India burns but celebrities stay mum

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On 24 April, the Indian cricket team’s captain, Virat Kohli wished cricketing legend Sachin Tendulkar on the latter’s birthday. One of the most boisterous team captains, Kohli has over 41 million followers on Twitter. 

But breaking from the Indian tradition of cult worship of celebrities, Kohli was widely criticised for the tweet. “Captain courageous become Silent Captain when it comes to India’s Covid disaster. Must be waiting for instructions from Jay Shah and Uncle Modi…” A social media user responded to Kohli. 

Kohli’s tweet came on a day when India recorded over 3 lakh cases of COVID-19 for the seventh day and when the death toll showed no mercy.  Another user tweeted: “Have some shame @imVkohli ..Ek Birthday pe tweet karsaktha hai, 1000 of your Delhi people are dying ..Not a single tweet. So So Fake.” 

A day earlier on 23 April, Kohli was also promoting Puma, the company whose brand ambassador he is. “With all happening in your own country with your own Fans..r u able to focus on cricket….” A fan had asked him.

Kohli did not respond to any of the criticism he faced, instead, he continued to captain his Royal Challengers Bangalore side in the Indian Premier League — which has come under severe criticism and coverage of which some media organisations have boycotted. The league was called off on Tuesday after several players tested positive for Covid-19.

India is reeling under a devastating second wave of coronavirus amid government failures but criticism of prime minister Narendra Modi by India’s sports and entertainment celebrities — who otherwise vigorously banged thalis at Modi’s directions — has been muted.

On Saturday, India recorded its highest ever death toll due to the virus — despite widespread concerns of the country downplaying the numbers. There are long queues at crematoriums and graveyards and health infrastructure of the country has collapsed. Scenes of burning of hundreds of corpses has led to tremendous fear among the populace and also to criticism of the right wing government headed by Hindutva leader Narendra Modi by the general public.

While experts have blamed India’s laxity in dealing with the virus for the deadly second wave. Some have gone a step further directly holding Prime Minister Narendra Modi responsible for the devastation the country is witnessing today. Modi allowed a Hindu pilgrimage attended by millions and also presided over huge rallies in election bound Indian states.

Kohli is not the only Indian celebrity to have been silent over the happenings in the country, only one Indian cricketer Ravi Ashwin has pulled out of the IPL while other cricketers from the country continue to compete in the league.

Apart from Sonu Sood who has been at the forefront of supporting those affected by the pandemic since its outbreak, most celebrities including those who have been high on nationalism ever since the Narendra Modi led government have chosen to not only stay silent but also contribute very little to the nation’s fight against the contagion. 

Compare that to the ones who have been termed as urban naxals and anti nationals, the likes of Swara Bhaskars and Ali Fazals that have been on the forefront.

Among those to have been silent over the Modi government’s failure are the three Khans of Bollywood. While the Muslim trio have understandably chosen to remain silent on issues like the citizenship bills or for that matter the anti-farm law protest, they have come under scanner for being silent on the health crisis that is unfolding now.

This is in sharp contrast to their counterparts in Hollywood. Not only did Western celebrities raise their voices against their own president Donald Trump but they have also shown concern over the happenings in other parts of the world.

The celebrities instead chose to promote their brands. “It brings me great joy to welcome MPL as KKR’s principal sponsor! It’s been great to see you grow alongside the @KKRiders . Ab akal lagane ki baari meri hain, let me check out these new games you have on your app,” Shahrukh Khan tweeted.

“So disappointing. You know your social media presence amid a pandemic means so much. Use it to rather amplify calls of help when people are dying. This kind of tweet shows nothing but ignorance and insensitivity. KKR promotions and help for covid can co-exist,” an angry Twitter user responded to Khan.

Experts believe that the silence or endorsement of the ruling government by the celebrities has emerged after the Modi government came into power. Ashok Swain who is Professor of Peace and Conflict Research Upsala University tweeted: “Delhi is devastated by Covid, and thousands are dying. Delhi is hosting today’s IPL cricket match. What a country! What it’s priority!” 

In another tweet responding to the contribution of Australian cricketer Pat Cummins to the PM cares fund, Swain wrote: “Sachin Tendulkar will say to Pat Cummins: “India’s sovereignty cannot be compromised. External forces can be spectators but not participants.”

Swain has called out Indian celebrities in the past as well.

It remains to be how long it will take for India to come out of the devastation the second wave of the virus has caused, however, the silence of Indian celebrities will forever be etched in the memories of common masses.

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