Time’s 100 list: PM Modi cannot be pigeonholed

One would be surprised if Prime Minister Narendra Modi does not figure in any list prepared by any select people in the list of influential global leaders. But equally surprising is the opinion of CNN journalist Fareed Zakaria wherein he has said that PM Modi “has pushed the country (India) away from secularism and towards […]

One would be surprised if Prime Minister Narendra Modi does not figure in any list prepared by any select people in the list of influential global leaders. But equally surprising is the opinion of CNN journalist Fareed Zakaria wherein he has said that PM Modi “has pushed the country (India) away from secularism and towards Hindu nationalism”.

Time’s list in itself is not very objective since it is based on opinion and recommendations of its international staff and alumni numbering 100. This is not based on an international anonymous poll and is an opinion of a select few elite. For credibility’s sake, they can’t ignore certain leaders but inclusion of Taliban co-founder Abdul Ghani Baradar raises eyebrows.

The bias is clear in Zakaria’s description. One can imagine that America’s biggest debacle will need to be assuaged by Western media by projecting Baradar as a more presentable face of the Taliban. It is also a way to tell the Taliban who is acceptable to the West. Not that the Taliban are bothered.

Most interesting is the description of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. She is described as “the face of fierceness in Indian politics”. “Of Banerjee, it is said, she does not lead her party, the Trinamool Congress, she is the party. The street fighter spirit, and self-made life in a patriarchal culture set her apart.”

One wonders why this description was not given in 2012 when she appeared in the same Time’s list. Banerjee was then described as a “mercurial oddball and a shrieking street fighter”, however, what she has proved to be is a “consummate politician”. “Banerjee, 57, spent years struggling on the margins, her Trinamool Congress party a feisty rabble compared with the leviathan of West Bengal’s communists…”

It did not mention her mesmerising spell on the electorate that uprooted the Left Front’s 34 year of misrule in West Bengal in 2011. Time’s list in 2011 had come a month before election results. So, in 2012, it definitely merited a strong mention which was sadly missing.

Banerjee is hugely popular no doubt, but not for the right reasons. She has adopted the technique of the Left Front to stay in power and has adopted minority appeasement and violence to intimidate adversaries. One wonders whether the West has this as the ideal type for their society.

Although the Left and the Congress bundled themselves out to enable a Trinamool victory in West Bengal in May, they together failed to prevent the BJP from becoming the single largest Opposition in the state with victory on 77 seats, a remarkable improvement from its tally of three in 2016. The BJP secured a vote percentage of 41 per cent which was a mere three per cent less than that of the Trinamool Congress.

And to say that she stood out despite a patriarchal culture is a feat she achieved a long time back. In fact, the US took a long time to field a woman—Hillary Clinton—as a presidential nominee. In India, there is a rich culture of women rulers and leaders who have etched their names in history despite patriarchy. Razia Sultan, Rani Lakshmibai and Rani Gaidinliu—historical figures—are household names.

Suchita Kriplani, the first woman chief minister of any Indian state (Uttar Pradesh), Indira Gandhi, Mayawati are examples who have made their mark in politics by dint of their hard work. And we should not forget the late J. Jayalalithaa who held sway over Tamil Nadu politics for quite a long time. Patriarchy never came in their way.

If you ask a person like Fareed Zakaria to write a profile, you don’t expect him to hide his bias. In fact, this suits the narrative Western media tries to peddle to feed vested interests. PM Modi is in the Time’s list but something must be given to Islamists and Leftists who may not like this. Zakaria has done just that. He has tried to cater to those who dominate the media and policy making and tries to see India in a particular way.

In April 2012, Zakaria had predicted that Narendra Modi would not become a national leader in India. Modi could never become the face of India, he had asserted. He keeps looking at opportunities to hurl punches at Modi without trying to get into details. His credibility as an impartial observer is very low, except among so-called secular journalists, because of his Congress links and also because of intellectual dishonesty. You cannot form an opinion based on a few reports here and there. The India of today definitely thinks differently than Lutyens’ elite.

Even credible international agencies make their reports on India not based on facts but perceptions after talking to a few individuals favourably inclined. There are media persons who are paid handsomely to write against the Modi government. An organisation wanted to hire a journalist who would be anti-Modi. Only such narratives suit the West that try to paint India in a bad light.

Let us try to analyse Zakaria’s specific criticisms: “Pushing India away from secularism and towards Hindu nationalism” and mishandling of Covid-19. A Prime Minister who worked over time to ensure that cryogenic tankers were imported from wherever possible and liquified medical oxygen filled cylinders were supplied to various Indian states using oxygen express trains cannot be spoken so loosely. Zakaria is speaking like Indian Opposition parties who have to criticise to score a political point and live for another day.

