For a decade and a bit now, the English-language Indian media has criticised Modi rather sharply on his role in the 2002 anti-Muslim violence and Modi, in turn, had projected himself as a victim of a nefarious “limousine liberal” plot. In his aborted interview with Karan Thapar, for example, Modi flatly rejected any wrongdoing on his part with respect to 2002 and contended that this whole blame game was a “conspiracy of 1-2 persons (sic)”.
As the 2014 elections draws to a close, however, it seems that our journalists have had a near-miraculous change of heart and nowadays 2002 is rarely bought up, being palmed off with all sorts of non-phrases, the most popular one at the moment being “clean chit”.
This might be explained by some people by pointing to the overwhelming support large corporations have given to the Modi campaign, the same chaps who, as it would so happen, own the media houses. To this contention I would just repeat Ian Richardson’s delicious catch-phrase from the 90s UK TV show, House of Cards: You might very well think that; I couldn't possibly comment.
But Indian corporations, powerful as they are, do have a limited reach and their influence, unfortunately, does not extend much beyond the shores of our great nation. It is thus instructive to see just how excoriatingly harsh the Anglo-American press’ election coverage has been on our Hindu-Hriday-Samrat-turned-Vikash-Purush.
New York Times
America’s most influential newspaper published a 5minute video on its website providing a summary of the Narendra Modi. The video has the rather damning testimony of Celia Dugger who was the co-chief of South Asia bureau during 2002. She covered the riots and reported that the administration failed completely to prevent the violence:
"…witnesses were telling me that they had begged the police to intervene and stop the mobs and that they [just] stood by and that leaders of groups affiliated with the Bharatiya Janta Party were inciting violence."
2 months later, she even interview Modi himself. This is what she says:
“I asked him if he had any regrets about what had happened in his state in that period—women openly raped [and] 100s and 100s of people were killed. He told me his greatest regret was that he didn't manage the media very well. I left the interview feeling chilled by my interview with the chief minister. He had not shown any regret or expressed any empathy for those who had been slaughtered in his state on his watch"
This quasi-academic bimonthly American magazine published a critical account of Modi’s policies which carried the byline, “Gujarat’s shiny free market reformer has a dark side”. Of the many points it makes, the piece is particularly harsh on “clean chits”:
“In 2013, an investigation ordered by India's Supreme Court found insufficient grounds to prosecute Modi. He says he has been given a "clean chit." That is an exaggeration. The investigation found damning -- if not criminally prosecutable -- evidence of questionable actions (and inactions) by Modi, as well as indications that crucial records had been destroyed. Some of Modi's behaviour after 2002 is puzzling too. Why, for instance, did he in 2007 appoint to his cabinet Maya Kodnani -- a politician suspected of, and later convicted for, distributing swords to rioters and exhorting them to attack Muslims?”
Jumping across the pond, the Left-leaning Guardian’s economics leader writer, Aditya Chakrabortty, proposes a powerful "thought experiment" where he contends that if a British politician would have behaved similar to the way Modi had done after Godhra, he would have been "arrested for wilful neglect of duty, hate speech and for inciting violence.".
Chakrabortty also writes, somewhat bluntly, that "Modi bears a responsibility for some of the worst religious violence ever seen in independent India" and echoes Foreign Policy by pointing out that "there has been no "clean chit" for Modi. Courts in India are still hearing allegations against him."
This newspaper, which describes its politics as classically liberal, actually did the unthinkable and anointed Rahul Gandhi as its choice to lead India in 2014. Why? Because 2002 ruled out Modi.
The paper pointed out that “one reason why the inquiries into the riots were inconclusive is that a great deal of evidence was lost or wilfully destroyed. And if the facts in 2002 are murky, so are Mr Modi’s views now. He could put the pogroms behind him by explaining what happened and apologising. Yet he refuses to answer questions about them.”
Language is always a powerful indicator of what you’re trying to say, so one should note The Economist’s use of the word “pogrom” to describe, well, the 2002 Pogrom. Currently no Indian paper does so as an editorial standard.
Explaining its choice, the piece says, “it would be wrong for a man who has thrived on division to become prime minister of a country as fissile as India” and goes on to point out that ”for now he should be judged on his record—which is that of a man who is still associated with sectarian hatred. There is nothing modern, honest or fair about that. India deserves better.”
Completing the UK’s ideology triad, the right-wing Telegraph is the most critical of British newspapers, with its Delhi correspondent, Dean Nelson choosing to describe in graphic detail Zakia Jaffrey’s account of how her husband, with a rabid mob outside his door, called Modi for assistance:
“Far from offering help, Mr Modi had taunted him and even expressed surprise that he was still alive, Mr Jafri told those around him in his final moments. “No help will come,” Mr Jafri added.
Shortly afterwards, Mr Jafri’s wife, Zakia, watched in horror from a balcony as rioters marched her husband naked from their home and chopped off his fingers, hands, arms and head.”
This is a story that Indian newspapers have rarely touched and as the elections have approached it has been all but forgotten. It is, therefore, a mystery as to why the Telegraph finds it newsworthy.
The Financial Times
The only pink paper in our list has a piece by the FT’s Delhi correspondent in 2002, Edward Luce. Titled "NarendraModi: India’s Jekyll and Hyde”, Luce recounts the “inflammatory rhetoric” Modi displayed after the Godhra incident, especially noting his use of Newton’s Third Law to signal that he was fine with violence. “No one, Indian or foreigner, who covered the following, gruesome, 72 hours, was in any doubt about the meaning of Mr Modi’s signal.”
He ends with asking “whether Modi is a Margaret Thatcher or an Adolf Hitler” and “suspects” it’s the latter, warning that “either way, I would rather not take the risk of finding out”.
The Daily Caller
That is not to say that it’s all been negative for Modi. David Cohen, writing in the The Daily Caller, takes a strong stand and says that “Modi took several steps to protect the besieged Muslim communities, including imposing curfews, issuing shoot-on-sight orders against rioters, and calling in the army.”
What’s that you say? You’ve never heard of this newspaper before? Worry not, you’re in good company. I hadn’t either. It’s not really mainstream, being a small website based out of Washington. Not that there’s anything wrong in being small, of course.
Admittedly, just because The New York Times, Foreign Policy, The Guardian, The Economist, The Telegraph, The Financial Times and the Indian media from a few years back agree on something doesn’t mean its correct. Maybe the Indian media’s new opinion about Modi is correct. Or maybe no one is correct. With a man accused of mass murder, a front runner to become PM, I say this is a good as time as any to go post-modern. After all, you might talk of massacres and genocides and clean chits, but, my good man, really, what is truth anyway?
First published on NewsYaps