Sunday, March 19, 2023
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Modi used to be toast of the world, now his ministers are damaging Brand India by lashing out

From The New York Times to The Economist, the world is beginning to paint India with the same brush on CAA and Kashmir just eight months into Modi’s second term.

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The European Union Parliament is set to discuss several resolutions Wednesday on the Citizenship (Amendment) Act as well as the situation in Kashmir that has the astonishing support of 626 out of 751 members across the political spectrum. Mere days earlier, the conservative magazine, The Economist had published a scathing article charging Prime Minister Narendra Modi with “stoking divisions in the world’s largest democracy”.

India has, predictably, lashed out at the Europeans. Law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad described both CAA and Kashmir as an “internal matter” asking if “my esteemed friends in the EU parliament sought to raise questions over victimisation of Hindu girls and Sikh granthis in Pakistan? It’s time they were objective”.

Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla wrote to his counterpart in the European Parliament saying it was “inappropriate” for one parliament to pass judgement against another.

Like commerce and industries minister Piyush Goyal, Prasad is also speaking to a home audience that exults in standing up to the White Man. Only two weeks ago Goyal was unable to resist telling one of the richest men in the world, Jeff Bezos of Inc that India doesn’t really need his money. This, when the economy is in a stall and growth is less than 5 per cent.

From engaging with the world on a monthly basis for the last six years, which brought Prime Minister Narendra Modi much kudos, India is now recoiling. Only recently, Modi was the toast of the world. But foreign criticism hurts much more. India’s thin skin is showing.

Also read: It’s The Economist, stupid. Indian democracy under Modi is too strong to slip on flawed index

The turning Western press

The next few weeks will be important. The Human Rights Council in Geneva will reconvene soon, and in March, China takes over as chair of the UN Security Council. Less than a fortnight ago, Beijing raised Kashmir behind closed doors at the Security Council, at least the third time in the last six months. As it sits in the chair, China is expected to raise the temperature, not lower it.

And then there’s the Western press, long considered to be the cat’s paw for Western nations trying to interfere in developing countries. Only in November 2019, an assertive external affairs minister S. Jaishankar pointed out, in response to criticism on India’s actions on Kashmir, that “my reputation is not decided by a newspaper in New York”.

But from The New York Times to The Economist, the world is beginning to paint India with the same brush.

“Alas, what has been electoral nectar for the BJP is political poison for India. By undermining the secular principles of the Constitution, Mr Modi’s latest initiatives threaten to do damage to India’s democracy that could last for decades. They are also like to lead to bloodshed,” the British magazine said last week.

If you didn’t know this quote was from The Economist, you would have thought it came from The New York Times. The collapsing of differences on the opinion pages of international press has happened in Modi’s second tenure, in a short span of eight months.

Also read: Economist, Soros: Has Hindu nationalism increased global criticism of India or bad economy?

Small wins

Certainly, the world has far too many problems of its own and India, even if it is slipping on the democracy index, is hardly on top of its agenda. Moreover, the European Parliament is barely more than a talk shop – India can still take heart.

The European Union’s most important members, France and Germany, are still on India’s side. France has said several times that the CAA is an internal matter for India – possibly because Paris doesn’t want to damage its burgeoning defence relationship with India, underwritten by the Rafale deal. While Chancellor Angela Merkel restricted her comments on Kashmir during her visit late last year to the situation being “not sustainable”.

Perhaps, the only bright spark this week has been the announcement that Air India, bleeding crores for years, will be sold to the highest bidder. PM Modi has clearly won this round against RSS affiliate-Swadeshi Jagran Manch, which has openly pushed against disinvestment, especially in Air India and BSNL.

Also read: The world has a message for Modi: Brand India is severely damaged

The self-harm path

But with an India-EU summit scheduled for 13 March in Brussels, European diplomats say they hope that PM Modi will take charge and take BJP MPs like Anurag Thakur to task. Thakur was caught on camera Monday calling anti-CAA protesters “traitors”.

Whether or not these statements are being made in the heat of the Delhi elections, diplomats say they are confounding the damage to India’s image as a spirited democracy that has held together in the worst of times. They believe the BJP is doing self-harm.

At the end of the day, it’s not as if world capitals have nothing better to do than wait to censure and shout against India from its rooftops. The problem is that India’s able diplomats are spending far more time fire-fighting these days than thinking up ways of how to cement relationships.

India’s image problem is growing. With it, the challenge to manage international public opinion is increasing by leaps and bounds.

