When one reads the article titled ‘Can the World’s Largest Democracy Endure Another Five Years of a Modi Government?’ published in the American weekly magazine TIME (9 May 2019), one is reminded of Mahatma Gandhi’s comments on the book authored by Kathrine Mayo in 1927 which was written solely with the aim of demeaning Hinduism and India. Gandhi described it as ‘the report of a drain inspector”. The same can be said of the article in the TIME authored by Aatish Tasreer, a journalist of Pakistani descent – a country that harbours hostility against India.
The article seems to be a part of the overall strategy crafted by Modi’s rival party – the left-backed Congress Party –the sole aim of which is to dent Modi’s image. The Congress eco-system within the country and overseas as well as India’s enemy country, are working overtime in a last bid effort to stop Modi from getting a second term as elections enter the last and the remaining 7th phase. Recent months have seen that anti-Modi articles abound (for example, the Economist editorial or the Conversation podcast series), and the article in the TIME fuels that strategy. We first consider the image that Modi has built over the last five years and thereafter the strategy being used to dent it.
In his five-year tenure, Modi emerged as a world leader as evidenced by award of the prestigious Seoul Peace Prize for international cooperation and fostering global growth. Furthermore, Muslim countries of the world such as Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Palestine, and Afghanistan have conferred their highest civilian honour on Modi. He also bagged Russia’s highest civilian honour, UN Earth Award, and Phillip Kotler Award, among others.
On the domestic front, according to the World Bank, India is world’s fastest growing major economy, and will achieve a growth of 7.3% in 2018-19 surpassing China. India’s per capita real GDP and the growth in GDP increased at a faster rate under Modi than that under the left-backed Congress regime. Price rise is under control with the headline Consumer Price Index at 2.86% (in UPA regime inflation was double digit) and FX reserves stood at a healthy USD 424 billion (against USD 304 billion under UPA). Furthermore, Modi Care – world’s biggest health care scheme – covers half the population of India especially the poor. He has also built 90 million toilets, empowering women. India had the dubious distinction of being a world leader in open defecation. The safe sanitation which stood at 38% (2014) now stands at 98% (2019). In addition, 60 million poor families were provided cooking gas connection, and 15 million homes were built for the poor. The push for infrastructure development, Rs 6,000 direct income support to poor farmers, world’s largest crop-insurance scheme for farmers and Jan Dhan bank accounts for all – making it world’s largest financial inclusion scheme – are some of the other monumental achievements of Modi government. His Balakot airstrikes and diplomatic success of getting Masood Azhar declared as global terrorist by UNSC also enhanced his stature as a tough leader. Importantly, his government’s scam-free record stands in stark contrast to the scam ridden government of the left-backed Congress Party. In sum, in 55 months Modi could show case many achievements compared to the left-backed Congress Party’s 55 years rule. Obviously, the rival parties can’t fight election on performance outcomes. Attempts to malign Modi on the Rafale deal miserably failed as the highest court of the land gave Modi government a clean chit. Consequently, spreading canards against him remains the only weapon in the hands of opposition parties to take on Modi.
Strategies to dent Modi’s image
The main points of attack used by the TIME magazine echo the arguments of the opposition parties in India. These points are without any substance can easily be seen from below analysis.
Democracy is under threat
Interestingly the charge is made without specifically pointing out which of the five main or sixteen sub-attributes as per the international framework for assessing democracies are under threat. National and subnational elections are being held on time by the independent Election Commission, law and order is generally fine barring some aberrations, which in a country of 1.30 billion can’t be avoided altogether, media is free, opposition parties are strong enough to disallow the Parliament from functioning and there are no major allegations of financial wrongdoing or otherwise against the Modi government.
Minorities are under threat
When the opposition parties refer to minorities, they specifically refer to the Muslims- who constitute the second largest majority (14.23% as per 2011 census) or the Christians which is the third largest (2.3%). It is only these two groups which clamour that minorities are under attack. The other micro-minorities like Sikhs (1.72%), Buddist (0.70%), Jains (0.37%) and others such as Parsi and Jews (0.66%) have no issues and are enmeshed with Indian culture happily. The Muslims and Christians are proselytizing religions while all others including the Hindus are not. In more than 200 out of 543 Parliament constituencies Muslim vote matters. Consequently, no political party, including Modi’s BJP, can afford to alienate the Muslims. The left-backed Congress Party nourished them as its vote bank over the last 70 odd years. Fear mongering about the BJP and RSS was the principal weapon used by the Congress to woe Muslim voters. But this traditional vote bank of the Congress got disenchanted with it after the Sacchar Committee Report found that the Congress payed only lip sympathy and have not improved the lot of ordinary Muslims. The disillusioned Muslims voted in large numbers for the BJP in 2014 elections.
To woe Muslim voters back, a fabricated story is being pushed that the Muslims are under threat. For the purpose, cow-related lynching incidents are cited. However, they hide the fact that the infamous Akhlaq lynching took place in the Uttar Pradesh State when the pro-Muslim Samajwadi Party was ruling. Sharma (2019) provides in-depth analysis of the problem and correctly points out that it is not a cow vigilante-Muslim lynching problem but a ‘mob justice-meat mafia’ problem.
It is also important to note that during Modi’s 12-year tenure in Gujarat as Chief Minister and his five-year tenure as Prime Minister, no major communal riot has taken place. Congress Party rule was marred my massive communal riots.
