If there has emerged one hero during the Covid-19 lockdown, it’s not any politician, activist, or even Bollywood celebrity like Farhan Akhtar, Shah Rukh Khan or Swara Bhasker. It’s Sonu Sood.
The fact that this doesn’t irk the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its supporters, however, is puzzling.
Since the beginning of lockdown, the Dabangg actor has been actively participating in social welfare to help stranded students and labourers. He provided meals to as many as 45,000 people in the beginning of April, and then ensured stranded citizens had the means to reach home.
Nobody had to walk miles home as long as they were requesting Sood for help. His team took care of grievances expressed online, and even started a toll-free telephone line for shramiks in the need of help.
Sood’s efforts are gallant enough to shame our governments that have failed to do their duty. And yet, Sood has found fans among BJP members, like Union Minister Smriti Irani, who piggybacked on his charity and altruism to show how the Shiv Sena-Congress-NCP government in Maharashtra has failed its citizens.
I’ve had the privilege of knowing you as a professional colleague for over 2 decades now @SonuSood & celebrated your rise as an actor ;but the kindness you have displayed in these challenging times makes me prouder still 🙏thank you for helping those in need🙏🙏 https://t.co/JcpoZRIr8M
— Smriti Z Irani (@smritiirani) May 24, 2020
Other stars on the ground
While to a casual observer it may seem that only Sonu Sood toiled during the crisis and therefore deserves all the popularity he took home, there were citizens all over India who helped thousands of distressed people with whatever resources they had — from distributing ration kits to collecting money for families.
Journalist Rana Ayyub, who has consistently been at the receiving end of Right-wing trolls on Twitter and Facebook, has been on the ground throughout the lockdown period, distributing Covid relief packages herself. Ayyub and her team of volunteers have been a source of help for thousands of families left to fend for themselves during the pandemic.
Michelin-star celebrity chef Vikas Khanna has distributed more than 7 million packets of dry food and cooked meals across 100 cities in India amid lockdown.
Bollywood actor and director Farhan Akhtar has been donating personal protective equipment (PPE) kits, Shah Rukh Khan has been doing praise-worthy relief work in West Bengal in the aftermath of Cyclone Amphan, while actress Swara Bhasker has helped over 1,300 labourers reach home until now.
To indulge in the Right-wing’s favourite argument tactic of whataboutery, I want to ask — what about them? What about the hundreds of others who, like Sood, are doing tremendous work on the ground risking their own life? Are they not worthy of the same praise that has been showered on Sood? Will the Governor of Maharashtra, Bhagat Singh Koshiyari, invite Rana Ayyub or Swara Bhasker to his office to congratulate them as well?
Film star @SonuSood called on at Raj Bhavan, Mumbai today. Shri Sood briefed about his ongoing work to help the migrant people to reach their home states and to provide them food. Applauded his great work and assured him of his fullest support in these endeavours. pic.twitter.com/oUMfIQGTeX
— Bhagat Singh Koshyari (@BSKoshyari) May 30, 2020
Convenient for BJP
When Sood’s relief efforts began to gain traction, I anticipated a smear campaign against him by the IT cell on social media, but the very opposite happened.
Sood’s efforts should be a slap in the face for the Narendra Modi government, whose incompetence and inability to mitigate the crisis caused by the Covid lockdown resulted in people dying on streets from hunger and heat. The situation changed little when it started ‘special’ trains to help them reach homes.
When Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra offered 1,000 buses to help workers get home, she was trolled, ridiculed and criticised beyond measure after the Yogi Adityanath government refused to allow the buses to run. About 586 of the total buses Priyanka Gandhi and her team had arranged were found fit to operate, but the Adityanath government wasn’t going to be put in a bad light by the Congress.
Sood and the BJP love
Many BJP ministers, whose job it is to ensure that people stranded in the pandemic reach home sound and safe, have been appealing to Sood for help, when it should have been the opposite. Take Rajendra Shukla, BJP MLA from Madhya Pradesh, who sought Sood’s assistance via Twitter. Shukla shared a list of names of stranded workers, appealing for the actor’s help in getting them home. Don’t you see the irony in an elected representative seeking help from a Bollywood actor?
— Rajendra Shukla (@rshuklabjp) June 1, 2020
This brings up the question of Sood’s relationship with the BJP, especially in context of the Cobrapost sting last year, in which the actor was seen admitting that he would be willing to accept money to endorse the party on social media ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha election. “A minimum of five and a half lakhs for a single tweet,” the actor can be heard saying in response to being offered the role of BJP’s brand ambassador.
Without any intention to undermine Sood’s efforts during the Covid-19 crisis, one has to ask what benefit does the BJP see in his altruistic success. Efforts, like that of Sood and others, have only further underlined the apathy with which the Modi government has dealt with the pandemic, especially the jobless workers crisis. Citizen-driven projects have proven that even if the BJP had half a heart, it could have avoided causing Indians a lot of pain and suffering during the Covid-19 crisis.
Views are personal.