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NYT article says it ‘took Britain 250 years to build democracy in India’, deletes

The article by Steven Erlanger borrowed a former NATO diplomat’s observation on Indian democracy while discussing the global rise of authoritarianism.

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New Delhi: A New York Times article has removed a reference to colonial Britain’s alleged hand in building “democracy in India” over 250 years after a counterblast on social media.

The article published Tuesday quoted former NATO diplomat Stefano Pontecorvo as saying, “You can’t impose your values – you have to accommodate them to the values of the country. It took Britain 250 years to build democracy in India, and we had 20.”

The quote implies Britain’s 200-year repression of India had helped infuse egalitarian values in the country.

The quote on India is also prefaced with the observation: “The problem with exporting democracy is that it is not natural to these countries.”

The quote was first shared on Twitter by Carnegie South Asia director Milan Vaishnav and later retweeted by Observer Research Foundation director and son of India’s External Affairs minister S. Jaishankar, Dhruva Jaishankar.

However, the India reference has now been removed from the article titled “Democracy Under Siege From Autocrats, Social Media and Its Own Failures” by American journalist and New York Times’ Chief Diplomatic Correspondent Steven Erlanger.

The article discusses the rising growth of authoritarian regimes in Europe, and the declining influence of the United States in the international sphere and more. Erlanger explores the complex disorderly nature of the international system where it may be too optimistic to consider the fight to be simply democracy vs totalitarianism. He also examines the deeply polarised nature of American society and the role digitalization of the political sphere has played.

This is not the first time the New York Times has applied imperialist undertones to India’s affairs. In 2014, after the successful launch of the Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) or the Mangalyaan mission, the American daily published a cartoon by cartoonist Heng Kim Song showing an Indian man wearing a turban and dhoti, dragging a cow along while knocking on the door of the “Elite Space Club”, which housed “white” men reading a newspaper reporting the launch.

After facing immense backlash, the newspaper apologised for the cartoon on Facebook. The cartoon was carried with the article titled “India’s Budget Mission to Mars”.

Also read: NYT to Time magazine, Western media loves to bash Modi’s India. China could be the culprit


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