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The Russian state-owned news channel RT, formerly known as Russia Today, is making a bid for Indian audiences with the launch of a new weekly talk show hosted by famous Bollywood actor Anupam Kher.

The show, “Let’s Talk Bharat,” will begin airing next week and is part of an attempt by Russia to cater its digital programming to center-right and Hindu nationalist audiences in India skeptical of the West.

Bharat is the Sanskrit name for India preferred by Hindu nationalist groups, including the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.

Who Is Anupam Kher?

Kher is a veteran Bollywood actor who has joined the Hindu nationalist bandwagon in recent years. He has emerged as an ardent supporter of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

A screenshot of a promotional video of Bollywood actor Anupam Kher’s new show on RT, “Let’s Talk Bharat.”

Kher’s more recent films have aligned with the BJP’s political and social agenda. In “The Accidental Prime Minister,” Kher portrayed former Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of the BJP’s chief rival, the Indian National Congress. The film depicted Singh as a weak figurehead neutered by a hereditary party leader, Sonia Gandhi, keen on paving her son’s path to power.

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In 2022, Kher starred in “The Kashmir Files,” a propagandistic film that received support from BJP state governments — including tax exemptions — to ensure a strong box office showing.

India, Russia, and the Multipolar World Order

India and Russia are longtime allies, but New Delhi is now being aggressively courted by the United States and other Western powers as a counterweight to Beijing.

Indian leaders, including Minister of External Affairs S. Jaishankar, have made clear they do not want an alliance with the West. New Delhi, instead, seeks what Jaishankar calls “multi-alignment” — a rebranded version of India’s historic non-alignment policy, but largely stripped of any moral pretense.

India and Russia are both revisionist powers keen on seeing a multipolar world order emerge — one in which the United States and the West no longer dominate.

RT’s new India content caters to New Delhi’s revisionism and sows doubt about the reliability of the West. For example, posts on RT India’s account on X, the site formerly known as Twitter, promote de-dollarization and the perception that India is strong while Britain is weak. Such content plays well in India these days. Formerly colonized by Britain, India surpassed it in 2022 to become the world’s fifth-largest economy.

The Indian media ecosystem is large and crowded. But RT is operating on friendly territory. Among 14 countries surveyed between December 2022 and January 2023, support for Russia was the highest in India, with 51 percent of Indians viewing Russia as an “ally.”

The two countries have an alliance that goes back more than half a century and has included the coproduction of advanced fighter jets and missiles. Russia remains India's largest supplier of arms.

As Russia makes a bid for Indian hearts and minds, Western broadcasters have been long gone from the country. Voice of America terminated its Hindi-language service in 2008. More than a decade later the BBC also shut down its Hindi-language radio broadcast.

Independent, liberal voices have also been removed from India's airwaves. News channels critical of the Modi government have been acquired by crony capitalists aligned with the Hindu nationalist government — mirroring the fall of the independent media under Vladimir Putin in Russia.

Arif Rafiq is the editor of Globely News. Rafiq has contributed commentary and analysis on global issues for publications such as Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, the New Republic, the New York Times, and POLITICO Magazine.

He has appeared on numerous broadcast outlets, including Al Jazeera English, the BBC World Service, CNN International, and National Public Radio.

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