Understanding The Economist’s Hinduphobia

Understanding The Economist’s Hinduphobia

The media are popularly known as the fourth estate, monitoring the other three estates – the legislature, the executive, and the judiciary – and therefore serving as the fourth pillar of democracy. The unmatched influence it has over the common people makes it immensely powerful. Newspapers, magazines, and TV channels, and now the newest medium – social media, exercise clout sometimes not available to elected officials. Social media is undoubtedly the most popular among all the above, but it comes with its own problems. It stands either as an echo-chamber of homologous groups and circles or as a big human park of possible friendships and connections. Hence, in average circumstances, the information we are likely to receive from social media is directly related to our own ideological inclination, which may seem a fair deal for the ordinary user of social media but is never so for the politically active or the politically powerful.

People in power, with influence or wealth, still look for the ideologically old, rugged pages of newspapers and magazines – all, of course, with influential reputation, more so in the global opinion market. International opinion and consensus – which is a very significant part of global investment play – is almost entirely shaped through the old horses of information world: newspapers and magazines.

India, since the last seven years, has gone through major socio-cultural changes, delighting or disturbing depending upon the kind of political tea one prefers. Global consensus was naturally bound to change with it too. For those morally upright, idealistic or, in global matters, naïve, newspapers are neutral and not directly a party to the artificial construction of consensus. But that did not happen then, and it is not happening now. Global newspapers and magazines have consistently confined themselves to a certain format, with fixed agendas, and have used lens fashioned to serve their own good and evaluate others based on their own self-interest.

One of the most influential among these international magazines is The Economist. “Narendra Modi threatens to turn India into a one-party state” titled[1] the British magazine which is well known as a promoter of laissez-faire economics, and as an effective proxy of the global liberal order. “(T)the world’s largest democracy is headed to a future that is less, not more free” it added, highlighting, to its mostly elite audience, the apparently dystopian plight of a billion plus people of India at the hands of the government the Indian people democratically re-elected just two years ago. The anonymous writer of the essay was fuming at the release of the Indian journalist Arnab Goswami – which the writer termed as a very quick affair. “In the same week that Mr Goswami won his swift reprieve, Father Stan Swamy, an 83-year-old Jesuit priest who has championed rights for tribal peoples and is being held as an alleged Maoist terrorist, made a plea before a lower court. As he suffers from Parkinson’s disease and cannot hold a cup steady, lawyers requested that he be allowed to have a straw in his prison cell. The court postponed the hearing for 20 days” it added, forwarding its concern that a silver spoon was not being handed to a Maoist terrorist, as it was done to one of India’s most popular journalists, who was apparently detained for political vendetta. The Economist not only puts a popular journalist and Christian proselytiser-terrorist in the same basket, it does so with a preposterous attack on India’s courts: “But the courts, especially the Supreme Court, have watched this indiscriminate and violent trampling of dissent like mute spectators”.

This is not the first time the magazine has tried what it thinks of as ‘educating’ the Indian apex court. More than a year ago, in its January 25, 2020 issue, the editors advised[2] the Supreme Court of the world’s largest democracy on the Citizenship Amendment Act – which it deems to this day as a law ‘to favour Hindus’ only. “The Supreme Court, which this week declined to suspend the citizenship law, should heed this, show some unexpected spine and declare it unconstitutional,” it said in its absurdly didactic commentary believing as it were that it was passing judgment on a former colony’s officers. The weekly magazine, through its anonymously written essays, has almost always acted as a strong proxy for what it deems as free values and has always considered itself as the true light of knowledge, as an authority which can educate and civilize ‘heathens’ who know not what they do.

This has been the central theme in most western discourse on India, and it is apparent from reading the opinion pieces in The Economist. Editorials in the magazine in the nineteenth century called Indians as exemplifying the “native character . . . half child, half savage, actuated by sudden and unreasoning impulses.”

The blatant racism which considers Indians as unworthy, illiterates – even though for much of global civilizational history, Indians have far exceeded in prosperity than anyone else – is still the ink that fills its writers’ pens or guides their keystrokes. Western supremacist portrayals of others are not something imagined. It stems from the authority and power Western people enjoyed in the colonial era. But with the turn of time, their dominance has eroded and so has their imperial setup. Colonialism, as it used to be, is long dead. Yet, for obvious reasons, Westerners are yet to comport themselves to the norms of the present. This gives rise to two types of complexes: first is the colonial hangover, where they still see others as heathens, fit to be ruled and ordered around, and second, is to revive the older imperial empire to materialize the first.

