Zakaria and his anti-India coverage on CNN inspired by the Freedom House report

Journalists like Zakaria chose to insinuate India’s democracy based on the toxic material in the FH report

Zakaria and his anti-India coverage on CNN inspired by the Freedom House report
Journalists like Zakaria chose to insinuate India’s democracy based on the toxic material in the Freedom House report

Zakaria & FH report has failed to recognize that emerging new India deserves respect

What an appalling act by CNN host Fareed Zakaria discrediting India based on the misinformed characterization of India’s democracy as “Partly Free” in a report by the Freedom House (FH)[1]. We discuss who Zakaria is, the FH calling itself a pro-democracy think tank and an analysis of the FH report on India. Both Zakaria and FH report have failed to recognize that the emerging new India deserves respect, not ridicule, for her deepening, not declining, democracy.

Who is Zakaria?

Born in India and educated at Yale and Harvard, Zakaria’s journalistic reporting about India show an irretrievable breakdown in his understanding of the democracy of emerging “New India.” He is part of the Western media who is known to have a love-hate relationship with independent India. Having lived in the U.S. for over 40 years, I have rarely seen India described in a positive frame by big media names like New York Times, Washington Post, Time, Newsweek, The Economist, CNN, BBC to name a few. India was once portrayed as the land of snake charmers, cows roaming on the street, and people going hungry. That is no longer the case, but the media in the West cannot stomach India’s promise and potential in global politics and economy. Zakaria has worked for or is currently affiliated with some of these media houses. In my opinion, Zakaria has lost “objectivity” in describing India’s democracy which is deeply rooted in diversity, pluralism, peace, and freedom.

I respect reports based on in-depth research and analysis but I don’t know how well this report is regarded globally. Let me focus on the state of democracy in India (the largest) and the United States (the oldest).

I have watched his Global Public Square (GPS) broadcast at CNN for years on current issues. My opinion of Zakaria being cool and composed changed when his biased reporting about India on March 7 was devoid of facts (the tweet of Zakaria seen below). I wondered if the Muslim factor is colouring his journalistic objectivity about the world’s largest democracy which has stood tall, firm, and the test of time for about 75 years since independence.

I wonder what he reads beyond the writings by the like-minded journalists and/ or India bashing reports by FH, USCRIF, and Amnesty International (AI). When did he visit emerging new India to appreciate the vibrant diversity, thriving democracy, and accelerating multiplicity of religious freedom? While there are occasional conflicts on religious grounds, India upholds the rights of people of all faith. I also wonder if Zakaria has visited the villages where India’s democracy lives, breaths and grows?

My initial Tweet characterized Zakaria’s GPS broadcast as, “The most disappointing, disgusting, and squarely unfounded description of India’s freedom of press and religion. Shame on @FareedZakaria who I respected for more balanced opinions but his journalistic bias and disrespect for India was as despicable as the Western media at large.”

The Freedom House report

I respect reports based on in-depth research and analysis but I don’t know how well this report is regarded globally[1]. Let me focus on the state of democracy in India (the largest) and the United States (the oldest). The report cites a weighted Global Freedom score of 67 and 83, for India and the U.S. which decreased by 4 and 3 points, respectively, in one year. These scores are presumably based on the analysis of snapshot annual data collection which changes in every country for various political and economic reasons. First of all, the change in score is negligible considering the year of the pandemic. Secondly, labelling India ‘partly free’ and her democracy on the decline but not that of the U.S. for a similar point reduction is just hypocritical. I wonder if the FH governance is highly biased and determined to put down the thriving economy and growing political optics of India[2].

The Indian government has explained all baseless claims and the press has labelled the report as,” Misleading, Incorrect, and Misplaced.” However, let me offer my own views on a few allegations below.

Journalists like Zakaria chose to insinuate India’s democracy based on the toxic material in the FH Report. Let us ask why Zakaria and others failed to highlight how well India managed and survived the deadly pandemic and developed an indigenous vaccine, a strong signature of India’s R&D capability? Why they overlooked India’s magnanimity in offering the precious commodity, the COVID-19 vaccine, to other countries including Pakistan unlike the self-centred U.S. India’s longstanding belief in Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (World is One Family) was not mentioned even once in Zakaria’s reporting. Why?

