The Economist Or the Pulp Fiction?
In its issue dated 4th May 2019, the Economist, London has published an editorial by Anonymous which makes various baseless allegations against Indian Prime Minister Modi. It is obvious that the editor has written the 820-word piece without enough research. Probably, the idea was not to present facts backed by credible evidence but just engage in bad-mouthing Modi and his successful tenure of last five years. It also raises a doubt whether it is a ‘sponsored’ article by the Congress Party – India’s main opposition.
In the following paragraphs, I expose the Economist’s editorial piece with evidence.
Under India’s leader Narendra Modi, the Bharatiya Janata Party poses a risk to democracy.
The Economist admits that Modi was not ‘as bad as his critics, including this newspaper imagined’. Yet it considers that under Modi’s leadership the BJP poses a risk to democracy. It doesn’t offer any rationale how this conclusion was arrived. But is the BJP under Modi really a threat to Indian democracy?
To answer this question, the international framework for assessment of democracy, will be helpful. The International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA) assesses democracies based on five attributes and sixteen subattributes: (a) representative government (clean elections, inclusive suffrage, free political parties and elected governments), (b) fundamental rights (access to justice, civil liberties, social rights and equalities (c) checks on government (effective Parliament, judicial independence, media integrity) (d) impartial administration (absence of corruption, predictable enforcement) and (e) participatory engagement (civil society participation, electoral participation, direct democracy, subnational elections.
The Economist doesn’t tell us under which of the above five attributes, Indian democracy got compromised in Modi’s rule.
If we check the pre-Modi years when the left-backed Congress party ruled most of the years, democracy was trampled unabashedly. Here are two examples: (a) In the 1953, Kerala state elections, Congress Party’s Minister T. T. Krishnamachari threatened ‘even if communists win the elections, we will not allow them to rule’ (Godbole, 2009:78). The Communist did win the elections. Yet Nehru used Article 356 of the Constitution, dismissed the government and imposed President’s rule. S. A. Dange, a veteran communist leader, (who received the highest honour from the then USSR, The Order of Lenin), described Nehru’s actions as the ‘murderers of democracy’ (Godbole, 2009:78). Nehru misused the Article on six more occasions. “It was widely acknowledged that Nehru had set the country a bad example’ (Granville, 1999:606-7). (b) Indira, Nehru’s daughter misused Article 356 no less than 50 times during her 16-year regime. She is also known for imposing national emergency for 21 months (1975-77) during which political opponents were imprisoned, media censored, human rights trampled, and mass-sterilization forced. (c) It is alleged that Rajiv Gandhi’s statement following his mother’s assassination triggered unprecedented violence that saw nearly 3,000 Sikhs massacred in Delhi in 1984. Prosecution of the culprits didn’t take place for 34 years. Now under Modi, the first prosecution has taken place.
Does the Economist consider the above examples as indicators of a thriving democracy that suddenly came under threat under Modi? Has Modi abused Article 356 during his five-year tenure as the Congress Party leadership did? are political opponents put in jail? Is media suppressed? Can the Economist answer?
National and subnational elections continued to be held as per schedule under Modi’s five-year tenure. Village council (panchayat) polls also took place in late 2018 even in the troubled state of J&K which saw an unprecedented voter turnout of 74% despite threat from militants. Furthermore, several legislative measures have been taken to weed out corruption. These include anti-black money act, anti-benami transactions act, demonetisation, fugitive economic offenders act and Jan Dhan bank accounts for all to enable direct benefit transfer preventing leakages. The appointment of anti-graft ombudsman (Lokpal) is yet another such measure.
In fact, the latest report (2017:48) of the International IDEA found that ‘While India continues to experience unrest in its periphery, and regional tensions remain high over Kashmir, its democracy is vibrant’.
Yet, for some inexplicable reasons, the Economist, chooses to ignore the above evidence and make a broad-brush allegation that democracy is under threat under Modi and advises that India would be better off with a different leader and later endorses Rahul.
Sending warplanes to bomb India’s nuclear neighbour earlier this year was not so much an act of strength as recklessness that could have ended in disaster.
The Economist again includes such throw-away sentences without indicating what alternative action could the Modi government have taken. The problem of Pakistan sponsored terrorism is recognised at the global-level now with the UNSC declaring Masood Azhar as a global terrorist. Furthermore, India’s action in Balakot were backed by many countries.
Mr Modi’s tough-guy approach has indeed been a disaster in the disputed state of Jammu & Kashmir, where he has inflamed a separatist insurgency rather than quelling it, while at the same time alienating moderate Kashmiris by brutally repressing protests.
