The English language press of India has characterised BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi as undesirable. To some he is mass murderer and to others a chief minister who did not use his office and powers to prevent the slaughter of innocents in his state.
To still others, Modi is in hock to indiscriminate corporate powers — a Hitler, a Thatcher, a minority-rights butcher..... The opinion polls say he is running at 50% popularity, a statistic that any presidential candidate in the United States would give his left eye’s vision for. His sort-of-declared rival Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi flounders at 14% and his undeclared rival Mr General-Person scores 27% in the same poll.
The English language media are clearly looking at the realities of India through a different lens or an alien liberal perspective. If the opinion polls and the victory and gains of the BJP in the recent elections are comparable to a photographic take on reality, the opinions of the English language media are equivalent to the inspired but distorting visions of Picasso.
Does the photograph lie? Does the artist reveal more than the glass lens can? The German liberal media of the 1920s did warn against the evil philosophy of Nazism and the dangerous seductive rhetoric of Hitler. Still, by the late 1930s it was clear that the Nazis had the support, active, passive, in denial or terrified of the majority of the German population.
Modi hasn’t been formally indicted for connivance in the killing of Muslims in Gujarat. Senior BJP leader Arun Jaitley has recently launched the party’s response to the claim of the secularists: no charges, not even by a hostile and diametrically opposed Congress government = no evidence = no guilt.
The 50% who support Modi in those opinions polls either give Jaitley’s argument the benefit of the doubt, or they are of the vile opinion that riots against minorities are like breaking eggs to make omelettes they want to eat.
Is the English language Press opposed to Modi inclined to continue its accusatory, admonitory and courageous opposition or will it now fall in line with that half of public opinion which supports him and find that he is not such a downright villain as all that? Will that Press — and yes I can name five prominent weeklies and 12 prominent newspapers — admit that they were out of touch with the common mood?
The British Conservative Party, seniors in today’s coalition, is suffering a similar dilemma. Nearly a 100 of their MPs have signed a broadside missive to Prime Minister David Cameron demanding that the British government defy the provision of the European Union (EU) that came into force at the beginning of this year.
The provision, legally binding on all member states of the European Union (which includes Britain), allows the citizens of the newest members of the EU, Romania and Bulgaria, free access to jobs and welfare in Britain.
The right-wing Press has been spreading the idea that thousands, if not millions of Romanians and Bulgarians will flood into Britain and immediately apply for free housing and unemployment benefits from the State.
They will migrate as freeloaders and not as workers. This to the liberal, secular, non-xenophobic mind (me included) is bunkum. The truth, assessed statistically, is that immigrants from Europe contribute 40% more in taxes than they take out of the system in welfare.
And yet — and yet there has arisen in the last three years a party called the United Kingdom Independence Party (Ukip) which opposes all immigration to Britain and demands a withdrawal from the European Union. The Ukip and its simplistic programme have struck a chord with a small percentage of voters and the Conservative Party is now running scared that this right-wing movement will steal part of their vote at the next election and allow the Labour Party in.
The legion of Tory MPs who are apprehensive of the rise of Ukip are demanding that this present government act immediately to defy and deny the treaties they have signed with the EU. Their argument is that Ukip has scented the mood of the nation and that the Conservative Party will lose precious ground if it doesn’t pick up that xenophobic scent.
Is this search for the democratic scent the essence of politics?
The Congress didn’t have its nose to the ground in Delhi where AAP reduced them to a rump; the English language Press of India has not engaged with the allure of Modi as the most popular candidate for the top job; the British government is now threatened by the rise of a new party that has its finger on the xenophobic pulse of the country and can’t decide how strong that political impulse is.
In Britain this perception of the public mood, the nose-to-the-ground pretention of Ukip are, I believe, a passing panic.
In democratic India the appeal of Modi is not entirely attributable to anti-minority, anti-secular feeling, just as the popularity of AAP is attributable to a reaction against ‘corruption’ which has a million elusive heads and which, Picasso-like, the party must now clearly depict and define.
Farrukh Dhondy is an author, screenplay writer and columnist based in London
The views expressed by the author are personal