that year, Facebook temporarily baulked at his post quoting from Adolf Hitler’s biography, removing it and then restoring it.

Earlier this month, he used the Free Press Journal to predict that his channel would be shut down soon as well and said as much in an interview with Karan Thapar. But until that happens, he is moving on to amplify his campaign to unseat the BJP across the country as far as possible. Last week, he launched his channel in five Indian languages to disseminate his message fast and wide.

Sevanti Ninan is a media commentator and was the founder-editor of TheHoot.org

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