Western media: Don’t shoot the messenger

BJP politicians castigate the western media for anti-Indian bias, accusing people with a colonial mindset of thwarting India’s rise. BJP vice-president Jay Panda, has bashed them saying, “The western media’s abandonment of objectivity in the pursuit of a preset narrative and the cognitive dissonance in ignoring India’s progress is galling… Global media coverage of India is broadly negative, with barely any acknowledgement that some good might be happening here…A prominent New York-based publication, for instance, routinely indulges in India bashing and doesn’t even bother to cloak its bias…If the stench of a colonial hangover is to be overcome, it is time for global liberals to take a more balanced view. ”

I can vouch for Jay Panda’s intellectual clarity and common sense, but after joining the BJP — he used to be with the Biju Janata Dal— he has joined this chorus. Let’s face it, journals like The New York Times (NYT) and The Economist are famous and respected because they have among the highest media standards. That indeed is why criticism from them hurts. They have bestowed high praise on India if due. In this column, there is space for only a few examples.
On March 29, The Economist sang high praises. “If you are looking for growth opportunities among the world’s 20 biggest economies, two stand out: India and Indonesia… India has 108 “unicorn” businesses (i. e. , valued at over $1bn), more than any other country except America and China…. Ultimately, with its deeper private sector and capital markets India is likely to continue to grow faster. ”
Another Economist article on March 13 was titled “India is getting an eye-wateringly big transport upgrade. ” It said, “The country is experiencing an infrastructural makeover on a scale unprecedented outside China…The pace of the buildout is remarkable… Mr Modi’s faith in the transformative power of new transport infrastructure is well judged. ”

At the same time, The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index shows India slipping from 27th position in 2014 to 46th in 2022 and falling from ‘full democracy’ status to ‘flawed democracy’. Other democracy indices by Freedom House, V-Dem and the Fraser Institute show the same deterioration. The EIU shows India as the most democratic nation in Asia save Malaysia. That is hardly biased.

The New York Times has castigated the violation of human rights in India, but also praised positive developments. An article on April 19 was titled ‘Will this be the Indian century?’ It says India having “far and away the world’s biggest workforce is leading some to hope for an ‘Indian century’ in the making”.

An NYT article on September 22, 2022, was headlined, ‘From the US to China, Major Economies Are Stalling. But Not India’. It said “as economic growth slows sharply, with many major economies gripped with worries of recession, there has been a conspicuous exception: India. ”

Nicholas Kristof, NYT columnist, wrote on ‘Can India Change the World?’ He cited Bob Sternfels of McKinsey, “I fully believe this can be not just India’s decade, but also India’s century…India is on track for unprecedented economic growth that will allow it to leapfrog Japan and Germany. ”

Columnist Lydia Polgreen wrote on February 8 in NYT: “But now it appears that the time has finally arrived: India is indeed the nation of the moment. It is a critical player in just about every major issue facing the planet. Its economy is now bigger than that of the country that colonised it, making it the fifth largest in the world. It is expected to outrank China in population this year if it hasn’t already. The Ukraine crisis has shown how desperately great powers around the world want to count on it as an ally…Apple reportedly plans to make up to a quarter of its iPhones in India — a huge endorsement of the country’s growing technology manufacturing prowess. ” She cited Fareed Zakaria as saying that India “might be the most optimistic country in the world right now. ”

Kristof, Polgreen and Zakaria have lambasted India when they think fit. But these remarks show they are not anti-Indian westerners plotting to sully India.

The BJP may not like these critics but that does not make them white racists. In the US, Kamala Harris is vice president and two Republican contenders for President are Nikki Haley and Vivek Ramaswamy. British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is a Hindu. His cabinet members include Priti Patel, Suella Braverman and Kwasi Kwarteng, all people of colour. Humza Yousaf heads the Scottish National Party. The mayor of London is Sadiq Khan. Jay, can you seriously say these are countries with a colonial racist mindset?

This article was originally published by The Times of India on April 23, 2023.

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