Exposing the Economist’s India Bias

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 abhorred—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 “probably” played a “supporting role” 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 “a 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 “United Hindus, capable India” 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 politics—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.

15 comments for “Exposing the Economist’s India Bias

  1. M Patel
    August 25, 2011 at 3:08 AM

    “The Economist” is spreading Unacceptable Prejudice towards Hinduism. Here is the letter to editor detailing the pattern.

    Dear Editor,

    Unacceptable Prejudice is a wonderful article published by Economist.com on Aug 14th 2008. It’s message is “Don’t be beastly to the Poles”. In the same spirit, I am sending this message “Please stop being beastly to the Hindus”.

    I am deeply offended by statement “pilgrims see (Amarnath) as a phallic symbol of the god Shiva”, in the Aug. 2008 article, “Bitter fruit”. All encyclopedias make it clear that phallic representation of Shiva is controversial and predominantly a western interpretation. Wikipedia and other sources also make it clear that neither Hindu Seers nor Pilgrims see Amarnath as a phallic symbol of the god Shiva. In light of above facts, I request that false statement be replaced immediately with fact. I also request that a statement of clarification be published in all online versions of the article and in the next print edition of The Economist.

    Please review and reflect on following references to articles published on Economist.com:

    1) Reference to the sacred Amarnath Caves as a “penis-shaped lump of ice,” in the July 21st article, “Kashmir’s future: Fleeting chance.”

    2) Dec 2010 article “Shaking the mountains” states that Amarnath pilgrims are unmolested; However, Nothing can be further from truth. Amarnath pilgrims were massacred on several occasions. For instance, On August 2nd 2000, 105 pilgrims were murdered by terrorist who attacked makeshift pilgrim tents.

    3) June 2011 article “The Swami’s Curse” indirectly describes Ayurveda and Yoga as quack cures. Personally, I am neither a follower nor a support of Baba Ramdev and Lokpal movement but I was shocked by the tone, tenure and foul language of the article.

    4) Economist has printed tons of articles on Kashmir like Nov. 2010 “The K Word”. These articles almost always omits “The P Word” (i.e., indirectly deny cum downplay Kashmiri Pandit Plight). Only one article reluctantly mentioned “The P Word”.

    5) Economist has printed many articles about Ayodhya dispute. Almost all articles omit/suppress entire history and deny archeological evidence. Example, Oct 2010 article “The uneasy split” falsely claims that “there is no archaeological evidence to support either belief”; However, Nothing can be further from truth. Archeological evidence of Hindu temple is a fact proven beyond reasonable doubt in India’s high court.

    6) March 2010 article “The rights approach”, which is about RTI Act, has nothing to do with Hinduism but nevertheless slips into Hindu bashing.

    I am an avid reader of The Economist. I read it mostly for its economic content but I also regularly read its banyan and other S. Asian columns. On many occasions, S. Asian columns provide disparaging description of Hinduism and its followers. Some reactive comments on S. Asian article are equally disgusting. Thanks for tolerating all kinds of comments and not suppressing voice of readers.

    In conclusion, Problem is pervasive with deep roots. Please launch systematic reforms to restore Journalistic ethics, fairness, and enhance credibility of magazine.

    Yours Sincerely,

    M Patel

  2. Mullah
    November 26, 2007 at 12:34 PM

    Sandeep

    Anon seems to have the typical desi reaction that only sill hindus can be biased and not great goras from the Economist.

    Mr Nevermind the qualified scientist strangely the same criticisms you have of Sandeep could apply to you ! Can you indentify any Pillars of Nehruvian Socialist India that have stood the test of time ? Socialism ? No Policy to China,US or USSR/Russia ? No
    Kashmir and the UN ? No Any areas of success ? Maybe creating a dynasty that came to run by an corrupt Italian madam ….

  3. Archee
    November 18, 2007 at 11:44 AM

    You guys HAVE to read this if you haven’t already.

    http://exile.ru/articles/detail.php?ARTICLE_ID=10127&IBLOCK_ID=35

    Economist, putting the ‘s’ back in limey :).

  4. November 17, 2007 at 2:15 AM

    Sandeep, I am sure Economist would publish a similar article on Christian followers – Jesus “supposedly” rose from earth to heaven on the third day.

    After reading that article, I canceled my subscription to Economist.I guess current British-ness had to infect the magazine sometime.

    Nevermind, keep it going…

  5. November 16, 2007 at 2:36 AM

    For one who seeks to point out ”consistently poor research and (a) lack of awareness of basic facts” and draw attention to bias on the part of the Economist, you have done an excellent job. My congratulations.

    My favourite sections of your thoroughly enjoyable post are the following-

    1)Where you cite an earlier point-of-view post by yourself (rich in opinion and a bit sparse in facts) as valid and reliable proof of the Economist’s ”lack of awareness of basic facts”. Two words spring to mind. Pot. Kettle.

    2)Where you link to the Economist’s country profile of India, “which contains a wealth of information that sometimes borders on being incorrect”. “Sometimes” and “borders on being incorrect” are, I believe, slightly different from “Mostly” and “factually incorrect”. Another word comes to mind. Spin. But that’s a clever use of English, I must admit. Well done.

