I have had the privilege to live for more than 40 years in India.
It has long been my opinion that India is very difficult country to grasp for a foreign correspondent, as it is so different from the West, full of contradictions, paradoxes, baffling parameters, etc. Thus, for Westerners, who share more or less the same religion (Christianity), more or less the same ethnic origins (Caucasian), more or less the same food habits (meat) and more or less the same dress code (ties and dresses), India can be a very enigmatic country.
Yet, not only do we find that Western correspondents are generally posted only for three, maximum five years in India – too short a time to really start getting the ABC of the subcontinent; but also, that most of them have – before even reaching India – very strong and biased ideas, prejudices, misconceptions, on the country they are supposed to report about in an impartial and fair manner.
By the time they leave India, these foreign correspondents have even been more reinforced in their prejudices: the Hindu “fundamentalists”, the “persecuted” minorities of India, the “Human Rights” abuses performed in Kashmir by the Indian Army, plus the usual folkloric the stories about India.
Gardiner Harris’ article titled “Campaign for Prime Minister in India Gets Off to Violent Start,” which came out in the NYT dated 17.9.13, does the same – & much worse. Firstly, the usual dislike, which borders on hatred, for Hindu politicians, comes out strongly in his portrayal of Narendra Modi, after he was named as the BJP’s official candidate, even though he has, after all, has made of his state, Gujarat, the most efficient, most prosperous and least corrupt of all the states of India. Of course, he labels Mr Modi “anti-Muslim and accuses him of having engineered the 2002 Gujarat anti-Muslim riots, carefully omitting the fact that they were triggered by the horrifying murder of 57 Hindus, 36 of them innocent women and children, burnt like animals in the Sabarmati Express. Riots of that intensity like in Gujarat, do not happen in a day, they are a result of long term pent-up angers and a spark like the killing of Hindu brothers and sisters, whose only crime was that they believed that Ram was born in Ayodhya, is enough the ignite the smouldering fire.
Is it logical that only Mr Modi is targeted? But who went down in the streets in fury in 2002? Hundreds, if not thousands of Gujuratis, not only from the lower strata of society, not only Dalits, but also middle class, and sometimes even upper middle class! Should they also not be judged and condemned? But then it would be the whole of Gujarat who should be hauled to court, an ancient and noble race, who gave so much to India, including Mahatma Gandhi, and today is still exporting all over the world its upright and successful businessmen, to the US, for instance, where they own most of the motels. Harris also choses to ignore this point.
Western correspondents often too do not bother to check their fact and are criminally ignorant about India. Harris does just the same by linking Mr Modi with the Riots between Hindus and Muslims in Muzaffarnagar, UP, in the last week of August. The sate of Uttar Pradesh is ruled by Mrs Mayawati herself her candidate for the post of PM and a bitter enemy of Mr Modi.
Of course Harris choses to demonize Hindus, implying that the “roughly 80% Hindu Population” (Hindus are much less today) are ostracizing the 13% Muslim population (who are much more now with the Bangladesh influx (I would say near 20%) & that Modi will use the inherent Hindu nationalist streak in every Hindu to get elected Prime Minister with the blood and tears of Muslims. Yet, in 3,500 years of existence, Hindus have never militarily invaded another country, never tried to impose their religion on others by force or induced conversions. You cannot find anybody less fundamentalist than a Hindu in the world. However today, Hindus are still being targeted: there were one million Hindus in the Kashmir valley in 1900; only a few hundred remain, the rest having fled in terror. Blasts after blasts have killed hundreds of innocent Hindus all over India in the last ten years. Hindus, the overwhelming majority community of this country, are being made fun of, are despised, are deprived of the most basic facilities for one of their most sacred pilgrimages in Amarnath while their government heavily sponsors the Haj.. They see their brothers and sisters converted to Christianity through inducements and financial traps, & their gods are blasphemed. So sometimes, enough is enough.
There are about a billion Hindus, one in every six persons on this planet. They form one of the most successful, law-abiding and integrated communities in the world today – see how well they integrated in the United States, never giving problems to the US government, paying their taxes, topping in universities and today grabbing some of the top jobs of the country. Can Harris ignore that and the fact that Narendra Modi may be their future spokesperson?
The author who was South Asia correspondent for the largest French daily, Le Figaro, for ten years, is the editor in chief of the Paris-based La Revue de l’Inde (larevuedelinde.com) and the author of many books on India, amongst them “The Guru of Joy” (Hay House, 100.000 copies sold)