The above seems to be an ‘invention’ of the Economist, offered without any evidence. In fact, during the Governor’s rule and later in the President’s rule, village council elections have peacefully taken place in J&K with a voter turnout of 74% as already indicated above. Similarly, Parliamentary elections have also been held peacefully which evidences that situation is normalising. The separatist leaders were taken in custody and situation is calm. J&K problem has a long history. Nehru was the chief architect of the Kashmir problem which has continued since then and efforts for a peaceful resolution have not yielded any results. Consequently, Modi has changed the strategy which needs to be given a try rather than continuing old and failed ways. The Economist editor may like to read two very useful books – Sarila (2005. Ch 12 and 13) and Jagmohan (1991) before making half-baked and ill-informed comments.
In 2016 Mr Modi abruptly cancelled most Indian banknotes in an effort to thwart money-laun- dering. The plan failed, but not without causing huge disruption to farmers and small businesses. He has pushed through a nationwide sales tax and an overhaul of the bankruptcy code, two much-needed reforms.
The Economist is echoing what the opposition parties in India are saying about demonetisation and the GST. One wonders whether the editorial was written in the Congress party headquarter! Both these measures – demonetisation and GST – did cause short-term disruption, but Modi warned of it when he introduced the measures. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) agrees that in the long-term these measures would considerably benefit Indian economy.
Demonetisation was a step taken to push the economy towards formalisation. The cash in circulation is reduced by Rs five trillion as a recent report has found. Among other benefits, it has helped widen, the tax-base and improved direct tax collection.
Similarly, the GST is benefitting Indians in multiple ways. Price rise is inter-alia, under control with inflation rate of 4.7% below the inflation targeting rate set by the Reserve Bank of India. Inflation touched over 10% during left-backed UPA regime and was a major poll issue during 2014 elections but it is not the issue in 2019 elections. Similarly, the tax to GDP ratio has shown unprecedented rise under Modi and so also personal tax filings.
The economy has grown only marginally faster during his tenure than it did over the previous ten years, when the Congress party was in government,
Contrary to the observation by the Economist, the Indian economy under Modi continued to be the fastest growing large economy in the world. A comparison of Modi’s 5 years with that of UPA’s shows that the per capita real GDP and the growth in GDP was faster under Modi.
Unemployment has risen, breaking promises to the contrary.
This observation seems to have been taken directly from the leaked NSSO report. The report is yet to be officially published. Basing comments on an unpublished report raises issues of credibility of the Economist. Incidentally, the jobless rate refers to organised sector employment only.
The Union Finance Minister stated on the floor of the House, that in two years, two crore (20 million) jobs have been created as per EPFO data. Furthermore, over 40 million new loans have been disbursed under the MUDRA scheme of loans to micro, small and medium enterprises. Significant jobs created in the infrastructure and tourism sector don’t get counted in the jobless numbers given the jobs data collection system in India which Modi is reviewing to bring it on par with the international standard. The actual unemployment rate as per trading economics was 3.5%.
Indians hear such criticisms less often because Mr Modi has cowed the press, showering bounty on flatterers while starving, controlling and bullying critics.
If one goes by the Press Freedom Index, then India’s rank in 2014 was 140 which improved to 138 in 2018 but is back to 140 in 2019. Accordingly, the ranking has either improved or remained the same at what the Modi government inherited from the left-backed Congress government. Also, it appears that the Economist Editor is not checking the websites of NDTV, The Wire, The Hindu, The Quint and other such pro-Congress party media outlets. Unless the editor is carrying a brief of the Congress party, no responsible person would make such a charge on Modi barring, of course, the opposition political parties in India.
He has also suborned respected government institutions, hounding the boss of the central bank from office, for example, as well as loosing tax collectors on political opponents, packing state universities with ideologues and cocking a snook at rules meant to insulate the army from politics.
To substantiate the claim of suborned government institutions, the Economist uses the example of central bank governor being hounded out of office. This is a blatant lie. Rajan left after his contract was over. It is true that it was not renewed. There were serious allegations levelled against him in the 80:20 gold scheme. Afterall, it is government’s prerogative to appoint the governor. The next appointee Patel had to leave the position because of personal reasons, a few months before his term was to expire.
Loosing tax collectors on political opponents seems to be ridiculous charge. When Laloo Prasad Yadav – leader of the RJD party in Bihar – was raided similar charges were made against Modi but eventually the Supreme Court found him guilty and he is in jail. Similarly, Rahul and Sonia Gandhi are on bail in the National Herald graft case. Sonia’s son-in-law Robert Vadra is also on bail in a money laundering case. It is normal for Indian politicians to call ‘political vendetta’ when they are in the docks. Has the Economist forgotten that Modi himself was hauled up by the left-backed UPA regime for 12 long years when he was Chief Minister of Gujarat? Up on investigation, the Supreme Court dismissed all charges.
On another note, would the Economist like that one should not be investigated for tax fraud if one is an opposition party politician? If so, what about the five politicians in the UK who were allegedly involved in tax fraud? Were they not investigated by UK authorities?