Such irresponsible writing is not expected from a journalist who would like to call spade a spade. His bias is there even when he describes Indian media as servile to the government and cannot show mirror to the ruling dispensation. The same media publishes or broadcasts his interview freely and nobody objects.

In the second wave, because of insistence by states, the management of Covid was handed over to the states. The role of the Centre was limited to setting protocols and providing resources and advisories. A real assessment would emerge only if someone prepares an unbiased, objective and fact-based narrative of what happened in those two months—April and May 2021—that appeared like dark clouds and took toll on even the most empowered houses. Needless to point out that Zakaria in an interview to CNN News in May had spoken about why a nationwide second lockdown was not possible.

On secularism, the entire country is debating what should be described as secularism—appeasement of minorities or equal opportunities to all. If you say that India is being pushed away from secularism, you are holding something that is beholden to you and you have reasons to lament. Are you talking of secularism that existed in India before the word “secularism” was inserted in the constitution’s Preamble by the 42nd amendment in 1976? First Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and chairman of the Constitution drafting committee Dr B.R. Ambedkar decided after due debate to keep the word out of the Preamble because the word was a Western evolution and not suited to Indian context. Nehru’s daughter Indira Gandhi thought otherwise and she even amended the vision enshrined in the Preamble.  

There are no concrete examples to demonstrate Zakaria’s views even if the criticism is taken at face value. The Minority Ministry is working remarkably well. Crores of scholarships have been allocated for students from the minority community for “secular” education and not madrasa-type education. Due to the introduction of biometric Aadhaar cards (that was opposed by secularists) so many bogus names have been taken out of the fake enrollment list of students in many States. This has happened in the case of ration cards and also other lists that get subsidies from the government.

Zakaria has special abhorrence for the CAA legislation as evidenced in his quoting a tweet from another secularist Shashi Tharoor. On 15 December 2019 Zakaria tweeted: “India’s new citizenship law is just the latest evidence that under PM Narendra Modi, the country is departing from its founding principles as a secular, open democracy, says opposition MP @ShashiTharoor”. Is his profile analysis a reflection of this tweet? Can he prove that CAA legislation is anyway opposed to Indian Muslims, or is in any way taking away any rights of any community? It is a legislation that confers citizenship on original Indian subjects residing in neighbouring countries but are persecuted due to Islamic radicalisation.

Saying that the country is being pushed to Hindu nationalism is baffling? It sounds like an Indian Leftist or Islamist bewailing unity of people for national cause. There used to be a time when it was fashionable among secular analysts of Indian affairs to see Hindus in terms of caste divides and Muslims as one monolithic entity. Their phraseology and understanding stemmed from that. By that count 14 per cent Muslims would be bigger than any caste Hindu grouping. Even the Jatavs (SC caste) constitute only about 14 per cent. Hence some of the caste Hindus who have their own community practice would fall in the category of minorities.

When there is nothing to unite people here, they vote on caste lines or other issues of mass mobilisation. At times they have risen to speak as one despite differences. When people have dreams of a strong India through the vision of PM Modi, they have reasons to vote for the country. This explains why social divisions don’t come in the way of a new national polity. They all want India to play its role in the world.

India cannot be India if it is divested of its rich cultural heritage. For example, yoga, which the world has accepted as one of the best ways for wholesome health. Even followers of Islam follow their traditional roots. For anything rich is Islamic culture, people would look towards other countries that are Islamic and have a serious history to claim a unique place. For example, Saudi Arabia. Where 80 per cent of the population is Hindus, one cannot grudge if they feel glorified and have started taking pride in their cultural roots.

And one must know that it is the Hindu culture and not the police or state that guarantees the safety of minorities in this country. The culture that has allowed experiment and does not consider anything blasphemous—even sage Charvaka who advocated bohemian existence was considered a saint—has given shelter to world religions. While separatists are trying to inject virus of communalism, the second largest Muslim population of the world lives in India in perfect peace and harmony. One needs to be truly Indian to appreciate this and not ones who try to judge India from Western stereotypes. Modi rising has scripted an India rising story. Doomsayers would be proved wrong. PM Modi cannot be pigeonholed.

The writer is the convener of the Media Relations Department of the BJP and represents the party as a spokesperson on TV debates. He has authored the book ‘Narendra Modi: The Game Changer’. Views expressed are writer’s personal.