The US-based TIME magazine has created an uproar in India with a cover story on Prime Minister Narendra Modi with the headline, “India’s Divider in Chief.” Secondarily, the cover of the international edition of TIME has an article, “Modi the Reformer.” This, at a time when two phases of the Lok Sabha election in the country are still pending. Aatish Taseer, son of Indian journalist Tavleen Singh and late Pakistani politician and businessman Salmaan Taseer, is the author of the article “India’s Divider in Chief”. The actual date of the American magazine, the international editions of which are circulated in Europe, Middle East, Africa, Asia and South Pacific, is 20 May. But it is a convention in magazines to release an edition before the actual date.
Subscribers of TIME in the US, however, will see the cover story on Democrat Elizabeth Warren who is running for the White House in 2020.
Antecedents of TIME
While Taseer’s mother is known as a columnist who leant towards the BJP after falling out of favour with the circle of late Rajiv Gandhi and his family, the Western media that TIME represents has been known for decades as an anti-BJP media outlet. Not only did the magazine portray Atal Bihari Vajpayee in poor light when he was the prime minister with a cover story titled “Asleep at the wheel?” it is known to have promoted Bobby Ghosh at one point of time for holding condescending views about India.
When Ghosh was made the world editor of TIME, The Pioneer wrote in an article, “It is… the first time that a person who thinks gobbledygook makes eminent sense simply because it runs down India shall hold this exalted post.” It cited a paragraph to note what kind of people are liked by the said magazine.
“Bobby Ghosh was impressed by the following entry on India’s achievements, of which only a few lines have been quoted, to select it for ‘special mention’:
‘Aelifgj0 r9814 a;kcr349m cpw lkdkj92l,g oewihv 620myj09v o568 oi4556u0 mov4598 ov96 pv59886 spviog qkjnd aoifng’ort a pokjtyb kjnvn clkfb xxq9c slrtv7c2 93c8u lfkn349 8u sl,cx m;’z’gi ;oesoityiu mpsporek psa9I u4302 pow95u w;4e9ie5 ;owetiuie r pqoiu 4w(pq34 o234q9 v;weoi 4ru0otoq;lorwiutrpo43jlrew98 wo9er7ov o349re87oa 9 9 7o…’
Editor’s note: The characters or special characters seen in the paragraph above are not a result of some formatting error of our site or of the user’s device. This is a portion of the article that Bobby Ghosh promoted and The Pioneer cited in its report dated 2007.
“The ‘essay’ had an explanatory note: ‘What I mean to say from the above is that the achievements are nil and whatever they tried to achieve they made into a mess, like the above.’ The writer whose entry Bobby Ghosh thought merited ‘special mention’ was a certain FDSFASDFA from India. Gibberish, Bobby Ghosh believes — as also presumably do his employers — make for quality journalism,” The Pioneer wrote.
The ‘neutrality’ of TIME
The TIME magazine is, of course, not that unprofessional to not add a disclaimer of sorts for the sake of journalistic ‘neutrality’. It said the opposition Congress party has little to offer other than the dynasty.
Ian Bremmer, president and founder of Eurasia Group, global political risk research and consulting firm, is the author of the article, “Modi the Reformer.”
TIME, with its cover depicting a sketch of the 68-year-old Indian prime minister, elaborates on the title with a longer headline, “Can the world’s largest democracy endure another five years of a Modi government?” written by Taseer.
Bremmer’s article, contradicting Taseer’s take, gets the headline, “Modi Is India’s Best Hope for Economic Reform,” inside the magazine.
Taseer says, “If in 2014 he (Modi) was able to exploit differences in order to create a climate of hope, in 2019 he is asking people to stave off their desperation by living for their differences alone.”
The columnist continues, “Then he was a messiah, ushering in a future too bright to behold, one part Hindu renaissance, one part South Korea’s economic programme. Now he is merely a politician who has failed to deliver, seeking re-election. Whatever else might be said about the election, hope is off the menu.”
“Not only has Modi’s economic miracle failed to materialise,” Taseer writes, “he has also helped create an atmosphere of poisonous religious nationalism in India,” toeing the refrain of the ‘award wapsi’ cabal in India.
TIME sounds frustrated by the fact that the Congress is unable to throw at the Modi-led BJP a formidable challenge. It says India’s oldest party has no more political imagination than to send Priyanka Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi’s sister, to join her brother. Taseer likened the development to the US Democrats fielding Hillary Clinton again in 2020, with the added enticement of her daughter Chelsea as Vice-President!
“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,” Taseer wrote.
Bremmer tried to balance the extreme position taken by Taseer with cautioned optimism about Modi. “India still needs change, and Modi remains the person most likely to deliver. He has improved relations with China, the US 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,” the president and founder of Eurasia Group wrote.
Bremmer lists GST, “unprecedented amounts” of money spent on infrastructure development, Aadhaar for DBT, etc among the Modi government’s achievements. “Modi has the instinct to dominate and the thin skin of other strongmen, but he also has a genuine track record in providing the kind of reform that developing India urgently needs,” Bremmer wrote.
TIME not alone in the West
Earlier, The New York Times and The Washington Post have made their dislike for Modi clear with their respective leading articles. On 11 April, the NYT wrote, “Under Modi, a Hindu nationalist surge has further divided India.” But its virtual participation in the election campaign of India had started much earlier and it has been a persistent attack on the current dispensation. In 2017, it branded the economic policy of this government as “strongman economics”. On 11 March this year, it was upset that the Jaish-e-Mohammed’s terror attack on a CRPF convoy in Pulwama would help Modi in the election. Six days ago, it doubted the youth in India would vote for Modi. On 17 April, it wrote Modi’s is a campaign of “fear and prejudice”.
Starting around the same time as the NYT, The Washington Post or WaPo said in 2017 Modi was “putting India back to the 1970s”. It spoke a similar language as that of the NYT while referring to Pulwama. “To put it bluntly, many Indians are looking for an excuse to vote for Modi. The terrorist attack in Jammu and Kashmir and the subsequent Indian strike on alleged Jaish-e-Muhammad terrorist camps in Pakistan provide voters with just such a pretext,” read its article dated 11 April.
One may recall that American media houses of the type above have been instrumental in ensuring, through propaganda, Modi did not get a US visa until he became India’s prime minister. Three years after the Gujarat riots had ended, the NYT had suddenly woken up to the horror, roping in a lobbyist for Christian rights to heap scorn on the politician who was then the chief minister of a province under a Union government headed by the Congress.
The dislike for a ‘nationalist’ (Indian English for “patriotic”) government in India is palpable as much in the BBC commentary as it is in The Guardian. If anybody in India is impressed by this editorial line, they have always been on the other side of the political divide. A media intervention was never required to influence that section of the Indian electorate.
The problem with these antagonists is the conspicuous lack of intelligence. They forget this shrill messaging from the West acts to the advantage of Modi, who gains more strength from the criticism as Indians see in such critique some ulterior motive of the former imperial powers to keep India weak. When the BJP has its core supporters alone to back it, a language like that of Congress’s Mani Shankar Aiyar draws even fence-sitters to the Modi fold. If today’s social media posts are anything to go by, thousands of Indians are renewing their pledge to retain the Modi government this election, angered by the foreigners’ ‘interference’ in what should be an internal matter of the Indian sovereign state.