Modi’s policy has been Sabka Sath Sabka Vikas (with the cooperation of all, development of all). Modi often tells in his interviews to the media that when he builds infrastructure such as roads or provides electricity to all villages and all households, or when housing is provided to the poor, no discrimination is made on community basis. When Modi rescued Indians trapped in Yemen, most were Muslims. Similarly, the Christian Archbishop was rescued by Modi government. Of course, the opposition parties and their committed journalists and intellectuals would like to push such facts under the carpet as it doesn’t serve their agenda.
Dalits live under threat
The case of Dalits is no different from that of the minorities. They constitute 20% of the total votes. Like the communal divide, the Congress provided fodder for the caste-based divide as per its policy of ‘divide Hindus and unite Muslims’. Horrific caste-based violence has taken place during Congress regime. Over the years, political parties have mushroomed in India on caste lines, for example, Laloo Prasad Yadav’s Party in Bihar or Mayawati’s Party in Uttar Pradesh or the DMK in Tamil Nadu.
Modi, an astute leader, rose above the caste/communal lines by focussing on development and good governance. He himself comes from the category of other backward class (OBC).
As a quarter of the Dalits voted for the BJP in 2014, the Congress Party became nervous. To woe them back, the party and the anti-Modi overseas eco-system that supports it, prominently displayed news about atrocities on the Dalits. The author of the TIME article cites one such incident in the state of Gujarat which also made international news. In the instant case, the culprits have been arrested and will face the law. While such stray incidents are highlighted to show case atrocities on Dalits to put the gun on Modi, when a Dalit women was gang-raped recently in the Congress party ruled Rajasthan state, international media ignored it.
Women under threat
Probably, not satisfied with the Muslim and Dalit Card, the TIME’s author uses one more card – women – which constitute half of the votes! The author cites Thomson Reuters report which found that India was most dangerous place for women. But the survey findings are flawed and have been rebutted with appropriate statistics by Kalesan and Rajendran (2018). But the author is not interested in ‘facts’, is he??
Rural women get attacked when they must go for toilet in the open. Consequently, Modi embarked on a massive program of toilet construction whereunder, as stated earlier, 90 million toilets were constructed. The Asian Review found that, despite some weaknesses, it was the World’s biggest toilet-building project to empower India’s women. But the author ignores this information. Modi also brought an ordinance against instant divorce to empower Muslim women, contrast this with the Shah Bano case where a Muslim woman was denied maintenance, by Congress party, by bringing a law, despite a court verdict in her favour. The measures taken by Modi to connect 60 million households with cooking gas connection were also to save, among others, women from the smoke they inhaled everyday by burning coal to cook. Overall, only 130 million households had LPG gas connection till 2014 but in four years Modi provided whopping 100 million additional connections.
A few other issues are also raised by The TIME author to arrive at his pre-determined conclusion. He criticises demonetisation, though the International Monetary Fund says it will considerably benefit India in the long term. The measure got thumbs up from India’s masses as demonstrated by the elections in the State of Uttar Pradesh that followed within months of demonetisation with Modi’s BJP winning 75% of the assembly seats. He castigates Yogi Adityanath for inflammatory statements but forgets that a former Minister in Akhilesh Yadav government, Azam Khan was recently penalised by the Election Commission for making inflammatory statements. Similarly, a senior congress functionary who said that Modi need to be cut to pieces was promoted by the Congress Party. A Hyderabad based Muslim leader publicly said that remove the police and we will kill 100 crore Hindus. Would such statements make a reasonable person believe that Muslims are defenseless in India as the author claims? He also hides from readers the fact that in the Muslim majority J&K state, anywhere between 100,000-200,000 Kashmiri Hindus were forced to flee. He writes about majoritarianism, but what one saw in India during the last 70 odd years of Congress Party rule was a tyranny of the minorities. He conveniently forgets that a minority Sikh community party -the Akali Dal– is part of the coalition government that Modi heads and continues to be in the Modi’s National Democratic Alliance. Furthermore, Modi’s BJP ran a coalition government in J&K with the Peoples Democratic Party headed by Mehbooba Mufti. Consequently, his statement that minorities of every stripe are under assault under Modi is simply hogwash.
He notes that India’s places of learning have been hollowed out but doesn’t tell us why only left-wing academics need to monopolize such institutions to push their brand of ideology as has been the case in the last 70 odd years of Congress Party rule? He notes that India is going on the path of anti-intellectualism citing the Ganesha head transplant example of Modi to suggest that ancient India may have known plastic surgery. Has the author read the article of Dr Vibha Singh on Sushruta, the 600 BCE surgeon whose statue adorns the Royal College of Surgeons in Melbourne?. He will also do well to read the article by Yates (2017) how ancient India changed the world of mathematics or for that matter the ancient Indian health science of Ayurveda and Yoga.
The TIME’s author, laments that in Modi’s India, the existing order of things has passed away. But the question is, did the status quo deliver desired outcomes in the 70 years? The left-wing intellectuals, and pampered minorities that held hostage majority Indians with blessings of the government in power, are finding it hard to adjust to the new order as entitlements don’t just flow to them -something that they were used to all these years.
Consequently, as the old order crumbles, for them, Modi becomes the villain. The TIME needs to know that times have changed, and its credibility comes under question when it publishes articles such as this.
 [International IDEA]. International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance. 2017. The Global State of Democracy: Exploring Democracy’s resilience, International IDEA, Sweden.
Featured Image: Sakshi
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Milind Sathye is an Australian academic.