Most of my friends know me as an anglophile and frankly, even as a Raj-lover. That is why I write this column with “sadness”. I can never forget the hundreds of BBC programs I have listened to or watched over the last 60 years. DVDs are not popular today. For the record, I have the entire DVD collection of Shakespeare plays. The BBC was, for me, a reminder of the best of Britain. After all, George Orwell worked there, and it was the BBC that gave breaks to V.S. Naipaul and Mulk Raj Anand. It is deeply disappointing to see a respected institution turn to blatantly tainted and mendacious reporting. What can one say about these times: “O temporae, o di immortali”!
A hundred years ago or so, the British Right-wing looked down on us oily, sly, cowardly, bow-legged, pot-bellied, slimy Hindoo Banias and Brahmins as dubious and deceitful opponents. Just read the “fashionable intellectual” Beverley Nichols who wrote about India some nine decades ago and you will get my drift. It was the British Left—The Manchester Guardian, among others, who treated us with respect. This gave people like my grandfather some solace. Not all British are “unfair”, was his usual refrain.
Things have changed. The British Left hates us today. We are not sly, oily, cowardly, scheming Brahmins and Banias. We are now ‘supremacist, fascist, bigoted and politically incorrect bad guys’. The BBC has decided on a hatchet job on our ‘fascist, bigoted, supremacist leader’. In this process, they are supported by our own homegrown Lefties.
How Indian Leftists perpetuate anti-Modi lies
I remember that years ago (and this was a long time ago), my Leftist NRI friends were so happy when the former Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) chief, R.K. Raghavan, was appointed to head the Special Investigation Team (SIT) in 2008—specifically set up to “fix” then Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi. When I gingerly tried to tell them that there had been communal riots in India for hundreds of years and that in independent India, despite some ghastly riots, never had a chief minister been interrogated, they brushed me off. They never acknowledged that Modi had cooperated and testified. When Raghavan gave Modi a clean chit, suddenly, the honest cop became a bad guy!
Again, in a low-key manner, when I mentioned to my “friends” that the Army General deputed to “suppress” the 2002 Gujarat riots, General Zameer Uddin Shah—who, for the uninitiated, is a Muslim—had gone on record to praise Modi, they just brushed it off. When I mentioned that Shah was complimentary about Modi but not so much about our bureaucracy, even that did not register. It did, however, register when I told them that Shah’s brother was a famous Bollywood actor. But by then, their anti-Modi position had gotten carved in stone. I have tried to argue that despite the “honest” Raghavan’s report, litigants took the matter up in courts.
The Gujarat High Court and the Supreme Court ruled in Raghavan’s favour and concluded that there was no evidence at all that Modi was complicit in the riots. Incidentally, every adjournment and delaying tactic came from the anti-Modi litigants who wanted to prolong the case so that the international media could continue to report that Modi had not been exonerated. The Supreme Court referred to this in its judgment and castigated the litigants.
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Why Western media is turning against Hindus
It just does not matter. My Leftist friends want to believe that Modi is a bad guy. The BBC, of course, has listened to them and is convinced that Modi is a bad guy too. The BBC seems to believe that India’s “majoritarian” Hindu community, in other words, most or all of us, mainly consist of bad guys. It does not hurt that the BBC’s pro-Pakistani audience loves this. It is not shameful enough that the BBC deliberately and consciously ignored the “grooming” and “exploitation” of young White British girls in Rotherham. The perpetrators there were of Pakistani origin. Doubtless, criticising them would amount to racism and Islamophobia.
It makes politically correct and politically advantageous sense to attack ‘Hindoo supremacists’. The BBC’s coverage of the Leicester riots has been so mendacious that one can only connect it to an Orwellian nightmare. And the situation is ironic: A hundred years ago, the British establishment thought of Hindoos as cowardly losers; suddenly, these losers have become supremacists!
