In Conversation: Defiant Kunal Kamra vows to battle it out
Kamra spoke about a whole range of issues including patriotism, journalism in India and his current court case.
On Friday, India’s Attorney-General K.K. Venugopal gave consent for contempt proceedings against comedian Kunal Kamra for his November 18 tweet on journalist Arnab Goswami’s bail, saying it was “grossly vulgar and obnoxious” and tended to lower the authority of the Supreme Court.
Kamra, who now faces contempt of court charges, spoke to Khaleej Times a day after his show at The Theatre, Mall of the Emirates, on Friday, November 20 and just before flying back to India. Known for his unfiltered, unapologetic observational comedy and polarising material that often targets the current Indian government, Kamra spoke about a whole range of issues including patriotism, journalism in India and his current court case.
Here’s the full interview:
You have been labelled a leftist, a ticket-holding communist party worker who owns an iPhone, an anti-national, but who is real Kunal Kamra?
I am someone who is constantly evolving, and I think the word hypocrite fits very well. If you accept your hypocrisy, does that make you a hypocrite or does that not make you a hypocrite?
You have been variously also described as someone belonging to the anti-establishment, anti-government, and largely an anti-national. Why is questioning the government so?
This is an age-old fascist strategy to evade important questions. They will name call you, drag you down just to avoid answering the most important question. So, for instance, their nationalism doesn’t allow them to ask questions about China, but their nationalism stops at what we are doing with Pakistan. So responding to their name is how they would like it to happen. So, an anti-nationalist’s label sticks on people very easily.
You have consistently targeted the current BJP government in your shows. Does that make you less of a patriot? Why?
Patriotism to me is when I am proud to assert to the state I belong to and that pride would come when everyone in the country would have the basic necessities to access, like schools, like basic healthcare, like sanitation. Forget everything else, right now even falling sick for an average person in India is a luxury. And these problems are so complex that I don’t think one single prime minister can address it. But our current prime minister has consistently ignored all such questions. He has behaved as if these problems do not exist.
Instead, he keeps talking about his stories of where he came from. Instead, if he spoke about his work, about PM Cares fund for instance, it would have been better. We would like to hear about that. Anyone who’s interested in his story, can read his biography but I don’t think we need to be hearing about where he was as a kid, what he did as an adult. If I told my mom I studied for four hours, my mum would ask how many chapters I finished. But nobody is there to cross-question when our PM claims he works for 18 hours. You don’t, in fact, need to work for 18 hours, 8 hours is enough. There’s a word called jumla (Arabic for sentence). So, he uses one and moved ahead. But when people call him out, they are branded as an anti-national, Congress-paid trolls, Naxal sympathiser, tukde tukde gang, Kashmir sympathiser, terrorist appeasers, Islamists, Pakistanis.
Are you any one of them?
It depends. Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder. Whatever the person wants to address me as, he can address me, but the point is that they never choose to address the question. So how does Modiji work for 18 hours and campaign relentlessly in India and abroad and at the same time is the best PM in the world. How can he do so many jobs?
But Prime Minister Modi is not your only target?
It’s symbolic. What this man who we don’t want to name (Arnab Goswami) has done to journalism is something that would leave an impact for many years. He’s just made sure that you don’t have to go to the ground, you don’t have to report. You just have to keep running the same story that has big people involved so that people are glued to the TV set and mindlessly continue watching it. And he’s been doing that for years. So, he is a supari (contract) journalist.
Would you say if that [such brand of journalism] is the greatest danger for an average Indian right now?
Yeah, wherever there’s a non-BJP government, he just starts attacking. He is so shameless. He started attacking Nitish Kumar, then Lalu Prasad. Then Lalu went to jail and Nitish formed the government with BJP and his narrative changed. Now he is attacking Maharashtra because the government has formed a unique kind of alliance. So, he is not a journalist. He is a supari (contract) journalist. He’s replied to John Oliver, but he doesn’t have the tongue to reply to an Indian comedian. Just imagine how colonial and corrupt his mindset is.
You don’t mince words in your stand-up shows when it comes to naming the big people. Has any kind of fear ever crossed your mind?
In India, no comedy you do is safe. You can be doing a comedy on a bullet bike or a revered Bollywood superstar and can still get into trouble. So as a comedian and an artist, you must negotiate with fear and once you have negotiated, then you take it on, I guess.
What about the contempt of court proceedings ordered against you?
I am returning to India and I will face the trial and face whatever they think is contempt of court. It’s fine.
What about prisoners like Stan Swamy and Varavar Rao? You haven’t pulled your tweets down for a reason?
Yeah, I haven’t pulled my tweets down and I have said I won’t apologise, and I am happy to face the consequences. People who think I am trying to attract attention, they must look further and see what are the cases that have been dealt by the Supreme Court in the last three years and who are judges who have appeared in the Supreme Court in the last three years. And what are the cases that are still pending. That’s it. I don’t want any attention towards me, I want to draw people’s attention towards India’s judiciary system. If they enquire, they will know that I am well-informed about what I am talking about.
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