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John Oliver warns India is 'sliding towards authoritarianism' as Modi wins in tighter-than-expected election

Polly Thompson   

John Oliver warns India is 'sliding towards authoritarianism' as Modi wins in tighter-than-expected election
  • John Oliver, the host of Last Week Tonight, turned his satirical eye to India's elections.
  • Oliver called out the country's polarizing leader, Narendra Modi, for censorship and anti-Muslim violence.

TV host John Oliver took aim at India's elections and its prime minister, Narendra Modi, on Sunday night, warning that the nation was "sliding towards authoritarianism."

"Basically, if you criticize Modi, there's a good chance that things are going to be very unpleasant for you," Oliver said on the latest episode of Last Week Tonight. "Meaningful criticism of Modi is scarce on TV in India."

In his classic "roast" style, Oliver noted Modi's increasing tendency towards censorship and anti-Muslim rhetoric.

"There's been a noticeable shift in his rhetoric this election season," said the HBO host.

"Modi and his party have seemed increasingly comfortable threatening democratic institutions by, among other things, stifling political opposition and freedom of the press," he added, pointing to cases of intimidation toward rival political parties and raids at critical news networks.

"It's worth remembering: that is not a bug of Modi's leadership, it is a feature," he said.

Oliver also joked about Modi's tendency to take credit for things, showing an ad that suggested the leader had personally halted the war in Ukraine to bring home an Indian student.

He also ridiculed Modi's economic policies, saying that despite the narrative around India's recent growth, the country has "fallen in the Global Hunger Index, and now sits behind North Korea and war-torn Sudan."

"Anyone can get rid of 'all' poverty if you just change the definition of poor people to something else like, I dunno, 'fire hydrants' or 'opposite snakes,'" joked the British comedian.

Finally, Oliver called for an end to the "uncritical, fawning praise" for Modi coming from the international community.

Over the past six weeks, hundreds of millions of Indian citizens have been voting in the country's election, and on Tuesday, Modi secured a third term, though his ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) fell well short of securing an expected majority in India's 543-member parliament.

Prior to voting, Modi said the BJP sought to win around 400 seats, per the BBC. In reality, the party gained only 240 seats, and must now seek to build a coalition government.

Modi, who has been in office since 2014, is a highly popular leader among a large segment of the Indian population. He's credited with driving forward India's economy and raising its standing on the global stage.

However, others have criticized Modi for divisive Hindu nationalist policies, persecution of Muslims, erosion of the judiciary, and suppression of protests and the free press.

"It should be possible to acknowledge the good things that Modi has managed to do for India, while also acknowledging that many Indians live in active fear of what he seems more than happy to represent," Oliver said.

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