No doubt the magazine’s language has changed. The metal, shape, and the handle of the sword changes so does the strength in the wielder’s hand, but the red reflection of the cause in the attacker’s eyes is still the same – colonialism, albeit in a newer form. It is for this reason alone that they lecture the Indian Supreme Court on following the law so much so that it termed the ruling in the Ayodhya Ram Temple case as “a glaring legal sleight of hand that it marked another shift away from equality between India’s faiths” in its January 25, 2020 editorial[3] titled “Narendra Modi’s sectarianism is eroding India’s secular democracy”. “There are an awful lot of Hindus, I’d guess 40%, who basically dislike Muslims and have no problem at all with this government’s approach,” the magazine – self-styled as a guiding light to truth, fearless and independent – quoted an anonymous American political scientist of Indian origin to put this wild guess on its pages. The existence of this analyst, though obviously questionable, is of lesser importance compared to the choice of words this expert was quoted as saying.

The said quote portrays Hindus as insensitive and aggressors while, at the same time, painting Muslims as innocent victims suffering from Hindu aggression. India’s sacred geography was fragmented, seven decades ago, by Muslims and for Muslims. Yet independent India, the remaining intact chunk, as soon as it turned into a republic, bestowed Muslims with greater rights, opportunities, and resources than it did to its historically loyal community – the Hindus. As a result, the Indian Muslim population grew and continues to grow, faster than the rest, and has reached to over 15-16 percent of the total Indian population. The past decades have facilitated their rise in many regions in Kerala, West Bengal, Western Uttar Pradesh of, what Swarajya columnist Arihant Pawariya termed[4], “two nations side by side”. Add to the chain the new government of Narendra Modi – widely portrayed as a chest thumping ‘Hindu nationalist’ whose support base has regularly been called ‘Hindu chauvinists’ – has provided the same Muslims with thousands of crores in Indian taxpayers’ money in scholarships and welfare schemes, and more than any of his predecessors, dedicated programs, separate markets like Hunar Hath, increase in minority ministry budget allocation and much more. Despite this, a simple look at India’s riots and terrorism history would present a far different view of the beneficiary Muslim community than what The Economist perceives, i.e., that Hindus are the eternal culprits and the problem.

Yet the magazine found one reason or the other to lament for Muslims and curse Indian democracy – for apparently not being benevolent enough to the ‘minority’. “Top officers in the force, which before Mr Modi’s government stopped releasing statistics comprised just 2% Muslims in a city with a 13% Muslim minority, had been filmed standing next to a BJP politician at a rally where he threatened to attack protesters, mostly Muslims, holding a peaceful sit-in against the new citizenship law.”[5] The politician of concern here is undoubtedly Delhi BJP’s popular face Kapil Mishra, who never really ‘threatened’ to attack anyone. What he really said in his allegedly ‘Muslim hating speech’ was to remove the barrier to common people’s lives that was the sit-in protest at Shaheenbagh and other places which had blocked major thoroughfares in a busy section of the city.

Protestors, mostly Muslims, had encroached upon public spots. They had indulged in unlawful activities earlier inciting violence, making seditious speeches against the Indian nation, and calling for a Hindu genocide. On top of all that, they had also indulged in violence several times, as was reported in December 2019. But for The Economist all shades are orange and only Hindus are culprits. Their concern over the lesser percentage of Muslims in the police force is not new. “In 2006 a hefty report detailed Muslims’ growing disadvantages. It found that very few army officers were Muslim; their share in the higher ranks of the police was ‘minuscule’,” The Economist said in its October 29, 2016 editorial titled ‘An Uncertain Minority’.

The Economist’s concern for Muslim ‘rights’ is not a concern for democracy in India, as it may seem from an initial glimpse. But after a careful parsing of the propaganda, one reaches a natural conclusion that inherent in all of it lies a deeply embedded hatred for Hinduism and all things Hindus. Hinduphobia, as a term, has been used very rarely in academic circles – mostly to refer to direct disparaging attack on the Hindu faith. Yet it is seen more boldly and in its most ugly form, in the cause championing of those who have been or are in direct conflict with the same Hindu faith, i.e., Islamists-Jihadists, communists, Christian supremacists, etc.

