‘The Economist’ says under Modi, BJP a threat to democracy

A look at international media shows the rising concern with which the failures and ‘recklessness’ of the Modi Government is being viewed

Economist, Guardian, NYT, Le Monde, BBC mastheads
Economist, Guardian, NYT, Le Monde, BBC mastheads

Ashis Ray

The Economist, one of the world’s most respected international current affairs publications, had in 2014 deemed it fit to endorse the Congress in the Indian general election. Voters in India obviously ignored the appeal.

This time it hasn’t traversed that far; but sees the current contest as a “struggle for India’s soul”. In the latest leader the headline declares that under Modi, India’s ruling party poses a threat to democracy. A perceptive observer pointed out the following adjectives and verbs used in the leader: despicable, dangerous, brutal, disaster, alienating, bullying, controlling, hounding, impetuous, wayward, excessive, flamethrower.

It has added, “Mr Modi’s strident brand of Hindu nationalism, which pictures Pakistan less as a strategic opponent than a threat to civilisation, puts him at the fringe even of his own Bharatiya Janata Party,” adding that now “the Hindutva movement faces a moment of reckoning”.

BBC, historically a highly regarded global broadcaster, recently headlined on its website, “Rahul Gandhi: Can India’s Congress leader unseat PM Modi?” It went on to say, “He has energised a struggling Congress party and increasingly set the agenda with a combative campaign” and that furthermore, “Mr Gandhi started to emerge from the shadows, his social media campaigns became smarter and he began arguing convincingly about the government’s controversial currency ban, lack of employment opportunities, growing intolerance in the country and the slowdown in the economy.”

Financial Times is Britain’s leading business daily and one of the topmost anywhere. Its coverage of India is erudite and extensive. Its header claimed, “Narendra Modi cannot take backing of Indian business for granted.”

Referring to Mukesh Ambani’s endorsement of the South Mumbai Congress candidate Milind Deora, the paper described this as “particularly striking to those who had perceived strong ties between the Reliance Industries chairman and Prime Minister Narendra Modi”. It also maintained relying on opinion polls “is dangerous in a country with 900m eligible voters” and underlined, “one of the most vital challenges facing Mr Modi’s government is the dire state of the country’s state-owned banks, which account for two-thirds of national banking assets and have been hamstrung for several years by a mass of non-performing corporate loans.”

In the left-of-centre The Guardian newspaper Rupert Gethin, professor of Buddhist studies at Bristol University, cited “A lesson in religious tolerance from ancient India”.

He continued, “One of the earliest examples of a state attempting to promote the ideal of religious tolerance comes from ancient India. In the middle of the third century BCE, Ashoka, the ruler of what at that time was one of the largest empires in the world, had the following inscribed at various sites across his kingdom: ‘The king…honours all religious sects…with gifts and with honours of various kinds. But he does not value gifts or honour as much as the promotion of the essentials of all religious sects. The root of this is guarding one’s speech so that neither praising one’s own sect nor blaming others’ sects should occur on improper occasions; and it should be moderate on every occasion. And others’ sects should be honoured on every occasion.’ The context was clear for the discerning.

Across the Atlantic Ocean, The New York Times ran a piece under the heading, “India’s Election Season, a Bombing Interrupts Modi’s Slump.” It assessed that Modi “seemed surprisingly vulnerable going into his re-election campaign” and suggested that “one bombing in Kashmir, and weeks of military brinkmanship with Pakistan afterward, appears to have interrupted Mr Modi’s slump”.

It then drove home a point, “From the outside, Mr Modi was widely criticised as being willing to risk war for even the chance at a political boost. And when an Indian pilot was captured in Pakistani territory – and was then quickly returned in a god-optics moment for Pakistan – some international analysts thought Mr Modi’s military adventurism had backfired.”

“In the world’s biggest election,” a Washington Post banner said, “India’s Narendra Modi pushes fear over hope”. Mentioning Modi’s promise of transforming India, it reported, “Five years later, those lofty expectations have not been met. The economy is expanding but not creating enough jobs, while farmers are struggling with debt and rising costs.” It also stressed, “It is not clear whether India hit anything in the airstrikes (on Balakot) or if its missiles caused any casualties.”

Across the English Channel, in a blog in France’s widely applauded daily, Le Monde, the renowned economist Thomas Piketty – who was consulted for Congress’ NYAY pledge in its manifesto - wrote, “This system would apply to the poorest 20% of Indians. The cost would be significant (a little over 1% of GDP) but not prohibitive.”

In general, he argued, “Fundamentally, the real issue at stake in this election is the constitution in India of a left-wing coalition, both egalitarian and multi-cultural, the only coalition capable of beating the pro-business and anti-Muslim nationalism of BJP." He charged, “Modi is massively funded by Indian big business, in a country which is well-known for its total absence of regulation in this respect.”

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Published: 03 May 2019, 1:43 PM