Packing state universities with ideologues is a very general charge. Why is it ok to have left-wing ideologues in universities? Why does it become an issue if the right-wing ideologues man positions in universities? During the left-backed UPA regime, for example, several far-left ideologues were appointed to the highest decision-making body – the National Advisory Council.
Interfering with the Army is again a very childish charge. It appears that the Economist just collated various statements made by opposition parties while writing this editorial. A group of army veterans did write to the Indian President about politicisation of the Army, but it turned out that some veterans had never signed the letter and their names were included without consent. Interestingly, the Presidents Office denied having received such a letter. The Balakot strike success made the opposition worry that Modi will get electoral advantage, so such a letter was engineered. The Economist could have verified the authenticity of the claim before publishing its editorial.
Mr Modi’s biggest fault, however, is his relentless stoking of Hindu-Muslim tensions. He personally chose as chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, a fiery Hindu cleric who paints the election campaign as a battle between the two faiths.
The religion-based vote bank politics is the gift of the left-backed Congress Party to India which has boomeranged on it. Prime Minister Man Mohan Singh’s (MMS) statement ‘Muslims have the first right over nations resources”  or Rahul Gandhi’s recent utterance, shrouded in controversy, that the Congress Party is a party of Muslims or Sonia Gandhi’s meetings with the Shahi Imam to beg for Muslim votes and such other appeasement by the Congress over the years have helped consolidate the Hindu vote bank for the BJP automatically. Yogi’s background as a monk and his saffron robe puts him naturally at an advantage. To imply that everything was hunky dory before the saffron brigade took over is just ridiculous and shows complete lack of understanding of Indian politics on the part of the Economist.
Mr Modi’s number two calls Muslim migrants from neighbouring Bangladesh “termites” but promises a warm welcome to Bangladeshi Hindus.
Amit Shah has not called Bangladeshis to be ‘termites’ but expressed a concern that they are eating in to India’s resources like termites. So, the Economist needs to be truthful in reporting. It is estimated that the number illegal immigrants from Bangladesh exceed 15 million. Tripathi (2016) writes ‘The influx of such a large number of illegal Bangladeshi immigrants, particularly in the border states, has proved to be a huge challenge for India with serious implications for its resources and national security.. To understand the issue, the editor of the Economist needs to look inward at UK itself. It is estimated that 430,000 illegal immigrants were in the UK in 2001 as per a government report which warned that the anxiety over the issues has been allowed to grow unchecked. UK deports close to 35,000 illegal immigrants each year but when India wants to do the same, the Economist cries foul. Why not the UK open its door for Bangladeshi illegal migrants in India? They would be too happy to migrate. Here in Australia, elections are won or lost on the ‘boat people’ (illegal immigrants) issue. Non-Muslim immigrants including Christians are welcome in India given the persecution they suffer in countries with majority Muslim population, as reported by the BBC.
And Mr Modi himself has never apologised for failing to prevent the deaths of at least 1,000 people, most of them Muslims, during sectarian riots in the state of Gujarat while he was chief minister there.
The highest Court in India has already given a clean chit to Modi for his role in 2002 riots. The Economist could have also mentioned that millions died under Nehru’s watch during partition riots and so also 3,000 Sikhs were killed under Rajiv Gandhi’s watch. The Economist also should have told us why the Queen of England has not apologised to India so far for the Jallianwala bagh massacre of innocents.
As it is, vigilantes often beat up or lynch Muslims they suspect of harming cows, a holy animal for Hindus. Kashmiris studying in other parts of India have been set upon by angry nationalist mobs. And even if the BJP’s Muslim baiting does not ignite any more full-scale pogroms, it still leaves 175m Indians feeling like second-class citizens.
The much talked about lynching incident – the Akhlaq incident – took place in 2015 in Uttar Pradesh state ruled then by Samajwadi Party- a pro-Muslim party. Police work under the state government. Yet Modi haters like to place the blame on him. Have the Americans held the President responsible for the recent Sikh lynching?. Furthermore, to put Indian lynching in context, the Economist may also like to apprise the readers about lynching (though it may be non-cow related) in the UK as reported by Sherwood, or that in the USA as reported in the EJI report on lynching in America.
Congress, the BJP’s only national rival, may be hidebound and corrupt, but at least it does not set Indians at one another’s throats.
This comment clearly demonstrates that the editorial was probably ‘sponsored’ by the Congress party. Modi’s 12-year rule in Gujarat was riot-free barring the 2002 communal riot. Similarly, during his 5-year rule at the Centre no major communal riot took place. Saha (2009: 565) reports that ‘there have been more than 33,000 Hindu-Muslim riots since 1947’.
