The Modi Victory — The Best Sweet Revenge

By Kollengode S Venkataraman,

Narendra Modi won a super-duper majority any which way one dices India’s national election results of 2019. And he did this despite all projections and a strenuous campaign by media — particularly the English media in India and outside India. This English media — not the Indian regional languages media — was shocked at the level of widespread support for Modi and the total rejection of the combined opposition by voters. Finally, the Indian communists, still wedded to Marxism three decades after it was abandoned by China and Russia (their spiritual masters), received a humiliating body blow.

Given how complex India is in every social, geographic, economic, ethnic, linguistic, religion-based criterion anyone could ever come up with, this is a remarkable success with SIX HUNDRED MILLION voters going to the polls.  In many parts, it was summer, with temperatures over 105 F (40 Celsius). It is impossible for most editorial writers of the world sitting in air-conditioned rooms to comprehend how diverse and complex India is, and how comprehensive Modi’s support was in this election.

The global and Indian English media, by choosing to selectively listen and write to their English-speaking elite audience, completely missed the pulse of the ordinary Indian voters living outside the boundaries of Mumbai, Delhi and other large cities. Ved Mehta, a well-known English writer and editor said something like this on the Indian elitist media: They are like corks floating on turbulent waters, believing that they are making the waves.

How did this happen? Let me start with the local. The Post-Gazette reprinted Emily Schmall’s AP story with this title: Modi’s Hindu-nationalist BJP heads for a landslide victory in India’s elections.

Schmall writes, “The victory in India was widely seen as a referendum on Mr. Modi’s Hindu-first politics that some observers say have bred intolerance toward Muslims and other religious minorities, as well as his muscular stance on neighboring Pakistan, with whom India nearly went to war earlier this year.”  What are the names and affiliations of, at least,  some of those whom she refers to as “some observers”?

Incidentally, it is no coincidence that American or UK media, particularly print media, always mention Modi with the self-serving and self-fulfilling epithets like “Fundamentalist,” “Polarizing,” “Hindu,” “Nationalist,” “Right Wing” or other pejorative qualifiers. The Indian English media also uses these condescending phrases: “Saffron Brigade,” “Cow Belt,” and “Sangh Parivar.”  Will they ever dare to routinely use similar pejorative terms like “Red Brigade,” “Comrade Gang,” “Marxist mafia,” and other phrases for communists, and similar phrases for the Congress Party? Here are other examples of the mocking use of pejorative terms:

1. The Economist, May 2, 2019 article before the elections titled Agent Orange — Under Narendra Modi, India’s ruling party poses a threat to democracy. It gave this unsolicited advice: “Voters should turf it out, or at least force it to govern in coalition.” The phrase Agent Orange in the caption is enough to tell The Economist’s bias. For readers who do not know, Agent Orange is dioxin, a carcinogenic defoliant the US army sprayed extensively all over Vietnam in the 1960s and 70s in its war to destroy the thick forests which were the Vietcong’s hold outs. The website states this on Agent Orange: “While scientists debate over who was exposed to Agent Orange/dioxin… … the fact [is] that… several million Vietnamese were exposed over a period of at least a decade to [dioxin]… …” Thousands of children were born with severe birth defects to women who ingested this deadly defoliant.  In today’s world, this would have amounted to a war crime.

And The Economist had the gall to flippantly compare Modi and the BJP to Agent Orange. There was not a whimper from the elite Indian English media on this outrageous phrase used by the influential UK weekly.

2. Bloomberg News’ Mihir Sharma (May 27, 2019) title: Modi’s Win Is a Populist Warning to the World, with this opening paragraph: “It’s a terrible feeling to discover that your country is full of strangers. For some in India, the election of Narendra Modi in 2014, with a majority that India hadn’t seen in three decades, was that moment. … It meant that far more Indians than imaginable were willing to trust a leader with so disquieting a record.”  The “some in India” are the India’s anglicized elite living in denial in their own exclusive enclaves.

The Week magazine’s Damon Linker (May 21, 2019): Democracy isn’t dying. Liberalism is “[T]his week, voters… … in EU parliamentary elections could deliver a quarter or more of the seats to the continent’s right-wing populists and nationalists. Meanwhile, exit polls in India suggest that Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist party will win re-election when results are announced on May 23…”

Foreign Affairs, April 11, 2019 Gurucharan Das title for the article was this: The Modi Mirage. The title alone says it all.

One wonders if they would dare to routinely use such pejorative terms “Fundamentalist,” “Polarizing,” “Christian,” “Nationalist,” “Right Wing,” “Bible-Thumping” and others for the GOP, which is essentially dominated by right-wing, flag-waving Red-White-and-Blue Nationalists, including even those waving Confederate flags.  Rural, working class, less-educated Christian Fundamentalists, Evangelicals, and Baptists are crucial components in the GOP’s vote-bank political calculus.

