India’s image abroad is suffering because of the narrative that Indian democracy is in peril, intolerance is growing, the minorities live in fear, lynchings are rampant, rapes are pervasive, dissent is being suppressed, media is shackled and the judiciary too, is under pressure.
Unrestrained domestic political debates have created this narrative and coloured perceptions abroad of an erosion of democracy in India. The opposition is constantly attacking the Narendra Modi government of various anti-democratic sins.
The evocative word “lynching” is bandied about as if lynchings are taking place unchecked across the country, with the authorities indifferent or ideologically complicit. No verified figures are offered because if they were it would show how limited these incidents are in number and in geographical spread. Of course, even one incident of this nature is most reprehensible, but a few cases should not give a license to create the impression that this has become the norm in a country of 1.25 billion. A sense of proportion has to be maintained, which a known business leader lost recently when, to show that he is undeterred by the so-called climate of fear in the country, chose to mix his legitimate concern about the slowdown of the economy with “lynching” while addressing the top leaders of the government publicly.
Some political leaders thoughtlessly call India the “rape capital” of the world. It is one thing to express deep personal anguish at the rash of rapes, even of minors, that gets reported daily, but to suggest that rapes in India are highest in the world is pure demagoguery. Some horrific incidents of rape like the Nirbhaya case have made our society rightly sensitive about crimes against women, but these incidents are being used for opportunistic oppositional politics to target BJP’s governance lapses as if such crimes have surfaced only after the BJP came to power. Our media, by playing up incidents of rape, no doubt to raise public awareness and press for action by governmental and judicial authorities to deal with this societal malaise more vigorously, reinforces the rape narrative. In reality, statistics (NationMaster) show that the US with one-fourth of India’s population has 15 times more rape incidents, Canada, with 37 million people has virtually an equivalent number, Germany has 5 times more, Italy 4 times, Mexico 7 times, and so on. Yet, western TV channels are calling India the rape capital of the world, taking a cue from our own leaders.
Our political class, journalists, academics, the civil society in general, continue to demonstrate how argumentative Indians are. Everything gets embroiled in a controversy, be it the Supreme Court’s judgment on Babri Masjid, the citizenship exercise in Assam on Supreme Court’s orders, the revision of Article 370, the security precautions in terrorism driven Kashmir, the Rafale contract, the change in the GDP calculation method, demonetisation, GST, the proposal to create a National Register of Citizens, and so on. Fascism, Hitler and Mussolini like, genocide, evil, are epithets used for describing the policies of the Narendra Modi government, with the RSS constantly reviled.
Many Muslim political figures attack the government freely on TV. They and leaders like Owaisi do not seem to live in fear, nor those conservative Muslims who are seeking a review of the Supreme Court’s unanimous judgment on the Babri Masjid case, ignoring the sentiments of the majority community. When a leftist historian of repute says provocatively that in destroying the Babri Masjid a civilisation has been destroyed, clearly dissent is not being suppressed.
Anyone who watches the raucous TV debates in India, with unfettered attacks on the ruling party, would hardly conclude that the media is shackled. The media is more polarised than in the past, but then one has to look at the American media to understand that such a phenomenon is not alien to democracy.
Time to change
It is particularly unfortunate that our own political commentators, journalists, writers and academics have knowingly contributed to tarnishing India’s image abroad on issues of human rights violations in Kashmir, the anti-Muslim thrust of the proposed National Register of Citizens, with prospects of hapless Muslims herded in detention camps, and so on. They offer gloom-ridden stories to the western liberal press, which, given its traditional biases against India, publishes some. A most recent nonsensical one in The New York Times from a Bengali writer castigates Narendra Modi personally for creating a category of Hindus in the country that did not exist before— a meat-eating one- and she is now afraid to eat meat at some places, she claims, forgetting that fish-eating West Bengal consumes around 2 crore kg of broiler meat every week. The same set of people then bemoan India’s degraded image abroad, with hearings in the US Congress and Scandinavian leaders with no experience of governing large, diverse and divided societies lecturing us gratuitously on human rights in Kashmir.
That we are the world’s largest democracy is not an excuse for fostering self-degrading false narratives, creating a miasma around minority persecution, demonising “Hindu nationalism”, opposing long-delayed hard internal decisions, and questioning any robust defence of our national interest.
India, economic downturn, intolerance, rape, Kashmir, communal violence, lynching, media, babri masjid