In its August 4th, 2020 report[6] – just after the Supreme Court’s decision in the favour of Hindus in the Ayodhya case – headlined ‘India’s ruling party replaces a mosque with a Hindu Temple’, The Economist bared its full fangs, spewing unbridled venom at Hindus, albeit in a clever form – pretending to target BJP’s Hindutva. Describing Modi’s earlier career of the 1990s, the editorial says, “Mr Modi had recently joined the national campaign team of the Hindu-chauvinist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which was agitating for the demolition of the mosque and the construction of a temple in its stead.” As Ramesh Rao has pointed out in his recent essay[7], when terms like ‘chauvinist’ and ‘nationalist’ is used, it is never in the context of other nationalisms, identities, and aspirations. “For example, the reader is not told what other nationalisms — Muslim nationalism, Christian nationalism, secular nationalism, Gandhian nationalism, or whatever other applicable such ‘nationalisms’ — are at play in the Indian context and why or how ‘Hindu nationalism’ is problematic/debilitating and other nationalisms are correct, acceptable, good”.

On top of it, as a smear pudding, the magazine never explained satisfactorily or with adequate examples as to why it perceives Muslims or democracy in India to be in any danger. So much so that it often used words that would naturally look amateurish, vile, and banefully exaggerating if someone else were to use them. In its October 24, 2019 editorial titled ‘The muddle Modi made’[8], The Economist termed the NRC – which was only proposed and not implemented yet – as a “form of ethnic cleansing by bureaucracy”. It said that the NRC was a “threat to strip millions of poor and mostly Muslim people in Assam of citizenship”, overlooking the well-known fact that most in Assam who were put in the chamber of uncertainty were Hindus and not Muslims.

Months later, in another of its editorials[9], the magazine wrote of the NRC as a wildfire about to engulf the whole Muslim community within days. “Word of this danger is already spreading. Mosque sermons are warning the faithful to gather as many official documents as they can to serve up to Mr Shah’s expected bloodhounds,” they wrote.

Many of its elite readers and the deracinated, “secular, progressive” Indian convert would believe that the magazine stands equally, steadily, and sternly with true liberty around the world and that it believes in writing harsh truth, unafraid. But the larger play here, the breaking news, is that none of it is true, at least not in the Hindu context, as apparent in its coverage of Indian events. When on the one hand a half-implemented NRC is ethnic cleansing, on the other hand The Economist terms the Godhra train burning – the most tragic of Hindu massacres in recent history – as a mere event “when a fire aboard a train” which killed 59 Hindu pilgrims returning from Ayodhya. Despite clear evidence, the magazine provided soft cover for the actual culprits as “local Muslims” who “were accused of arson”, and just a few lines later criticising Modi for the Gujarat riots even though the court had acquitted him. The essay went on to define the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, as “a goose-stepping Hindu paramilitary group with perhaps 5m members”.

Insensitivity to Hindus, or Hinduphobia, in The Economist is not merely a prerogative of its writers, but even its artists and designers pitch in to create the dark vacuum. In one of their editorials[10] in October 2020 – the magazine had a disturbing image as its cover, a portrayal or rather criticism of the Indian Prime Minister as an ardent multitasker with multiple hands holding various objects and seated on a lotus, just like Brahma, the Hindu creator god. I believe the large majority of the magazine’s staff is white and Christian, self-styled as torchbearers of liberalism, yet they have not ever published an illustration of Christ or any other holy figure in such mocking, derisive ways.

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Illustration of Indian PM Modi as a Hindu God, used as a cover image for Modi’s criticism in The Economist editorial – “For good and ill, India’s prime minister is hard at work” (October 10, 2020)

This has been the theme in almost all prominent global English media outlets. A model of operation heavily influenced by Abrahamic dogmas and monotheistic – often anti-pagan – ideologies.

