Was he actually handpicked by Congress president Sonia Gandhi and son Rahul Gandhi? Hell yeah!
But before Americai Narayanan became the Congress spokesperson who burst into national news television on Sunday and turned into an instant social media phenomena, he was a Chennai-born gas company executive in Texas who returned home over two decades ago after apparently asking himself a simple question—”What can I do for India?”
That question was perhaps answered earlier this year when, in the run-up to the 2014 general elections, Narayanan was named part of the Congress’ 30-member “panelists on national media on state issues” (pdf) with the approval of the party brass. Rahul Gandhi, the Congress vice president, had reportedly played a key role in inducting new faces to the panel.
On Sunday, the full force of that decision was felt as the spokesperson appeared on Arnab Goswami’s Newshour show on Times Now news channel to defend his party’s staggering defeat in Haryana and Maharashtra.
Nattily dressed in a white shirt and Nehru jacket, the pencil-wielding Narayanan responded to questions with a unique combination of traits—unintended condescension, passion and righteousness, a passive-aggressive demeanour and a Tirunelveli-meets-Texas accent.
Soon, Times Now editor-in-chief and anchor Arnab Goswami and his usual panel of political commentators, seasoned survivors of the prime time Darwinian jungle, realized they were witnessing a special television moment.
Almost instantly, Americai Narayanan turned into a social media sensation.
His considered response to his own rhetorical question—”If you ask me if there has been corruption in the UPA, hell yeah!”—soon became his signature cry. #Hellyeah immediately became a trending topic on Twitter and Narayanan’s face and the #Hellyeah hashtag soon became subjects of memes.
“Look into my eyes,” Narayanan told Goswami at one point, and Twitter exploded.
So who really is Americai Narayanan?
The irrepressible man in his late forties was born and raised in Chennai. Educated at the University of Madras and then at the University of Kentucky, Narayanan rose up America’s corporate ladder in the 13 years he spent there. After a series of accountancy jobs, he joined Lone Star Gas, a Dallas-based diversified energy company (now Enserch Corporation), as assistant controller and was quickly elevated to treasurer.
In a profile published by the Dallas Morning News in 1988 as he was about to leave Lone Star, columnist Robert Miller begins: “Let’s say it’s almost impossible for Americans to understand V Narayanan. But then, his Indian countrymen don’t really comprehend him either.”
And on asking Narayanan why he wanted to return to India, Miller writes: “How did he decide on his future? He asked himself the question: ‘What can I do for India?'”
By Narayanan’s own account, he’s done much since his return.
He has arranged for flood victims in Chennai to receive their compensation and collected some Rs20 lakh for the Prime Minister’s Relief Fund after the Gujarat earthquake in 2001, he claims on the ‘accomplishments’ section of his website. In 2006, he started INODA (Indian Organization for Development Action), an insurance scheme for domestic workers with a monthly premium of Rs 25. Then, he is also the founder of Autokaran (which means an auto-rickshaw owner/driver in Tamil), a local magazine for auto drivers in Chennai.
His face has also appeared on posters such as this:
His “political profile” on his website also had a simple explanation for his eccentric first name. It’s explained in third person.
He was introduced to Tamil Nadu as “America” Narayanan by the Tamil magazine ‘Junior Vikatan’ in a cover page article, since then he is commonly called as “America” Narayanan by auto drivers, Slum dwellers and others in Tamil Nadu. However, he wants to be a humble public servant; hence, uses his name as Americai (means ‘humble’ in Tamil) V. Narayanan.
All together, the perfect ingredient for turning into an online sensation.