On Friday 16 May six years ago, “2014 is Modi’s year” declared a headline in the Guardian, the acclaimed UK newspaper reputed to be “a platform for liberal and left-wing” journalism , setting the tone for positive coverage to come. So enchanted and enamored was the media by the scale of the victory that it seemed to suffer collective amnesia about the murky past of the newly elected leader and his deputy from Gujrat. Barkha Dutt, usually known for her high standards and intrepid journalism, interviewed Amit Shah for NDTV – a fawning interview that echoed the rhapsodies of her psephologist boss back at the studio. The focus everywhere was the awesome scale of the success – “Historic election victory for Modi’s Bharatiya Janata party transforms political landscape of world’s largest democracy” screamed another headline. The New Yorker called it “stunning” and The Washington Post mentioned “shining India”. As ecstatic crowds celebrated, and the future PM talked of “vikas”/development; many indeed chose to hope that N. D. Modi the PM, would be a more unifying force than Modi the CM of Gujarat. We forgot that development that is not sustainable or inclusive is no development at all.
In the months that followed, Modi’s star rose and rose and he became the darling of international media. Aided of course by his propaganda machine. Apart from a few hiccups and slips, that included the death of Rohit Vemula which inspired student led Dalit resistance; and misjudged arrest of six students from JNU that gave the nation three fiery leftist youth leaders, Modi’s luck held. He seemed charmed – nothing stuck against him. Neither demonetization that led to major pain among the poor, nor the mis-implementation of GST taxation rules that irked small traders, could stop the Modi juggernaut. Driven by his deputy Shah, it drove on, crushing all resistance. And the international media continued to sing his praises.
Lies piled up at home, and seeped into the international media. Dubious international prizes were paraded as acclaimed trophies and the sight of stadiums full of “Modi-toadies” shouting his name inspired awe at home and abroad alike. Modi’s handlers used this to perfect his carefully crafted image. When elections came round in 2019, this propaganda machinery swung to action – so what if the economy was in doldrums, Modi was an international statesman, a “vishwaguru”. Surely even he was not sure that this deception will work – that is why for good measure “Balakote” was manufactured. Together, the two fabrications ensured victory.
However, abroad at least, by the time of his reelection in 2019, the tune was beginning to change. CNN criticized the release of a biopic so close to elections. “Five more years of Narendra Modi will take India to a dark place” warned the Guardian just before the election, and ” bad for India’s soul” declared the same newspaper after the victory. As recently recounted in a well-researched article in The Wire, the praises for Modi were over, at least in the international media. Probably the most famous episode is the Time magazine article by Aatish Taseer, with the cover screaming “India’s divider in chief”. For his pain, Taseer got his overseas citizenship card, which enables a foreigner of Indian origin to enter India without having to apply for a visa, revoked. But the dam was broken. The recent mismanagement of Covid-19 lock-down started a deluge of criticism that is sweeping the foreign media. In addition to the miles of text written in English (List 1), the press in other languages has also started to take note (List 2 for French coverage).
The Emperor’s new clothes have been exposed for what they are – non-existent. The foreign media has called him out. At home, a carefully groomed “godi” media continues to trumpet his lies, but a growing number of voices are joining the handful of journalists like Rana Ayub, Siddarth Varadarajan and Ravish Kumar who stood tall, and shone the beacon of light and truth, alone in the years of darkness. As it becomes more and more difficult to tell lies to people about themselves, newer and newer lies are being manufactured. As the whole country tried to calculate the colossal lie about 85% reduction of train fares for migrants, an even bigger lie involving 20 lakh crore of rupees was floated. Usual spending, loans, even existing tax breaks, all masquerading as part of emergency fiscal package. But it is not so easy to lie to people about their own misery. As the government harps on about one-nation-one-ration-card, migrants on the road are asking for food here and now.
The islamophobic cacophony can no longer mask the screams of agony. The first major famine of independent India is unfolding and the force of this reality is sweeping away the layers of lies so carefully built for seven long years. The tissue of lies is fraying at the edges. Will people now take the fabric of lies and rip it open to reveal the toxic waste that it hides? Expose the festering wound? Dare to look into the putrid mess that passes for morality in our times? Have the courage to treat the disease and stem the rot? Or are we destined to walk, shrouded in lies, in a blind dreamlike fantasy of greatness, which will ultimately lead to our destruction?
List 1: English (mainly UK and continental Europe)
- https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/24/indias-13bn-population-locked-down-to-beat-coronavirus https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-52063286
- https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/apr/08/india-leaders-coronavirus-lockdown https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-52131338
- https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-52086274 https://www.dw.com/en/religious-tension-in-india-aggravated-by-coronavirus/a-53195228
List 2: French (France and Belgium)