Last week saw an unusual combination of communal incidents. The first was Sonia Gandhi's shopping spree for "secular" votes from a religious head, Shahi Imam Syed Ahmed Bukhari — the ultimate in surrealism — in complete contempt of the Election Code of Conduct. As if the Imam is a wholesale dealer of vote banks, and she a bulk buyer. Yes, this is the same Imam who called upon Muslims to boycott the Anna movement against corruption, saying that Vande Mataram and Bharat Mata Ki Jai, are against Islam. Bowing to the motherland, or saluting the nation cannot be condoned by Islam, he argued, forgetting the great respect that the Holy Quran contains for mother earth and nature. Well, we don't have to wait too long to know the outcome of Sonia Gandhi's shopping spree. But an immediate and welcome fallout was a spate of articles by educated, enlightened Muslims expressing disgust at the way the Congress is misleading the Muslim community through fear psychosis and exploitative "secularism", which they realise, is keeping them backward forever.
The second was a strangely uncharacteristic article in the Economist, Bagehot's child, read the world over for its erudition, analysis, presentation of diverse points of view, lack of bias and fairness, and intelligent reporting.
For reasons unknown, but full of sinister possibilities, the magazine thought it appropriate to give unsolicited advice to the people of India about who they should elect as their leaders. Almost, as if they were still the imperial power with complete authority to interfere in the election of their colony. Their lead article "Can anyone stop Narendra Modi?" arrogantly hectors, that "though Modi will probably become India's next prime minister, that does not mean he should be". Unseemly, to say the least, that a respectable magazine straight from the mother of democracy, believes its diktat can substitute for the democratic will and mandate of the people, as it did in the days of the Viceroys and the Raj, when the white man thought he knew best what was good for his burden.
Why does the Economist disapprove of Modi? The reasons stated are almost a verbatim reproduction of the tired, Goebellsian broken record, repeated ad nauseam by Congress spokespersons and their communal allies during the last decade. The usual false propaganda, unsubstantiated accusations without evidence, or perceptional accusations deemed conclusive without debate, explanation or back up, smacking of prejudice. Since specific charges against Modi are hard to find, the Economist can only mimic the stale old stuff, "he is a man who has thrived on division" and that he is "still associated with sectarian hatred". On what evidence they come to this conclusion, we are not told, so one can only assume it is Goebellsian infection, or a mutation of the Murdochian virus.
Regarding Godhra, the Economist and the Congress scripts seem identical, starting from the "Hindu rampage against Muslims in Gujarat in 2002", instead of the horrific Godhra train incident burning of 59 Hindu pilgrims. Modi is blamed for the Gujarat riots, the Ayodhya aftermath, for everything. They accuse him of making communal speeches "early in his career", without stating specifics, and then repeat the Congress' false accusations "of allowing or even abetting" the riots that they call "pogrom". If they were really unbiased, and had taken the trouble to really read Modi's early speeches that are reproduced in Madhu Kishwar's book, Modi, Muslims and Media, they would see only patriotism and secularism, without a trace of communalism — the common cause of Gujaratis, the power of oneness, combating corruption, farmers' concerns, border and maritime security, poverty reduction, rural uplift, sabka saath, sabka vikaas.
The Economist seems to have gone overboard this time, declaring with great authority that "one reason why the inquiries into the riots were inconclusive is that a great deal of evidence was lost or wilfully destroyed". Had they taken the trouble to confirm that neither the Nanavati Commission, nor the Supreme Court appointed Special Investigation Team reports were inconclusive because evidence was lost or wilfully destroyed, they would have learnt that what was really conclusive was that much of the complaints and allegations made against Modi were found to be false, fabricated and orchestrated.
The next charge against Modi is that he has not explained what happened nor apologised. Perhaps the editorial team was not aware that during the last ten years, Modi was swamped by inquiries and commissions from all directions, at all levels, including the Supreme Court. I'm sure they are also aware that any public discussion of matters sub judice is frowned upon by the courts as improper. These are practices of the Anglo Saxon legal system that have been adopted in India since British rule.
I am surprised that the Economist analysis has sunk to clutching superficial symbolism like puppy and topi, and ignores concrete intent and action. Well, obviously, these were the gravest charges they could find against Modi, completely missing the context of loss of human life in which the puppy comment was made. And if Modi prefers to wear a shawl with Quranic verses woven into it, rather than a topi, how does that make him communal? Clearly, in the eyes of the Economist, and Modi's political opponents, who now stand quaking with fear, Modi can do no right. But rest assured, I am sure Modi will say his bit when the time is right.
The Economist is either not aware, or chooses to ignore the evolving positive Muslim-Modi dynamics in India. It persists with its scurrilous thesis, backed with no evidence whatsoever that "by refusing to put Muslim fears to rest, Mr Modi feeds them. By clinging to the anti-Muslim vote, he nurtures it." And their most sinister, almost incendiary statement is that "Mr Modi might start well in Delhi but sooner or later he will have to cope with a sectarian slaughter or a crisis with Pakistan — and nobody, least of all the modernisers praising him now, knows what he will do nor how Muslims, in turn, will react to such a divisive man". This is incredible and shocking. On what basis can a civilised journal make such an inflammatory statement inciting Hindu-Muslim violence? If it was not for a Congress government in New Delhi, the Economist could have been hauled up for the gravest of charges of inciting communal violence and rioting.
Hindu-Muslim riots were a legacy left behind by the Raj, who saw great merit in them for effective control over India. I'm sure the Economist editorial team is sufficiently aware of the well documented history of gruesome Hindu-Muslim riots since the beginning of British rule, across the length and breadth of India, costing enormous human life. Perhaps, it would be appropriate, and in accordance with British tradition of justice and fair play, that the search for accountability, responsibility, and apology starts with the "pogroms" that happened under British rule. To the best of my knowledge, I haven't heard any apology yet.
India couldn't care less whether the Economist backs Narendra Modi or not, or whether it prefers corruption to a firm, decisive leader who will take India forward. Fight your colonial hangover and concentrate on your own backyard, where religious riots get hidden under the euphemism of racial riots. And in keeping with your own advice and recommendations, the British Prime Minister could well be requested for explanations and apologies for the Bradford, Tottenham or Woolwich riots, to name just a few, and regarding government plans for making British society more inclusive and less divisive. India will look after itself.
Strangely enough, a strong Hindu leadership seems to make everyone nervous. I have written earlier that the world is happy to see India weak and torn by internal disunity. A strong India, where the majority of the people can move forward, united in harmony, disturbs the international balance of power. That is why lopsided double standards keep getting disseminated as articles of faith. No accusation of communalism is ever expressed at the Queen's titles — Defender of the Faith, and Supreme Governor of the Church of England — or at Margaret Thatcher extolling Christian values, or David Cameron saying that "UK is a Christian country and we should not be afraid to say so". Substitute UK with India, and the word Christian with Hindu, and watch the "secular" explosion of double standards in the Western world, and in the divisive Congress party.
Just to put the Economist's fears to rest regarding their perceived threat from Hinduism, I will put a very simple question before them. Hindus constitute around 1.5% of Britain's population. Can the UK identify the religious community with whom they have had no public order, racial or faith problems? So, if Hindus are such a tolerant and peace loving lot in the UK, why does the Economist perceive them as otherwise back in India?
The concluding lines of the Economist piece describe it best: "there is nothing modern, honest or fair about that. India deserves better." Yes, indeed it does.