The British policy of divide and rule was also responsible for bringing Hindu and Muslims at one another’s throats. ‘There were many policies—like the introduction of separate Hindu and Muslim electorates—that undoubtedly promoted Hindu-Muslim violence’ (Vergese, 2018). Yet the Economist seems to imply as though Hindu-Muslim tensions is a ‘new’ phenomenon that India witnessed after Modi came to power.
If Modi was putting Hindu-Muslims at each other’s throats why would staunch Muslim countries like United Arab Emirates, Palestine, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia confer their highest civilian honour on Modi?? why would Modi abolish Triple Talaq to better the lot of Muslim women? Why would Modi rescue Muslims from Yemen?
It has come up with an impressive manifesto, with thoughtful ideas about how to help the poorest Indians. Its leader, Rahul Gandhi, although a much-derided dynast, has helped modernise the party a little, raising its profile on social media, for example. It is a worthier recipient of Indians’ votes than the BJP.
If you had any doubt that editorial in question may not be ‘sponsored’, then the above comments should dispel it. The Economist is unashamedly endorsing the Congress Party without taking the trouble of doing the maths of the Nyaya scheme. This scheme of Rahul involves a dole of Rs 72,000 per annum for 20 million families which is economically not feasible. There is confusion in the Congress party how it will be funded. Sam Pitroda, Rahul’s mentor says the Congress Party will raise taxes on the middle class but Chidambaram denies this. Rahul says it will be funded by money to be raised from fugitive economic offenders like Nirav Modi. Chidambaram says it will be rolled out in phases. However, one easy way to fund the Nyaya will be for the Economist to help India get back the US$45 trillion that Britain plundered from India.
Also, on the background of the fact that Garibi Hatao was announced by the Congress Party since the time of Nehru – and Rahul too vows to remove it after 70 odd years – speaks volumes about the false promises by the Party. Furthermore, Rahul reneged on his farm loan waiver promise of Rs 580 billion made during Punjab state election in 2017. The actual loan waiver was a meagre Rs 25 billion (less than 5%). Similarly, to win elections, he promised loan waiver of Rs 500 billion in Madhya Pradesh state, yet media reported that a farmer was shocked to get a loan waiver of a paltry Rs 13 against expected waiver of Rs 24,000. The Economist either doesn’t know this history or probably doesn’t want to know it.
But even if, as is more likely, the BJP remains in charge, it would be preferable if it were forced to govern in coalition.
The devious intentions of the Economist are on full display here. Like Mayawati, the Economist also wants a ‘majboor sarkar’ (a lame-duck government) rather than a ‘majboot sarkar’ (a strong government).
The Economist ignores the monumental achievements of Modi government such as the largest health care scheme in the world that covers nearly half of India’s 1.3 billion population, Rs 6,000 per year direct income support for small farmers, more than 90 million toilets built till Dec 2018, 60 million poor families get Gas connection, and over 10 million houses built for the poor . Importantly, India had the dubious distinction of being number 1 globally in open defecation till 2014. The safe sanitation coverage was 38% (2014) which increased to 98% (2019) under Modi.
In sum, the Economist editorial is an example of frustration of a section of the British who feel jealous that India under Modi is becoming stronger by the day. For them, the Congress Party implies a continuation of the British Raj and they want it back so that the loot can continue. The jealousy that the Economist feels about India may also have been driven perhaps by the fact that in 2019, India is expected to surpass Britain as world’s largest economy or it could just be a ‘sponsored’ job. Whatever be the reasons, this sloppy editorial demonstrates the extent to which this highly regarded journal in the past has degenerated. Such writings will not have any impact whatsoever on the Indian voters. The only thing it has achieved is erosion in its highly regarded stature and integrity – from a well-respected journal to a pulp fiction!
 Godbole, M. 2009. The God who failed: Assessment of Jawaharlal Nehru’s leadership, Rupa Publications, New Delhi.
 Granville, A. 1999. Working of a Democratic Constitution- The Indian Experience, Oxford University Press, New Delhi.
 [International IDEA]. International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance. 2017. The Global State of Democracy: Exploring Democracy’s resilience, International IDEA, Sweden.
 Godbole, M. 2009. ibid
 Sarila, N. 2005. The untold story of India’s partition, Harper Collins India, Noida.
 Jagmohan. 1991. My frozen turbulence in Kashmir, Allied Publishers, New Delhi.
 Saha, S. 2009. Sudhir Kakar and the Socio-Psychological Explanation of Hindu-Muslim Communal Riots in India, Australian Journal of Politics and History: 55 (4): 565-583.
 Vergese, A. 2018. British Rule and Hindu-Muslim Riots in India: A Reassessment, https://berkleycenter.georgetown.edu/responses/british-rule-and-hindu-muslim-riots-in-india-a-reassessment
Featured Image: The Print