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Is the Western press hostile to India's rise?

As India grows its economy and its international clout, it faces significant hostility from the Western 'liberal' press. But why?

Indian actors N. T. Rama Rao Jr. and Ram Charan dance to the song 'Naatu, Naatu' from the film RRR. The song has just won an Oscar award for Best Original Song.

With the world finally waking up to the need to diversify from China’s dominance in the global supply chain, India is arguably the most important country in Asia to pivot away from the over-dependence on Chinese manufacturing. India’s growth can help to protect democracy and liberty as we know it. Western journalists have been skeptical and downright hostile to that premise.

Ben Wright of The Telegraph (the British newspaper) recently wrote that India was on a ‘rampaging rise’. The title of Wright’s article didn’t match its content, “concerns about Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s efforts to undermine democracy and marginalise Muslims are raising red flags,” said Wright as he stressed further Western cooperation with India must deal with these contentious issues. There was certainly no evidence of a rampage in his article. Wright also failed to adequately examine communalism in India. The Telegraph has often been dogged by accusations of Islamophobic coverage against British Muslims. So, how do we explain their sudden about-turn when it comes to India? Hypocrisy?

It’s true India, and the rest of South Asia, suffers from communalism, or sectarianism to western readers, but it’s often used for domestic politics by all sides. Muslims are voting for the incumbent BJP in record numbers. Understanding this complex and perhaps overblown phenomenon is key to engagement with India. Why? Because it’s currently a major hurdle for India’s relations with the developed world. It’s also sucking the oxygen out of bigger pressing problems like China’s aggressive behaviour and Indian acting as a frontline state. If human rights activists want to genuinely help, they should start by examining why the BJP is appealing to a growing number of India’s Muslims. Is it because Muslims are scared of Modi? Are they having their arms twisted into voting for him and his party or are they liking his universal appeal for all Indians? When talking to Muslim friends in India they say they don’t like Islamophobia from sections of the BJP, but they like the government’s policies. It’s a complicated political mix.

Many in South Asia believe communalism is a colonial hangover. The British Raj’s divide-and-rule tactics still playing out in contemporary Indian politics. Communalism has certainly morphed into a different beast after 9/11. The rise of Pakistan-based radical Islamism since the 1990s, often promoted by the Pakistani government itself to divide India, has been the main cause behind the tension between India’s diverse religions. Terror attacks and individual cruelty from India’s Muslim radical population have poisoned the well in India. Islamophobia is on the rise, but often due to bad behaviour from India’s radicals. A fact that often gets omitted. Ignoring that growing threat would be folly for the Indian government. British journalists have incredibly short memories. The US and UK sorted most of their radicalism problems through drone strikes in Afghanistan and the Pakistani border regions. India does not have that luxury. Indian analysts are right to point their fingers at Western NatSec experts wagging their fingers back. Islamist terrorism and the radicalisation of Muslim minds are still major security threats to life and liberty. The Taliban have succeeded in their Islamic Revolution 2.0 in Afghanistan. We are still waiting to see the fallout.

Since September 2022, India has seen a seismic shift in the number of multinational giants moving manufacturing to its cities; from Apple moving iPhone production to Boeing announcing a major deal with Tata, with investment of $24 billion, western businesses have started to put their money where their mouths are. In return, India is firmly in the driving seat of the global economy.

The recent announcement by Air India, the national carrier for the third largest domestic aviation market in the world, to order of over 470 new aircraft is one example which resulted in US President, Joe Biden hailing the agreement as “historic”.

This order won’t just benefit the growing number of middle-class Indian’s set to travel but will also create jobs here in the UK. Following the order, Airbus has reported that it plans to hire almost 500 people in Wales; another example of how this vast, growing and great nation is supporting the UK economy.

It is clear the tables have turned, and India is experiencing a growth spurt that can see it catapult to the top of not just every CEOs agenda, but to the top of the political stage. "One Earth. One Family. One Future. India has taken over the presidency of #G20India! I trust my friend Narendra Modi to bring us together in order to build peace and a more sustainable world.” said French President Emmanuel Macron in a tweet on India’s leadership as they were handed the G20 mantle.

Macron wasn’t just being diplomatic; the French leader, with his European counterparts, are all putting their faith in the Indian growth story. World leaders, diplomats, and industry figures from around the world are queuing up to be a part of the ‘Tiranga Express’, so termed because the Indian national flag is a tri-coloured one.

But there is a small problem - journalists in Europe and North America. A select pool of international press is portraying India, and Indians through a negative and outdated lens, rather than looking deeper, and exploring the value that this vast country brings to the world.

As India heads toward a general election in 2024, it Is time that the Western press recognises modern India, and the achievements delivered by its Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The nature of coverage on Prime Minister Modi is particularly scathing and personal. India deserves better. The media coverage that any country gets can affect the way it is perceived and can determine the economic climate and investment in the country, which makes it particularly damning.

Understandably, India gets a lot of media attention in terms of its policy and politics as it is a nation that is too important a country to fail. But, the way it is treated by some of the western press is akin to treating it as some kind of failed state, without really understanding its multi-culturalism, diversity, and the complications that come with this. if journalists want to stick to old tropes on India, so be it. But, CEOs and politicians around the world are not buying it.

(Chris Blackburn is a British political analyst and commentator. He is part of the European Bangladesh Forum, and specialises on South Asia.)


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