The Citizen Bureau


New Delhi: Over the past few months, as India went into the 2014 general elections with opinion polls showing BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi in the lead, there has been a spate of articles in the western media strongly critical of the Gujarat Chief Minister.


Whilst the consensus building effort in India has highlighted Modi’s Gujarat model of development at the expense of the 2002 riots, prominent newspapers and magazines in the west have focused largely on the riots, with The Economist referring to the “Hindu rampage against Muslims in Gujarat” as “Modi’s Odium.”


In a strongly worded editorial, the publication states, “So there is much to admire [reference to Gujarat’s development]. Despite that, this newspaper cannot bring itself to back Mr Modi for India’s highest office.”


“In 2002 Mr Modi was chief minister and he was accused of allowing or even abetting the pogrom,” the editorial states. Referring to the arguments postulated by Modi’s defenders, namely, that he has not been charged for an alleged role in the riots, and that his development model will benefit Hindus and Muslims alike, the Economist states, “On both counts, that is too generous. One reason why the inquiries into the riots were inconclusive is that a great deal of evidence was lost or wilfully destroyed.” It calls for judging Modi by his record, “that of a man who is still associated with sectarian hatred. There is nothing modern, honest or fair about that.”


“India deserves better,” the article concludes.


“It would be wrong for a man who has thrived on division to become prime minister of a country as fissile as India,” says the editorial, going on to choose the Congress’ Rahul Gandhi over Modi. “We do not find the prospect of a government led by Congress under Mr Gandhi an inspiring one. But we have to recommend it to Indians as the less disturbing option.”


The Guardian took a more cautious approach in an editorial, attributing the diminishing appeal of the “Indian secular and pluralist model” to changes in Indian society. It does however, directly state that Modi is at variance with secularism and pluralism. “If Indians do choose Mr Modi it will be because they are ready to choose him, because certain changes in Indian society have prepared the way for him, and because the Indian secular and pluralist model, what might be called the Nehru state, no longer has the appeal it once had,” says the editorial.


The editorial followed the publication of a letter by Salman Rushdie, Imran¬† Khan, John McDonnell, Fiona Mactaggart, Pragna Patel, Jayati Ghosh, and Suresh Grover, published in The Guardian, titled, “If Modi is elected, it will bode ill for India’s future.” Criticising Modi for not taking responsibility or apologising for the events of 2002, the article states, “Without questioning the validity of India’s democratic election process, it is crucial to remember the role played by the Modi government in the horrifying events that took place in Gujarat in 2002.”


Focusing on the secular fabric of India, the authors state, “Such a failure of moral character and political ethics on the part of Modi is incompatible with India’s secular constitution, which, in advance of many constitutions across the world, is founded on pluralist principles and seeks fair and full representation for minorities.”


An article by Amrit Wilson, also in The Guardian, predicts that Modi’s rise to power will adversely affect women’s rights in India. ” it is the fascistic violence of the Sangh Parivar that, more than anything, indelibly marks women’s lives in Gujarat. During the 2002 pogrom against Muslims, women and children were specifically targeted. Countless women and girls were raped; nearly 2,000 men, women and children were massacred, and 200,000 displaced,” it says. The article focuses on The Sangh Parivar’s attitude toward women, and the¬† entrenched patriarchal context of the Hindu right. “The Hindu right has mobilised Hindu women to lead some of its most violent attacks, but this is underpinned by a deeply patriarchal ideology in which women serve the nation as wives and mothers, and domestic violence is condoned,” it warns.


A number of articles in western media focus on the plurality of India in terms of it being threatened by Modi’s rise to power. In an article titled, “If Modi wins the election, India will have crossed a moral rubicon,” written by Priyamvada Gopal in The Independent, writes, “If, as expected, the right-wing Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) wins the largest number of seats and installs its candidate, Narendra Modi, as prime minister, India will cross a blood-soaked moral Rubicon.” Implicating Modi for the 2002 massacres and dismissing development sans human development, the article states, “Even looking past the charred bodies of murdered Muslims, we find that Gujarat’s record in healthcare, gender equality and education is poor.”


In line with questions on political morality, an article written by Thane Richard published in Quartz asks, “Has India become so desperate for rapid economic growth, so blinded by the promise of prosperity, that she has forgotten basic humanity? It seems that, in the race towards higher GDP, the majority of India is willing to inject itself with the steroids of bigotry or ruthlessness. Ethics be damned.”


An article titled “Being Muslim Under Narendra Modi” by Basharat Peer in The New York Times warns of increasing marginalisation and vulnerability amongst India’s 165 million Muslims if Modi were to come to power. “Even as candidate for prime minister, Mr. Modi has not given up his sectarian ways. Nor has his party, the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party. Of the 449 B.J.P. candidates now running for seats in the lower house of Parliament, all but eight are Hindu. The party’s latest election manifesto reintroduces a proposal to build a temple to the Hindu god Ram on the site of a medieval mosque in the northern town of Ayodhya, even though the destruction of that mosque by Hindu extremists and B.J.P. supporters in 1992 devolved into violence that killed several thousand people,” the article states.


(April 20, 2014; Supplied by Sukla Sen)

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