A little after midnight, entrepreneur Ashish Ahuja’s cellphone buzzed, illuminating his dim room. Ahuja was irritated at first, but not for long. Soon, he had one hand squeezing his stomach, the other trying to gag himself.
Unable to hold it any longer, he finally gave out a loud laugh startling his wife who was deep in sleep. “Ye naya hai (joke)… Kejriwal wala… mast hai! (This one is a new Kejriwal joke)” he insisted, but she just nodded in horror and turned away.
“My husband and his friends have no sense of time. They are obsessed with forwarding messages. He’s not very interested in politics otherwise but he would never let a Kejriwal or Modi joke go unshared. He loves them both,” laughed Shilpa, Ahuja’s wife. “I wonder where all these jokes come from!” she added.
The recent Lok Sabha and the assembly polls have managed to tickle the funny bone of India with a spate of circulated jokes. Be it the antics of the Mufflerman or the goof-ups of the ‘Aunty’, the RajnikanthModi spat or a party scion dying to watch Doraemon, every joke went viral in no time.
And those wondering where the chain of jokes starts from, there are organised — sometimes multi-crore — humour factories working overtime. So if there was a windfall of jokes in text, illustration and pictures flooding your phone and online space, thank (or blame) these supercreative individual or agencies hired by parties to target rivals or those working independently to generate giggles.
“There are ways jokes are created and made viral. Every political party has its creative team who does it. There are people who create jokes, images on their own. And then there are agencies that create such content for the parties,” explained Kapil Gupta, CEO and co-founder OM Logics, who claims to have worked with the Congress, BJP Lok Dal and the Akalis.
Creating a joke has turned into a burgeoning industry. Thanks to the free and accessible platforms like WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter, there is no limit either to the creation or for the reproduction of such content. Gupta estimates there were nearly 50,000 people engaged in manufacturing jokes and trolling people across India before the Lok Sabha election. “Such kind of campaigning runs into a few hundred crores,” he said.
So how does the giggle mechanism work?
A team of an agency or an independent group are kept on standby as leaders like Narendra Modi, Arvind Kejriwal, Rahul Gandhi, Manmohan Singh and their party members went out to address people. Any slip-up or any venom spewed on their rivals would unleash a barrage of jokes either from the neutral joke-makers or from the opposite group. The messages sent to WhatsApp are generally broadcast from servers outside India — Thailand, Indonesia or the US and Canada — due to restrictions on bulk messages in India.
“It takes half an hour to generate such messages. And it’s never a one-man job. Such a team consists of innovators, writers, graphic designers and cartoonists. Plus many times, the jokes are ready. Like the popular ‘Aunty Police Bulalegi’ post that went viral after AAP’s win in the Delhi polls, must have been created during the campaign days,” Gupta said.
The speed at which this type of content is generated and its relevance to current affairs get people hooked on to it. One message can go to lakhs of people who share it for an uncountable number of times. So it’s quite a smart way of pushing an idea forward or making a candidate popular in case of politics.
“There are thousands of communities on Facebook, which make jokes and funny posts on a regular basis. Six months before the Lok Sabha elections, a popular community was bought by a party. BJP got into this much earlier with the help of established firms. AAP’s campaigning was more volunteer-driven,” said a party worker. He admitted that sometimes the brief given to the humour teams was quite brutal. “Bully the rival enough to wipe them off,” he said.
Jokes have become serious business. The team of Rajnikanth v/s CID jokes—a Facebook page with over six million likes till Saturday— at least believes so. The page, which also has a website now, is run by four men in their twenties who have never met. “One of us started the page and then people started joining in. People sometimes say we work for a party, but that’s not true. We make sure not to insult anyone. We also do not take credit for our work,” said Ankit Mor, a 23-yearold graphic designer based in Hyderabad who left his job at a multination giant to churn out humorous content full-time. He is a director at Rajnikanth v/s CID jokes, along with Shahid Javed ( 28) from Mumbai, Harpreet Bajwa (28) from Pune and Hardiek Kanteliya (24) who lives in Vadodara.
RVCJ may refrain from crass stuff but the free run on social networking sites ensures there’s no quality control.
The Congress has been one of the worst targeted, if the officials are to be believed. Radhika Khera, chairperson, social media, Delhi Pradesh Congress, said, “Quite a few posts were below the belt. We had to complain. Our volunteers were doing this work for us but they were clearly instructed not to abuse anyone. But some other parties simply crossed the line.”