    3)Where you confidently state that “apart from a select circle, Nehru stands discredited on almost all fronts”. The valid and reliable proof for this is of course, another opinion post by yourself, another blog post that borrows heavily from a piece in that esteemed international newspaper, ‘The New York Sun’ and an op-ed piece by the erm…… eminent sociologist and historian, Rajeev Srinivasan. To borrow your own words, apart from a select circle…of three? I wonder whether that reads s(usp)ect. Or maybe we’ll just have to accept your word for it. And that word is of course scientifically valid and reliable, unlike that of the Economist.

    4)Now onto my favourite bit. To support the claim that “Hindus persistently worry that Indian Muslims are a fifth column”, you state that this is based on reality, since (the) “majority of the recent terror attacks on India were carried out by Indian Muslims indoctrinated in Pakistan and/or Bangladesh”. So far, so good. Point taken.

    But then, you just had to go on, didn’t you? To reinforce your point further, you quote ‘Nitin’ who actually said, “It’s surprising how many things The Economist’s correspondent doesn’t know and yet goes on to make rather bold conclusions. 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 “probably” played a “supporting role” is absurd”.

    Duh..uh!? Two more words. Foot. Mouth.

    Now, I could work my way down your post systematically, but life is short, you see. However, the next time you undertake a so called ‘factual critique’, I suggest filling the first floor with some furniture. And hope that some bored scientist (of the qualified variety) doesn’t stumble on your post.

    And, oh, do read up about validity and reliability, will you? Thanks.

  6. November 15, 2007 at 10:46 PM

    sorry I gave the wrong URL above the right one is
    http://www.hinduzone.blogspot.com

  7. November 15, 2007 at 10:45 PM

    I think all the atlanticists have such condescending view of India in general and hinduism in poarticular. For example look at this article on brief history of Hindus at BBC. They have only two articles under it and one of thems is about thugs!!, go here to find out more
    http://www.hinduzone.com

  8. socal
    November 15, 2007 at 9:26 PM

    “I wonder”
    “who really”
    “some credibility”
    “actually used”
    “some reasonable”
    “Almost all”
    “not an expert”
    “re-reading”

    By golly, bias indeed expresses itself in surprising ways. The stridency beneath the veneer of “reasonable” here is no less acute than the ill-feigned disdain towards Sandeep’s article. I think “reasonable people” also will blanch before juxtaposing the bias of a published weekly and that of a blog.

    That the Economist article is deeply prejudiced between the chief subjects of its report is apparent from the language it employs. That such a thing is bad journalism is widely accepted, amongst “reasonable people” no less. Yet some people manage to condone it!

  9. Sandeep
    November 15, 2007 at 7:11 PM

    blr bytes,

    I’ve updated my feed to always show full text. Please let me know if it works.

    Thanks for letting me know.

  10. Dhruv
    November 15, 2007 at 3:22 PM

    “Vedanta Hindus stayed with Congress; Hindutva ones moved to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).”

    That is the one that made me laugh. I read this Economist article before you wrote your post, Sandeep. And of all I found the above statement the most ridiculous. I am of the opinion that a magazine needs to have a pretty silly and unrelaible source to come up with akkad-bakkad-bambay-bo like that.

    The article seems to take a balanced stand based on the facts it assumes. It’s only that some of those facts are…em…ridiculous ‘non-facts’.

    By the way Sandeep, there is one Vedantist who stayed in the congress, his name is Dumbledore.

    And dear Anon,

    You say you are not an expert on the subject but yet trust the seemingly balanced article by the Economist. But the sad problem here is that since you are not an expert on the subject, no matter how many times you do a comparitive reading of Sandeep’s article and the economists, you wont be able to tell the non-facts from facts. Your judgement will end up being based only on the seeming balance and impartiality that the economist has engineered into the article (to stay in business in todays yuppy world) vs the writings of our friend Sandeep who likes the politically incorrect style and uses this blog to vent of the steam of everyday life ( hey Sandeep take this in humour).

    Nonetheless, Sandeep seems to know more in this case, no matter how shrill the pitch of his writing is.

    As for the Economist, I still think they had a moderate tone and an intelligent depiction on this one. But they were super-inaccurate on some things they mention in passing as facts. And that makes for poor journalism.

  11. blr bytes
    November 15, 2007 at 10:33 AM

    I did subscribe to your feed but then unsubscribed once I realized it was only a partial feed. Your writings are of interest but without a full text feed it’s a little difficult to keep track of. I do hope you will reconsider.

  12. November 15, 2007 at 5:37 AM

    The Economist has not the slightest clue when it equates Hindu fundamentalism with Christian fundamentalism which is so much more widespread and politically influential. Also, there are scores of American educated middle class evangelical Christians. Whereas show me a thousand educated middle class “fundamentalist” Hindus in India. I also found the title ridiculous “The most religious country in the world”?? As far as mixing of politics and religion goes, I am close to calling the US that. The only thing more egregious about the Economist’s understanding of India is it’s (and much of the Western press’s) understanding of Hinduism. In fact, I have also seen an anti-Hindu and pro-Muslim bias in the Western press.

  13. Anon
    November 15, 2007 at 4:44 AM

    “ignorance about India”
    “lack of awareness about basic facts”
    “erroneous historical information”
    “blunder”
    “incorrect and dangerously misleading”
    “clueless”
    “wholly incorrect”
    “horribly wrong”

    I wonder who is really biased here. Your article would have some credibility if you had actually used some reasonable terms to make your point. Almost all the “errors” that you point out are things that reasonable people may disagree on. While I am not an expert on the subject, upon re-reading both the Economist article and yours, the Economist seems far less biased to me.

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