No Ms Sharma, I'm not proud to be Indian in Modi's India

Avay Shukla on his disillusionment with a journalist he once regarded as convincing and well-informed

"In the Modi years, we have lost Nepal, Sri Lanka, the Maldives, and now even Bhutan to China"
"In the Modi years, we have lost Nepal, Sri Lanka, the Maldives, and now even Bhutan to China"

Avay Shukla

I don't know what brain supplement Palki Sharma has been taking of late, some kind of Patanjali churan probably, but I would advise her to discontinue it immediately. It is detaching her from reality, causing her to hallucinate, and making her colour-blind to all hues except saffron.

Until now, I had regarded her as an articulate journalist and presenter, who did immaculate research on her subjects, and made her points convincingly. No longer, not after her sacerdotal (to the Supreme Leader) speech at the Oxford Union debate. With this one speech, she has brought herself down to the level of those despicable primetime anchors of Republic TV, Times Now, Aaj Tak and News 18.

In the year-old video which has surfaced again and made to go viral, she proclaims that she is proud of being an Indian in Modi's India, recounts his "achievements" on the economy, defence, social cohesion, federalism, freedom of speech, religion, dissent, independence of institutions and the press etc, and was duly applauded by the prime minister himself, who usually reserves such plaudits for lynch mobs, rapists, bigots, and other assorted scoundrels.

I hope she is comfortable in such company, because I would certainly not be. All that she said was a leaf from Mr Amit Malviya's Book of Lies, and it is tragic that someone like her was taken in so easily by these untruths and half truths.

No, Ms Palki Sharma, I am not proud to be an Indian in Modi's India. Of my 73 years, the first 63 were spent holding my head high as an Indian because, for all our poverty and other shortcomings, we were at least one united nation. We revelled in our diversity (notwithstanding the occasional riot or two) and our Ganga-Jamuni tehzeeb; we held fast to our principles and values, we respected the values and aspirations enshrined in our Constitution, and we did make steady progress up the economic ladder.

We were a nation respected globally, not because we were just a big market or counter-point to China, but because we were a genuine democracy which provided a moral compass and hope to the rest of the world.

The last 10 years of Mr Modi have undone all this good, painstaking work, just because a vain, semi-literate, narcissistic demagogue thinks he is bigger than all his predecessors put together; indeed, bigger than the nation. I have reason enough not to be proud of being an Indian these days. Because the proof of the pudding lies in the eating, and Ms Palki Sharma's pudding is nauseating and poisonous.

It is difficult, if not impossible, to be proud of a prime minister whose bat-like vision does not extend beyond hate for minorities, contempt for science and reason, malice towards the opposition, and whose only goal in life is to stay in office. One cannot be proud of a man utterly lacking in compassion, whose every second word is a lie, who makes a virtue of his profound ignorance and, in the best traditions of all fake godmen with which this country abounds, considers himself a messenger of God.

The summum bonum of his life is contained in just one letter, M: Muslim, mutton, macchli and mangalsutra. His language has plumbed depths never seen before of any leader, let alone a prime minister. Any civilised society would be ashamed of having a leader like him.

Our economy too, which Palki Sharma extols to the high heavens, is nothing to be proud of. Sure, it's growing, but what else would you expect of the most populous nation on earth? Even if our entire population was starving at two dollars a day (like our 220 million BPL families) we would still be a 1 trillion-dollar economy.

Every figure released by the government regarding the GDP is fudged, surveys which would say otherwise are either not conducted or kept under wraps. The real state of our economy is reflected, not in the GDP or even per capita income, but in other indicators: that 800 million people have to be given free rations, that 83 per cent of our youth are unemployed, that even IITs and IIMs are unable to place 50 per cent of their graduates, that bank deposits are falling and personal loans/debts have shown an increase of 66 per cent since 2021.

That more than 250,000 MSMEs have had to shut down, that almost 240,000 rich and educated Indians have surrendered their citizenship in the last eight years alone, that private investment has been falling every year, that 60 million people have had to return to agriculture because there are no jobs for them, that the share of manufacturing in the economy has declined to an all time low of 13 per cent of GDP.

That 1 per cent of the population owns 40 per cent of the country's wealth and 10 per cent own 70 per cent, leaving only 6 per cent for the bottom 50 per cent, making India one of the most inequitable countries in the world.

In the words of Parakala Prabhakar, Mr Modi's economic ideology is a simple one: give 5 kg of free rice to the people and five airports to his favoured cronies.

GDP growth under Modi, which most respected economists put at about 6.2 per cent and not the 7.4 per cent touted by the government, continues to lag behind the achievement of both UPA I and UPA II, and is driven not by the private sector, but by massive state expenditure on infrastructure and capital-intensive projects.

This, too, has been on the back of unsustainable borrowings — our external debt has now crossed Rs 150 lakh crore, three times what it was in 2014. The only beneficiaries of this model of economics have been the billionaires and millionaires, whose tribe continues to multiply manifold. There is little to be proud of here.

It is no surprise that, in her cloying veneration for the Modi era, Ms Sharma fails to notice the state of our institutions, their steady degeneration to become camp followers of the ruling regime. They have become instrumentalities, not of the state, but of the BJP.

One had never expected to see the three monkeys of the Mahatma resurrected in this modern era, but they have been reborn again: the CAG (comptroller and auditor general) is blind to the loot of the exchequer going on all around him, the Election Commission never speaks, the judiciary is deaf to the entreaties of civil society and citizens.

One can list out the instances where their silence, biases and helpful interpretations of the law have contributed to the hollowing out of our democracy, but that would require a whole book by itself. As Kapil Sibal has pointed out, history will judge them some day, but by then it may be too late.

The lady is at her absurd best (worst?) when she claims that India is the leader of the Global South, even as we are completely isolated on the issue of the Palestine-Israel conflict; that the world comes to us for advice, whereas the fact is that we are a perpetual fence-sitter at the United Nations, never committing ourselves to any principles or position; that we have forged close ties with our neighbours, even as in the Modi years, we have lost Nepal, Sri Lanka, the Maldives, and now even Bhutan to China; that Kashmir has never been so peaceful as after the abrogation of Article 370, whereas militancy-related deaths (of citizens, security forces and terrorists) have gone up since then.

Even our strategic "friends" — the USA, UK, Australia, Canada, Germany — have now begun to have doubts over both the internal repression in India and our gun-for-hire foreign policy. But Palki Sharma will not tell her audience these uncomfortable home truths.

Every single encomium handed out by her to the Modi government is contradicted by global surveys and indexes — Hunger Index, Press Freedom Index, Religious Freedom Index, Inequality Index, Environment Protection Index, Gender Equality Index, Electoral Democracy Index, Human Capital Index — and in all of them, we have slid down the rankings since 2014. But Ms Sharma deliberately ignores them in a speech which is more a propaganda handout by the BJP's IT cell than an address by a hitherto respected journalist. 

I doubt if any advice would make Palki Sharma change her mind, but she would do well to remember, in the slightly adapted words of George Orwell, that journalists who support politicians, impostors, thieves and traitors are not victims... but accomplices. They too shall be judged one day.

Avay Shukla is a retired IAS officer and author of Disappearing Democracy: Dismantling of a Nation and other works. He blogs at

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Published: 04 May 2024, 1:59 PM