With two days to go to the first phase of polling on April 7, the India elections – the biggest ever electoral exercise in history –are making headlines in the international press.
Jason Burke, South Asia correspondent of The Guardian, points out that there is always huge interest in India. "The complexity of the India story means telling it takes time. So it often gets pushed out by things less important, but more urgent.” A moment like elections, he says, allows India to occupy the centre-stage.
India's strategic importance, the increased interests of foreign investors, and a feeling that the inroads into the English-reading Indian market could generate revenues have all led to a spurt in the western media's coverage of the elections. The concerns about the flagging economy, and the way the battle is pitched as one between the polarising Narendra Modi, a clear front-runner, and a fading prince, Rahul Gandhi, makes the polls more interesting.
The Economist's recent editorial declaring its opposition to Narendra Modi's bid for the prime minister’s post drew flak, but it is actually a part of the publication's growing engagement with India.
In its controversial editorial, South Asia bureau chief Adam Roberts told HT, “We are an international publication. We endorse and reject candidates in many other countries. This is the joy of being in a democracy. All we are doing is putting an opinion out there.”
The online India-specific web platforms of US-based publications such as the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal have detailed stories on the polls. There is additional interest in the US since Modi is seen as a controversial figure.
But the coverage, media sources suggest, must be kept in perspective. Elections in Afghanistan were tracked far more comprehensively than the Indian polls.
But perhaps more than the western media, it is India's neighbours who are watching the polls with greater interest. Limited resources and visa regimes may make extensive reportage difficult, but Pakistani papers have been running regular agency stories, besides commissioning special edit page pieces and carrying stories from their correspondents based in Delhi.