It is not just the BBC. Large sections of the ‘woke-Leftist’ international media have turned against us hapless Hindoos: The New York Times, The Washington Post, NPR, The Guardian, and Le Monde are all up there. Even seemingly Right-wing publications like The Financial Times and The Economist have become prisoners of the cultural Left. I was deeply disappointed when The Economist editorialised against the 2006 Manmohan Singh-George W. Bush nuclear treaty. According to that worthy paper, legitimising India’s nuclear status was a “profound mistake”. One could argue that The Economist is not so much against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) or Modi as it is against a powerful India. The Economist has chosen to hold forth on the internal elections of a foreign country and editorially opine that BJP and Modi should not get elected.
Unusual, but increasingly, this sort of thing seems par for the course. Any residual praise has been limited, backhanded, and understated. The FT has chosen to devote column space to sly articles denigrating the present dispensation in India. Even the venerable Wall Street Journal has let slip a couple of inane, banal, and foolish columns.
The question is whether we should just ignore all these ill-informed and prejudiced self-appointed experts. That was the Mahatma’s advice when American historian Katherine Mayo published her Mother India many decades ago. The important point to remember is that while Gandhi advocated ignoring Miss Mayo, he cultivated American journalists like Vincent Sheean, William Shirer, the controversial Louis Fischer and the photojournalist Margaret Bourke-White. Gandhi always had prominent intellectuals like Romain Rolland and Quakers like Reginald Reynolds rooting for him in the West. Not surprisingly, Gandhi got himself on the cover of Time Magazine.
The dispensation in our country today can probably learn from the Mahatma. In his time, cultivating Right-wing outlets like The Spectator would have gotten him nowhere. Today, trying to cultivate the BBC and its siblings will be a waste of time. Ironically, in present times, The Spectator may make an interesting ally. As might think tanks like the Hoover Institution in the US. We should not forget that the American Left opposed the India-US Nuclear deal even when the American Right was comfortable with it. This fact should provide us with some insights into proceeding beyond my opening statement of just feeling “sad”.
There may be other sympathisers on the horizon. Salvatore Babones, an American academic who lives in Australia, comes to mind. He could be the Reginald Reynolds of our times.
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Muslims not at risk in India
I have tried telling my NRI Leftist friends that, unlike them, I live here. Twice a week, I drive through Mohammed Ali Road in Mumbai. The street is teeming with vigorous, active Muslim shops, retail outlets and restaurants. I do not see anyone cowering in fear. Incidentally, I notice the same in Bengaluru, Hubballi, Chennai, Shivamogga, Coimbatore and Chikkaballapura. In prominent Muslim neighbourhoods, I have several Muslim friends who run successful businesses in advertising, interior design, construction, architecture, audio equipment and so on. None of them are operating in fear.
In the peninsula of India, lynchings of people of different castes, religions and ethnicities are not new. To make the case that only Muslims are being lynched and that all of this is an eight-year-old phenomenon is not just absurd but blatantly false and mischievous. The BBC, of all organisations, should know that these incidents go back a long time. But then, none of today’s BBC journalists has probably read up stuff by Charles Allen, who produced credible and honest content for the BBC many decades ago.
My suggestion is a simple one. We need to pitch to the Right and not the Left in the West. We need to make the case that Muslims are living quite freely in India and that they have greater freedom in this country than in many other places. Incidentally, Ahmadiyyas are not persecuted in India as they are in many nations. Muslim gays are not automatically considered criminals in India. Muslims are prospering in different ways—running small and large businesses freely.
Hindu supremacism is an imaginary construct of the Left. It has no basis in reality. Violence and riots are not uncommon in India, but their frequency and intensity are declining, not rising. Most violence in India has nothing to do with the Hindu-Muslim binary. There are hundreds of underlying tensions. The fact is that despite these tensions, we chug along, and our total violence is not an outlier when compared to other societies. After all, we did manage to “peacefully” administer more than two billion Covid-19 vaccinations in a very short time. This proves that our society is not unglued or completely anarchic. I think a concerted engagement with Right-wing think tanks and publications will help. Meanwhile, it is best to ignore the BBC and its Stalinist fellow travellers.
Jaithirth Rao is a retired businessperson who lives in Mumbai. Views are personal.
(Edited by Zoya Bhatti)