To a great extent, the American Democratic Party is “Nationalist” and “Christian” as well, with Catholics, Blacks, Hispanics, newer immigrants, and liberal Jews, Asians and Indians forming a big part of its vote bank.

The fact is, to varying degrees, all political parties all over the world create and sustain, and depend on the locally relevant vote banks to win elections. The Congress Party in India, over the decades, has mastered the vote-bank politics by appeasing minorities, exploiting their insecurities and fragmenting the Hindus along caste lines. So, the global media is disingenuous in trying to isolate and portray BJP as the only culprit.

Besides, politicians in the US prominently project themselves on TV screens during campaigns as pious Christians going with their spouses to Sunday church services. They routinely declare the Christian denominations they belong to. The media routinely asks how the candidates’ religious beliefs would influence their political decisions if they are elected. This places the Jewish, Mormon, and Muslim candidates  —  not to speak of the polytheistic idol-worshipping Hindu candidates — under a cloud, forcing them to explain and defend their faith and justify their candidacy for elective offices.

Remember, John F. Kennedy was the first Irish-heritage Catholic US president (1961-63), elected 185 years after the republic was formed in 1776.  And it took another 48 years, or 215 years after July 1776 for the US to get a Black president in the personage of Barack Obama.

The US news weekly Time, once a flagship among the US news weeklies, barely exists in today’s newsstands. Before the 2019 Indian election, Time ran a story captioned “India’s Divider in Chief” cynically portraying Modi on its cover page, written by Aatish Taseer, who was born in London and educated in exclusive schools in India before moving to the U.S. for his university education. His Wikipedia profile says, “He divides his time between New Delhi and London.” So, I maybe forgiven if I surmise that he may not know India’s complexities by living in Delhi during his sojourns, nor may he understand the UK by living in metropolitan London.

In the UK’s context, the entire city of London is a gated community with exclusive enclaves, where the London elites live among the Middle eastern Sheikhs, Chinese/Indian tycoons, Russian oligarchs and others.  These exclusive Londoners have their own values, priorities and culture, cut off from the other hoi polloi Londoners, not to speak of the those in the UK’s hinterland.

This prototype exists in every nation’s capital or big metro areas like Shanghai, Hong Kong, Mumbai, Munich…  In New Delhi, they are the Delhi Lutyens, and lately Delhi’s Khan Market Gang. A ton of their exploits are available on the Internet. Today, the Lutyens are no more Delhi-specific. The term has become a metaphor for all elite and exclusive power-brokers in Indian politics wherever they live.

Taseer, who wrote the Time article deriding Modi, is the son of Talveen Singh, a columnist in The Indian Express and Salmaan Taseer, the Pakistani politician and businessman. Talveen Singh, by her own admission (see, was raised in the Lutyen’s Delhi. So, Aatish Taseer has been hopping from one exclusive neighborhood in London to another in New Delhi. Obviously, he is no Naipaul.

Then, to soften the blow and to appear fair, in the same issue, Time balanced Taseer’s vitriol on Modi by running another story by Ian Bremmer, with the title, “Modi Is India’s Best Hope for Economic Reform.“  Bremmer is Time’s Foreign Affairs Columnist and Editor-at-Large.

The Indian Brown Saheb English media (both in print and on TV), as expected, lapped up Taseer’s story, giving it wide coverage, implying how bad Modi is, now that even Time — yes, goodness gracious, THE Time — has given its verdict on him even before the election. The Indian English media did not give Bremmer’s story even a tenth of coverage it gave to Taseer’s venom on Modi. This is no accident. The Indian English media folks have vested interest in cultivating on first-name basis Taseer and other writers bearing Indian names (Pankaj Misra, Salman Rushdie, Amartya Sen, Tunku Varadarajan, for example) living in London, New York, Washington DC, California, and other places.

Then after Modi’s landslide victory, the same Time magazine, to recover its integrity — and relevance in the English-reading media world all around the globe — published another story titled “Modi Has United India Like No Prime Minister in Decades,” by Manoj Ladwa, who worked for the Modi campaign in 2014.

But the self-inflicted damage was done both for Time and its surrogates running the English media in India. Indian English Media, which only a fortnight ago gave wide coverage to the Time’s “Divider in Chief” article, made an abrupt U-turn and had a field day berating Time.

One only hopes that the Indian Brown Saheb English media owners, managers, and editors will learn their lesson. But one can never be sure. The wannabe Indian Goras’ lack of self-confidence on account of their lack of awareness of India’s ethos runs very, very deep.  ♠


  1. No comments yet.

You must be logged in to post a comment.