On Modi visit: A reply to Washington Post
by Adity Sharma on 08 Oct 2014 13 Comments

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to New York City, then Washington DC, was historic in many respects, and it was covered voraciously by a large section of the media in India and abroad. But there are always the self-styled intellectuals who earn their bread and butter by presenting distortions. They fervently hope that just because the piece was published on a reputable portal, it is now undisputed fact.


In a piece titled, Narendra Modi was Speaking in Code When he Visited America, the author unleashes a scathing barrage of vitriol against Modi. The author seems to be high on allegations and fancies of the imagination and extremely low on factual data. There are several problems presented in prolix detail.


The first problem the piece harps on about is Modi’s choice of colour. Yes, the author does indeed get the significance of saffron right. But so what if the Prime Minister chooses this colour? Modi gave up familial pleasure and amassing wealth in favor of working for India. If it is anyone who deserves to wear this colour, it is Modi.


Then, the author accuses supposed “Hindu fundamentalists” of co-opting saffron. Saffron is a sacred colour to Hindu Dharma. But the author seems to be muddying the waters by levelling inane allegations unsubstantiated by an iota of fact. By the way, what Hindu fundamentalists? The ones who were hounded out of Kashmir in the hundreds of thousands? Or, is the author referring to the ones who were burned to death in the Godhra massacre. In a typical but unsurprising manner, the author waxes eloquent about the post-Godhra reaction, but makes no mention of the 59 lives lost.


The second problem the author has with Modi is the project to clean up Ganga - Namami Gange. Again, so what? More than 85 percent of the population in India is Hindu. If Modi’s government has named the project Namami Gange, it does not detract the right of other people who depend on its sacred waters. This argument is as asinine as someone complaining that they cannot reside in Hebron, Moab, or Jericho, places with religious names, simply because they denote Christianity or Judaism. India’s ancient language is Sanskrit, and it is only natural that projects and initiatives will take inspiration from this vast wellspring. Would it not be strange if the French government decided to give a project pertinent to French history and tradition a German name?


The third problem the author points out with a flourish was Modi’s Navaratri Vrat (fast), which coincided with his US trip. He gets poor marks for doing homework because he fails to note that Modi was not brandishing his beliefs to show off to his US audience, but has been observing this Vrat for more than four decades. Why single Modi out for being a Hindu?


In the past, while on the campaign trail, and even securely in office, politicians belonging to powerful democracies have used faith to forge and cement their support base, and further their political ambitions. This is seen as normal and part of the pomp and show that is part and parcel of so many election campaigns around the globe. Faulting the Prime Minister for observing a Vrat is utterly preposterous if not downright discriminatory towards Hindus.


The final problem that the author has brashly alluded to in the title of his piece is that Modi was addressing a purported “Hindu nationalist” base in the US and India. The author claims that symbols Modi supposedly brandished were in fact meant to appease his Hindu support base. It is all too obvious that the author of the piece has either completely missed or paid scant attention to Modi’s very global and unique message to the United Nations General Assembly and to his Madison Square Garden audience, and has instead embarked on the familiar and worn-out path many India-watching intellectuals choose to take.


Let us suppose for a minute that Modi did indeed want to exclusively please his Hindu supporters. The fact is that mere token symbols will not suffice. Real action must be taken at the institutional level to actuate a much needed change. For starters, Modi’s government can begin to make a serious effort in remedying the institutionalised discrimination against Hinduism. Next, his government can address the issue of flagrant discrepancies in the Indian Constitution in matters of land acquisition for educational institutions, or the control of religious institutions belonging to the Hindus by the government.


Finally, the BJP can address the real danger of complete annihilation faced by Hindus in neighboring Pakistan and Bangladesh. He has not even taken concrete steps to deal with the illegal Muslims from Bangladesh who are rapaciously changing religious demographics in the northeastern part of the country. Thus far, Modi’s government has not taken any concrete or even symbolic steps to redress the aforementioned grievances. In fact, he has not so much as paid lip service to these issues. So what is the author ranting about?


The Washington Post piece illustrates in ample detail the bias many India-watchers entertain about the country and its leader. Would it have been more acceptable, even urbane, if Modi dressed in Islamic green and showed off his secular (sic) credentials? Would the author of the piece have written an impartial analysis if Modi had presented President Obama with a copy of the Quran instead of the Gita?


The unsavory reality is that unlike European nations that were groaning under the heel of Christianity just a few centuries ago, or Islamic nations that are still suffering under Islam, Hindus have lived under the ideal of “live and let live”, which is woven deep into Hindu philosophy. Nothing can shake that foundation. Over the past decades however, secularism has become a whip with which to beat Hindus into submission and guilt.


Now, for the first time in independent India, there is a leader with a healthy desire to initiate meaningful change in the public discourse. This is also a great opportunity for self-styled intellectuals to transform their stale anti-Hindu perspective, and become part of the new narrative on India. 

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