With the election in the largest democracy in the world, coming to a close and the world is awaiting for the crucial results to the Indian Parliament, the media, across the world, is filled with avidity, giving all sorts of analysis and predicting the outcomes. This election is witnessing a headstrong fight between the Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the other opposition parties. While the Congress is trying hard to regain its lost ground, the ‘mahagathbandhan’ (grand alliance), dominated by Akhilesh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party (SP) and Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), has been formed, leaving behind their old rivalry, sheerly to ouster Modi.
Media is playing a very significant role in this election along with allegations of being biased and spreading fake news. Even the global media is intently watching the turnarounds in this election. While Modi is being applauded for improving India’s global status and developing bonhomie with the superpowers, the international media is not all praise for the PM.
Some portions of the media are calling Modi an autocratic leader with his only objective being that of imposing his party’s Hindutva ideology on our secular nation while some are portraying him as the only beacon of home.
American news magazine Time has featured Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the cover page of its May 20 issue with a headline that may create controversy across India amid the election season. The headline reads “India’s Divider in Chief” that is and carries a caricature of the Prime Minister criticizing Modi.
This title pertains to the article in the magazine, written by Aatish Taseer with the headline “Can the World’s Largest Democracy Endure Another Five Years of a Modi Government?”
The write up compares former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s idea of secularism with the prevailing social “stress” under Modi,” the article read. Besides, the article has also recalled the Gujarat riots that allegedly claimed lives of scores of people.
It is not the first time when the magazine has come with critical commentary about Modi. In its published article in 2012, the magazine described him as a controversial, ambitious and a shrewd politician.
Referring to the 2014 victory, Taseer writes, “The nation’s most basic norms, such as the character of the Indian state, its founding fathers, the place of minorities and its institutions, from universities to corporate houses to the media, were shown to be severely distrusted. The cherished achievements of independent India–secularism, liberalism, a free press–came to be seen in the eyes of many as part of a grand conspiracy in which a deracinated Hindu elite, in cahoots with minorities from the monotheistic faiths, such as Christianity and Islam, maintained its dominion over India’s Hindu majority.
Modi’s victory was an expression of that distrust. He attacked once unassailable founding fathers, such as Nehru, then sacred state ideologies, such as Nehruvian secularism and socialism; he spoke of a “Congress-free” India; he demonstrated no desire to foster brotherly feeling between Hindus and Muslims. Most of all, his ascension showed that beneath the surface of what the elite had believed was a liberal syncretic culture, India was indeed a cauldron of religious nationalism, anti-Muslim sentiment and deep-seated caste bigotry.”
Paradoxically, in the same magazine, there was another article titled, ‘Modi Is India’s Best Hope for Economic Reform,’ wherein the writer, Ian Bremmer, praises Modi for his bold and much-needed reforms like the Goods and Services Tax (GST) and the biometric identification system- the Aadhar card, strengthening international ties, uplifting the poor through welfare schemes like Ujjwala Yojana and Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, among others. “.. India still needs change, and Modi remains the person most likely to deliver. He has improved relations with China, the U.S. and Japan, but it’s his domestic development agenda that has done the most to improve the lives and prospects of hundreds of millions of people. Consider what he’s already accomplished during five years in charge,” the article read.
In an Opinion article, titled, ‘Modi Reminds India of Indira Gandhi. Will He Share Her Electoral Fate?’ published in The New York Times on May 8, the writer, Gyan Prakash, draws parallels between Modi and the former PM Indira Gandhi based on their autocratic form of ruling. The writer even goes on to say that the election results will show whether the public continues to accept an autocratic ruler or removes him like Indira Gandhi was defeated in the 1977 elections post-emergency. He further accuses Modi of destabilizing the democratic institutions.
Prakash writes, “Mr. Modi has ruled India with the iron will reminiscent of Mrs. Gandhi. He brooks no dissent and projects the personality cult of a strong Hindu nationalist warrior combating the nation’s internal and external enemies with “surgical strikes….While Mrs. Gandhi resorted to emergency rule to survive a political crisis, Mr. Modi’s regime thrives on Hindu majoritarian militancy. He stokes majoritarian resentments against the minorities to further his rule. Dissent is denounced as treason, and Hindu nationalists deride critics as elites guilty of “rootless cosmopolitanism.”
He further writes, “Riding to power in 2014 with an overwhelming majority for his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, Mr. Modi quickly moved to centralize power. His government bypassed the Parliament and issued ordinances to advance his policies. Civil society organizations have faced investigations. Unqualified Hindu nationalists were foisted on educational and cultural institutions. A law was instituted to exert greater control over the appointment of judges.”
In an interview, with the Financial Times’ South Asia Bureau Chief Amy Kazmin and South Asia Correspondent, Stephanie Findlay, discuss the 2019 elections. They start the interview by saying, “India’s election has turned into an ideological battle pitting an inclusive vision of a multi-faith nation against the view that Hindus should have sway.” They even talk about how the 2014 election was fought on the promise of economic development which clearly wasn’t fulfilled. Thus, Modi is fighting the 2019 elections on the basis of national security, by creating an atmosphere of threat and promising that the Modi-led government will protect India as it did through the Uri and Balakot strikes. They have further accused Modi of playing the Hindu nationalism card to seek re-election.
Though the global media is divided in its opinion about Modi and his re-election, one thing which is common across all the sections is the lack of alternate leader for the Indian voters which gives Modi an upper hand in this fierce battle. Taseer rightly says, “Modi is lucky to be blessed with so weak an opposition–a ragtag coalition of parties, led by the Congress, with no agenda other than to defeat him.”
This election has become a fight to uphold our Constitutional principles and our democratic institutions. It is a battle to ensure that religion doesn’t overtake the ideals of justice and equality for all. As rightly described by Prakash, “With an authoritarian, hyper nationalist warrior asking for their support, Indian voters are tasked with making a consequential choice for India’s future. As B.R. Ambedkar, the great Dalit leader and the architect of India’s Constitution, once remarked, Indians were particularly susceptible to “bhakti,” or devotion. This was fine in religion, but in politics, he warned, it is “a sure road to degradation and eventual dictatorship.”
Taseer argues that To understand the deeper promptings of this enormous expression of franchise – not just politics, but the underlying cultural fissures – one needs to go back to the first season of the Modi story because only then “one can see why the advent of Modi is “at once an inevitability and a calamity for India.”
He says the India offers a unique glimpse into “both the validity and the fantasy of populism” and “forces us to reckon with how in India, as well as in societies as far apart as Turkey and Brazil, Britain and the U.S., populism has given voice to a sense of grievance among majorities that is too widespread to be ignored, while at the same time bringing into being a world that is neither more just, nor more appealing.”
But Taseer notes that Modi is lucky to be blessed with so weak an opposition – a ragtag coalition of parties, led by the Congress, with no agenda other than to defeat him. Even so, doubts assail him, for he must know he has not delivered on the promise of 2014.
“It is why he has resorted to looking for enemies within. Like other populists, he sits in his white house tweeting out his resentment against the sultanate of “them. And, as India gets ready to give this willful provincial, so emblematic of her own limitations, a second term, one cannot help but tremble at what he might yet do to punish the world for his own failures,” he says.
The article also recalled the Gujarat riots of 2002. Taseer describes Modi’s record on women’s issues as “spotty” and calls Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Adityanath a “hate-mongering priest in robes of saffron”.
In the wake of the article, reactions on social media were galore with people commenting in favor or against Modi depending on their political persuasions with some calling it a biased article against Modi’s popular government while others welcoming it as an objective thoughtful essay on the divisive politics of the Modi era.