The Economist’s ignorance about India is on display again. A consistent display of poor research and lack of awareness of basic facts about the country forces one to reasonably conclude that the magazine is biased against India. For instance, their country profile on India contains a wealth of information that sometimes borders on being incorrect.
The present article, which talks about religious unrest in India is guilty of even erroneous historical information. That a magazine that my respected blogger-friend Nitin calls the second best, has committed this blunder is unforgivable.
The first signs of the Economist’s India-ignorance lies in its Nehru-centrism. An underlying thread in the article seems to be that India begins with Jawaharlal Nehru’s Prime Ministership. It views almost everything from that prism. What is implied is that Nehru built a state founded on strong democratic principles, which is now being threatened by religious violence.
ON THE face of it, Praveen Togadia is just the sort of Indian the modernising Jawaharlal Nehru might have been proud of. Urbane and sophisticated, he is a cancer surgeon, with more than 10,000 operations to his credit….Yet Mr Togadia is also the international general secretary of something Nehru would have abhorredâ€”the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), one of the three main bodies of the Hindutva (Hinduness) movement.
The current Indian reality is that apart from a select circle, Nehru stands discredited on almost all fronts. While it is necessary to give credence to Nehru’s achievements, an overall assessment shows that his legacy has costed India enormously. Neither is this a defence of Togadia. It is interesting that the Economist chooses Togadia as Hinduism’s spokesperson over more accomplished scholars. The article also mentions the mandatory Gujarat riots, which has become tiresome. In passing, only three issues exist in the arsenal of anti-Hindutva crusaders: Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination, the Babri Masjid demolition and Gujarat. A common thread exists in these eruptions. They are each, the violent culmination of a symptom that dates far back in history.
The article continues its one-sided depiction of the reality. It hurriedly dismisses the opposition to the Sethusamudram project viewing it only from Togadia’s lenses.
He is now concentrating on trying to stop the (mainly secular) Congress party blowing a hole in a holy bridge, supposedly built by Ram,…
While the Economist’s distaste for the more violent elements of Hindutva is acceptable, its use of suggestive language is uncalled for. Phrases like early-morning physical jerks (referring to the RSS) and that Prafull Goradia would rather Muslims of all sorts moved to Arabia doesn’t make for a balanced piece while he blames Hindus for the pitiable condition of Indian Muslims, who are forced to turn to terrorism. His claim that "Hindus persistently worry that Indian Muslims are a fifth column" has basis in reality. Majority of the recent terror attacks on India were carried out by Indian Muslims indoctrinated in Pakistan and/or Bangladesh. As Nitin puts it,
Despite the near certainty of local Muslims being involved in the blasts, to extend this and suggest that India’s or even Hyderabad’s Muslims â€œprobablyâ€ played a â€œsupporting roleâ€ is absurd.
The Economist article also adds to its blunders when it says
…what would have distressed Nehru particularly is the prominent role played by religion in domestic politics. India’s constitution writers tried to get round this in two ways. The first was to embrace pluralism. The new country would be â€œa sovereign, socialist, secular,democratic republic...
This is both incorrect and dangerously misleading because it omits a crucial historical context. The original framers of the Constitution did not add socialist and secular to the Preamble. The infamous 42nd Amendment added these mischievous terms. And further adds another piece of ignorance:
Many Hindus would add that India was also born with a third force for tolerance: Hinduism.
It is wholly incorrect to call that a "third force." Hinduism is the only force that keeps the majority tolerant of the "generally poor" Muslim minority. What explains the fact that the Ahamdiyas, a once-flourishing Muslim sect were almost wiped out in the Muslim-majority Pakistan? What explains the fact that Hindus generally respect even laws that discriminate against them? As the article itself says [a]s a religion with countless gods and many sacred texts, it does not lend itself to extremism. So what gave birth to the extremism of the Togadias of the world? Did such "extremists" exist historically? A clue exists in history: when Hindu kings won battles against their Muslim counterparts, they did not harm Mosques or convert Muslims the way Muslim kings did. The article then asserts wildly that
There was also a change in Hinduism: the more mystical strain, Vedanta, which preaches the unity of all religions, was challenged by the stauncher Hindutva message. Vedanta Hindus stayed with Congress; Hindutva ones moved to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
That the writer is clueless about Vedanta is clear. There’s absolutely no mysticism in Vedanta. Major portions of the Vedanta are narrated experiences and philosophical conversations. Nor is the usage of the word "religion" accurate in this context. It would have been more credible if the article cited at least one verse that shows this. I’d also like the writer to point out exactly one "Vedanta Hindu (sic)" in the Congress party.
The article incorrectly compares Hindutva with the American religious right. The elements of comparison are ridiculous: shape/structure of buildings and vague assertions like:
Neither organisation is overtly political: the RSS’s motto is â€œUnited Hindus, capable Indiaâ€ and most of its energy is plainly taken up with social welfare (just as Focus does indeed focus on families). But just like the Christians in Colorado, the Hindus at the RSS are obsessed by politicsâ€”and feel just as let down by the BJP as Focus does by the Republicans.
This article is a good starting point to learn what exactly are the causes the "Hindu Right" espouses. Among other things, the RSS also actively resists conversion efforts by Christian Missionaries. Several of these Missionaries have their source in the American religious Right.
The Economist gets it horribly wrong on almost all counts. When it says
Secular members of the Congress party, who privately admit that they may have indulged Muslims too much, adamantly defend secularism in public.
It is when you stop taking the Economist seriously. Indulging Muslims is equal to professing secularism in India.