The modern world – a global village under universal ideas – is a design and function of post-renaissance Christendom. Guns, cannons, industry, or technology — all tools effectively used by Europeans, of Europe, of America or elsewhere, to further their remoulded set of values packed in a universal bag. The nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were like a 100m sprint of western dominance. Widespread power projection, colonization, forced confiscation of native ideas, lands and resources was the implicit reality. And they were successful. All other concepts from various other nations and cultures were dwarfed and sometimes ruthlessly mocked for not fitting into the “good ideas basket” created by the West. Liberalism was now the big idea which was fawned over by many as perfect for one single universal civilization, without borders and full of freedom. All this as imagined by Western elites, of course.

For a third world non-Christian country, all the West’s thought experiments, and social engineering quest were and still are just another set of tools to convert people to a neo-Christian set of values, repackaged and rebranded for universal consumption. If they can join hands with Islamists or communists to dismantle and destroy India, the last standing bastion against monopolist and supremacist faiths and ideologies, they will, and The Economist is one such vehicle for carrying out that agenda.

Prey to such Western experiments are non-Western civilisation states that have their own unique culture, society, and values. Civilizational states face dangers from fast accelerating cargo trains of western modernism or newer, redesigned, and carefully repackaged Christian theological expansionism. By the end of the twentieth century, however, their power had diminished. But still, western influence has been insidious.  The West’s powers have relatively declined but they have managed to maintain, or some may even say expand their influence, especially so in all the major democracies. All the global experiments, manufactured in western elite clubs, and touted as universal, now aim to indirectly control nations and peoples once directly controlled by them.

India is also a democracy. Hence, it is the people’s will that is most open to baneful influences. How do you design and control the propaganda play in a democratic society? By mass media, of course. That section of mass media always has had the role of justifying western crimes and vilifying the west’s “enemies”. Today, it has upped the ante, and has wormed its way insidiously, like a drug, shaping the readers mind, so the reader opposes an enemy of the West as much as the West’s hegemonic and imperialistic dreamers do.

Hinduism is the binding force of India, the political reawakening of which can create waves big enough to alter the western world’s “global norms”. Strategically speaking, an uncertain India or an unsettled Kashmir is in the great interest of Britain or the US. What Rao wrote of The New York Times stands true for most major western publications, including The Economist – as they are “keen on changing the social/cultural/political dynamic of India, and do(es) not consider it interference in another country’s internal affairs, and worse yet, seeking to impose its set of values and its agenda on a predominantly Hindu society”.

The Economist, since the days of its founding, has always acted as a strong proxy of liberalism and the liberal global order. Its fashionable and stern commandments and supposed fearless reporting are nothing more than the repackaging and branding of the “White man’s burden” – telling us what to do so that we can save ourselves.  Aided by its own founding principles and ideological inclinations, the magazine cannot but give space to the venting of hatred toward Hinduism and India.  If they were to try something like that on Muslims and Islam, they know their fate would be like that of the writers and editors of Charlie Hebdo. So, while reading The Economist’s editorials, one must always keep the magazine own old assertion – “laissez-faire may best be furthered through the barrel of a gun”.

[1] Narendra Modi threatens to turn India into a one-party state, The Economist, November 28, 2020

[2] Intolerant India: Narendra Modi Stocks divisions in the world’s biggest democracy, The Economist, January 25, 2020

[3] Narendra Modi’s sectarianism is eroding India’s secular democracy, The Economist, January 25, 2020

[4] Muslim Areas in Secular State: ‘Two-Nations’ Is Not Just A Theory but A Lived Reality of India, Arihant Pawariya, October 15, 2019, Swarajya Magazine

[5] Narendra Modi threatens to turn India into a one-party state, The Economist, November 28, 2020

[6] India’s ruling party replaces a mosque with a Hindu Temple, The Economist, August 4, 2020

[7] Understanding The New York Times’ Anti-Hindu Bias, India Facts, Ramesh Rao, August 27, 2020

[8] The Muddle Modi Made, The Economist, October 24, 2019

[9] India’s new citizenship law outrages Muslims, The Economist, December 12, 2019

[10] Modi The Multitasker: October 10, 2020

Yogendra Singh Thakur

Yogendra Singh Thakur is a freelance columnist from Betul, Madhya Pradesh. He has written essays for IndiaFacts, Swarajya Magazine, Pragyata Magazine, and OpIndia. He is pursuing a BA, majoring in History, Political Science, and Sociology.