Ironically, the report portrays the lockdown during pandemic negatively which was critical to minimize the infections[1]. Additionally, it discredits India for the challenges faced by the migrant workers relocating to their native towns. Did the authors of the report know about the sacrifices and generosity of people on the ground who offered food and shelter to these migrant workers? I know firsthand that my own village hosted several groups of migrant workers. I also know many teachers in the villages, where I do the charitable work through Vidya Gyan[3]. They told me too that virtually everyone was cared for and quarantined in school buildings as needed. Unfortunately, the U.S., due to poor management of the pandemic has the largest number of deaths with the population about one-fourth of India.

The report also suggests that Muslims were disproportionately blamed for the spread of the virus and faced attacks by vigilante mobs. The truth is that many Muslims were grossly misguided by their religious heads in the mosques not to follow lockdown, not to use masks and social distancing. The worst example is that as many as 2500 Tablighi were found staying as a congregation against government orders, many travelling across India and hiding in the mosques, and hundreds were arrested for violation of visa rules.

Such facts simply demonstrate that the Freedom House researchers lacked the truth, the analysts who wrote the report ignored it and/ or simply inserted their bias to malign India. One must wonder, how much did the researchers and analysts know about a given country, culture, and political climate about which they were writing? If it is their ignorance about India, it is perhaps excusable but Zakaria grew up in India and thus his biased and bigoted reporting about India is inexcusable. Was he showing his loyalty to the Western media with many journalists colluding against India?

The FH report and India

The report suggests a steady erosion of Indian democracy with mounting human rights violation and legislation leading to the stigmatization of Muslims, among many allegations and innuendoes. The Indian government has explained all baseless claims and the press has labelled the report as,” Misleading, Incorrect, and Misplaced[4].” However, let me offer my own views on a few allegations below.

The Muslims in India, recognized as a religious minority, have greater freedom, rights and privileges, and financial benefits than Hindus. They are protected as much as every other citizen under India’s constitution. The Muslim dominated Kashmir had undue special privileges for almost 70 years, but the West never raised the issue of inequality, injustice, and atrocities committed by them on minority Hindus. However, when India’s Parliament rightfully eliminated those privileges the West wrongfully calls it, “stigmatization.” Would the U.S. tolerate unequal and unjust treatment and discrimination based on religious identity?

Another legislation called the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) has been misunderstood and blown out of proportion. Many cities across the U.S. are passing resolutions against CAA and creating an unwarranted wedge between people of different religions. Such continued actions and agenda fueled by many Islamic organizations like CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations) have the potential to incite hateful treatment of Hindus in the future[5].

Likewise, the human rights violation in the report squarely stems from the failings of Amnesty International (AI) for circumventing the Ministry of Home Affairs regulation under FCRA (Foreign Currency Regulations Act) for all NGOs. I know it well because I operate an NGO myself. Reportedly, AI’s FCRA has been denied for nearly 20 years and yet it remitted foreign funds in contravention of the law. Why should India tolerate such flagrant violation by none other than AI, a watchdog agency for the human rights violation but violating foreign exchange regulations of India itself? An Indian idiom ‘chor-chor Mauser bhai’ (the thieves are co-brothers) may explain the relationship between AI and FH, both engaged in promoting anti-India propaganda and sentiments.

The best way to sum up my views on Zakaria and the allegations in the FH report is to unequivocally ask both to recognize and respect the vibrant democracy of new India. May I remind them that India has a strong potential to be an emerging economic and political powerhouse to reckon with. The “new” India of the 21st century as one nation necessitates a uniform civil code for all under one constitution. Her nearly 1.3 billion population deserve and demand respect for what and who they are, and no one should dare kick them around. India is a land of people’s democracy, development, and unity in diversity. The Western media may collude, but Indians will remain undeterred from their abiding faith and value in India’s democracy.

Note:
1. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of PGurus.

References:

[1] Democracy under Siege – Freedom House

[2] India could be back as the world’s fastest growing economy this yearMar 09, 2021, CNN

[3] Vidya Gyan – Vidya Gyan.org

[4] Freedom House report misleading, incorrect, misplaced: India on ‘partly free’ statusMar 05, 2021, The New Indian Express

[5] Council on American-Islamic Relations – CAIR.com

Vijendra Agarwal

6 COMMENTS

  1. I liked Zakaria’s reporting a while ago but I’ve become skeptical lately. I started questioning his objectivity when he brought Rana Ayuub on his show at CNN about the Delhi riots. He plugged her discredited book and allowed the spewing of ridiculous claims by his guest. At that point it was time to stop taking him seriously.

    • Zakaria has inherited a lot from his dad. Including ideology. He shows his stripes more often. BTW, nice write-up.

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