The western world can never digest the fact that a strong and independent India is progressing on its own and is competing with them.
There have been a plethora of articles in the western media recently about India’s elections and the political parties involved. The common theme among almost all of them is the division of India along communal lines between a Hindu right-wing party, the BJP, with its divisive and polarizing leader and the current prime minister Mr. Narendra Modi. And a secular left-wing alliance led by the Congress party and the scion of the Nehru Gandhi dynasty, Mr. Rahul Gandhi. The general conclusion seems to be that the “Hindutva Agenda” of Mr.Modi is putting India in danger of becoming a nation where Hindus rule and minorities live in constant fear. Where freedom of expression of individuals is being stifled and the media is being muscled to be pro “Hindutva”. In fact, some recent articles have even raised the question of whether India should even be called a democracy.
The real questions that journalists in the west have to answer is whether calling for the destruction of India and incitement to violence is part of freedom of speech or is it hate speech?
But there is something very conspicuously missing in almost all of these articles. There is a complete lack of mention of any policy decisions taken by the Modi administration that suggests that the so-called “Hindutva Agenda” is being pushed. In fact, policies brought in specifically to help minorities, Muslim women, in particular, are not even mentioned. Isolated incidents of violence, only where a member of a minority community is the victim, are used as proof that all minorities are living in fear. Individuals who have always been loyal to the Congress Party and opposed to the BJP are presented as part of the intelligentsia whose voice is being snuffed out. Objectively looking at what the government has done over the last five years and how different communities, minorities, in particular, have responded to it provides a completely different picture.
One of the best ways to judge how an administration has worked towards helping a community is to see what they have specifically done to help the women in that community. Instant Triple Talaq, a practice where a Muslim man can simply divorce his wife by just uttering “talaq” three times and throw her out of the house, had been legal in India till recently. Muslim women’s rights activists had been fighting for decades against this practice. None of the so-called secular parties were willing to help them for fear of alienating the Muslim vote bank. But in 2017 ShayaraBano became the face of this fight when she took her case to the supreme court of India, which ruled that the practice and the law supporting it as unconstitutional. The practice, however, continued unabated and it was the Modi government that introduced legislation, The Muslim Women(Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, 2017, making the practice illegal and punishable. The bill failed to pass the upper house of the Indian parliament, where BJP does not have the majority, as it is being opposed by the so-called secular parties. ShayaraBano has since joined the BJP and is a vocal supporter of Modi. She has said, “It was with the support of Prime Minister Modi that we got justice.”. She is not alone, many Muslim women’s rights activists are supporting Modi and the BJP.
Communal mob violence and lynching in India did not start in 2014 when Modi came to power. A 2017 article on this on huffingtonpost.com “Can Data Tell Us Whether Lynchings Have Gone Up Under Modi, And Should It Matter?“ specifically looked at much work done on this by many in journalism and academia. These types of incidents have been perpetrated by both Hindu and Muslim communities. Victims also belong to both communities. In fact, in some cases, both perpetrators and victims belonged to the same community. And some incidents were caste based. But most importantly, they did not start under Modi. Just using google one can find at least a dozen such incidents that occurred in 2013 alone reported by various news organizations. While each and every one of these incidents is of grave concern to all those who believe in human rights, there doesn’t seem to be any evidence that the Modi government has done something that led to such incidents or an increase in their number. There are many individuals who have made incendiary statements from all different parties. However, selectively citing incidents based on the killing of cows, sacred to Hindus, and statements made by only members of the ruling party and presenting that as evidence of their “Hindutva Agenda” while turning a blind eye to all the other incidents which are equally condemnable is simply being disingenuous. In fact, it is this selective criticism by media powerhouses that lead to polarization in societies and reduces their credibility.
Let us now come to the claim that Modi is suppressing freedom of speech in India. The incident most cited to support this claim is where a group of students were arrested for raising anti-India slogans in 2016 at a university. Again, what is not mentioned is what were the slogans being raised? Some of the slogans being raised were “Bharath Tere Tukde Tukde Honge, inshallah” (India you will be broken into pieces, god willing), “Bharath ki Barbadi Tak Jung Rahegi“(War will be waged till India is destroyed). After being initially arrested by police, these students were released. They are now famous and one of them is even running for elections. If the freedom of speech is being muscled how come the people who raised these slogans are running for elections and their supporters are on television shows arguing their case almost every night. Who has stopped them from speaking and holding rallies? But the real questions that journalists in the west have to answer is whether calling for the destruction of India and incitement to violence is part of freedom of speech or is it hate speech?
He has made Indians feel proud of their nation as both an assertive and progressive democracy, a privilege previously reserved only to western countries.
There have been groups of individuals from academia, art, and show business who have campaigned against Modi even before he became the Prime Minister. This same group of people has returned awards, signed letters and petitions alleging that freedom of expression is under threat. While these are highlighted in western media what is not mentioned is that an equal, if not larger, number of people from the same fraternities have supported Modi. Most recently a group of nearly 600 artists signed a petition urging people to vote out the Modi government. In response, a group of more than 900 artists, including noted Muslims & Christians, signed another petition urging people to vote for Modi because of his secular developmental agenda and the changes he has brought in the last 5 years. Some of these changes include providing basic facilities like water and electricity. Something millions in India lacked even after 70 years of independence while the so-called secular politicians and their families have amassed massive amounts of wealth and live in large bungalows with swimming pools and own private planes.
The question an any avid India watcher’s mind is why the bias against the Modi government in western media? Firstly, western journalists do not really have an insight into what’s happening in India as they can not follow local news sources that are not in English. Their views on India are largely shaped by a small group that belongs to what is commonly called in India as Lutyens’ Delhi. A privileged group of politicians and their kin, who were patronized by the British, that ran the country and controlled its media for decades since its independence. They stayed in power by giving every minority group in India incentives only to gain votes like special status, reservation in education and jobs and so on. Modi has rocked their boat with a purely developmental agenda that treats all Indians equally.
It seems the western world can never digest the fact that a strong and independent India is progressing on its own without their direction and is competing with them in all areas of achievement. It is today run by a man who once used to sell tea at the railway station. He doesn’t have a seal of approval from Harvard or Oxford or any of the other Ivy Leagues of the western world, which most of India’s past prime ministers did. He is running a large development focused, corruption-free government for which Indians were hungry for decades. This has blurred the traditional community lines of caste and religion as people have broken across community lines to support him. He has made Indians feel proud of their nation as both an assertive and progressive democracy, a privilege previously reserved only to western countries. It seems that in spite of all of its achievements and even after 70 years of its independence the western world still sees India through the prism of caste, cow, and corruption. The white man’s idea of India has changed very little.
1. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of PGurus.