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  1. I have never heard the NYT to say one good thing about Modi or the BJP ( make that the Hindu nationalist BJP) for that matter….Ever…. ive been a subsriber for 25 years. The reason for all the negative press beyond the self goals inflicted by the BJP is the assertiveness of India.
    Actually the only thing that matters to the west is whether they can do business wirh you. Here the BJP is to be taken to task for scrwwing up the economy and kinda teying the swadeshi nonsense that never worked and gave us only overpriced substandard products and a lot of middlemen.

    • Indians like you can only abuse and accuse but can’t add a bit to India’s development i.e. a true slave mentality.

  2. Modi haters can only write opinion pages without explaining the rationale behind their stand. For example non of them explains how CAA has affected Indian Muslims in any way. Anybody can abuse Modi and feel happy and still Modi remains the most popular leader in India as he is the only credible leader loved by Indian masses. Modi haters will continue to have sleepless nights irrespective of Shaheen Bagh and unsubstantiated accusations hurled on him.

  3. Well said sir. She should do and write same as Rana Ayub and Barkha dutt doing in the ‘interests of India’.😜😜😜

  4. “now his ministers are damaging Brand India by lashing out”
    How very clever, Jyoti madam! Which minister is damaging Brand India? You are a very senior journalist, we expect you to have the courage to call a spade a spade – – isn’t Mr Modi himself and his most powerful colleague Amit Shah the ones who are, not just damaging, but destroying Brand India?

  5. Thank you for this thoughtful opinion piece.

    The New York Times has had scathing coverage of India since at least the 1980s. Its India correspondent then was Barbara Crossette who even wrote a book on India that was a blistering critique. The Economist was never pro Modi. It has continually attacked him since 2002. There is nothing new in the stand of both publications. The ‘liberal Anglo Saxon consensus’ is deeply distrustful of Putin, Xi Jin Ping, Modi and Erdogan. While I am deeply uncomfortable with the BJP’s cheap election rhetoric in Delhi, I would disregard toothless European talkshops/printshops.

  6. I voted for Modi because I thought he will take India forward. But he’s taking it backwards , butchered our secular democracy, ruined our international image and economy! Will Not vote again!

  7. Jyoti should actually be rejoicing that downfall of Modi is imminent with the entire western world going after Modi on CAA and NRC. Instead, she appears to caution BJP to course correct by offering free tips on survival much beyond 2024! Jyot, Shivam, Aakar, Navnima of ThePrint should ideally take sabbatical, get funded trips to the West and make up horror stories against Modi Shah duo, take the opportunity to author some columns in NYT or WP or Economists etc. That would be the right way to way go! We are more than happy with National(ly) Interest(ed) Shekhar!

  8. Modi thinks he is ok because people like Bolsenaro may approve of him – but world over, the backlash against tyrants and bigots has started. Lula was freed a few months back, Erdogan lost his first elections, Putin is planning retirement, Trump is facing impeachment and johnson is simply toning down. modi needs to find a more moderate successor than shah else bjp is doomed.

    • Erdogan and Putin are’nt going anywhere. You need to read beyond the flawed and highly biased Western media. And Lula hasn’t a chance in hell to return as President. That said, I hear you on Amit Shah.

  9. This is what happens with over exaggerated praise for underaccomplished person who naturally fails to meet expectations. A Kuan ka Mendak can only do o much on a all India scale.

  10. It is beyond the stage of Image now. The faithful would not agree, but I think the western, essentially English, media many of us are exposed to is portraying things truthfully. A fine edit in IE concludes with the sentence : The resolutions should give pause for Delhi to consider how much headway diplomacy can make when the ground situation inspires little confidence.

  11. My problems with leftist fanatics is only one – they are liars! Apart from that its just a matter of opinion. Now just look at this particular article from Ms Malhotra. The headline says ‘Modi used to be the toast of the world’….Wow! Such a blatant lie to begin the article. Modi was always hated by these leftist liberals whether in India or their ecosystem abroad. This same Modi was denied a Visa to US. This same Modi has been CONSISTENTLY negated, criticised in Guardian, NYT, The Economist for 6 Years non-stop. Which Minister of modi had made unwarranted statements when Time Magazine called him ‘Divider in Chief’? There was no Article 370, no CAA still he was graced with that slur. In conclusion, I dont think Ms Malhotra, Shekhar etc are truthful in their reporting. You come out all guns blazing saying openly like other comrades ‘We hate Modi’. Whatever he does, we will still hate him!. At least You will have the self satisfaction of sticking to Your conviction. Such a misleading article, such a misleading headline. Its a travesty. In that regard Jholachaap Ravish from NDTV is better. No pretense. Its better that way.

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