How the international media attaches a religious tag to Modi, but spares its own leaders.
The international media has used many different adjectives to describe Modi. The Guardian called him a “rock star” and The Washington Post described him as the “economic reformer”.However, there is one tag that seems to follow Modi, wherever he goes: that of a “Hindu nationalist”.
On the other hand, leaders like David Cameron and George Bush are hardly ever called “Christian nationalists”, even though they make their faith public and promote their association with it.
Yes, a right-wing conservative party rules the country, but do such tags unfairly accentuate India’s reputation as a Hindu-theocratic country?
Reporting on India’s election results, The Washington Post described Modi as the “Hindu nationalist”, who was ready to take over India’s reins. The Singaporean daily, The Straits Times reported on how Indian newspapers were urging the “Hindu nationalist” Prime Minister to reach out to the Muslims. When Modi decided to campaign for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the Kashmir Valley, The Economist wrote about the “Hindu nationalist Prime Minister”, campaigning in a mostly Muslim state. Even CNN’s headline on Modi’s election victory read, “Hindu nationalist Narendra Modi claims victory as India’s next Prime Minister”.
However, we do not see the same standards being applied to leaders in the West. David Cameron, the Prime Minister of Britain, belongs to the right-wing Conservative Party. Last year, he called himself an “evangelical Christian” and spoke about the bigger role for religion in Britain as a Christian country. In 2003, the former US President George Bush described himself as a “born-again Christian”, and said, “God chose him to lead the nation”. In fact, in 2013, Bush delivered a keynote address for a fundraising event of the Messianic Jewish Bible Institute, a global organisation that trains its members to convert Jews to Christianity.
Bobby Jindal is also expected to run for the Presidential elections in the United States in 2016. Born to Hindu parents of Indian descent, Bobby decided to convert to Christianity in his teenage years. He has been very vocal about his conversion, and in January this year, he lead a prayer rally, where he called for Christians to come together and seek a spiritual revival for America.
While referring to leaders like Bush and Cameron, the Indian media mentions only their official designations. Reporting on Cameron’s visit to India in 2014, The Indian Express simply called him the “British Prime Minister”. Similarly, when Bush visited India, The Hindu called him the “US President” and not the “Christian nationalist President”.
Interestingly, Modi had accepted that he was a “Hindu nationalist”, but unlike Cameron, Modi has never asked people to be evangelical about the Hindu faith, or join an organisation that proselytises people from other faiths. Yes, the Vishva Hindu Parishad did launch a conversion programme called “ghar wapsi”, but it was put on hold after Modi expressed his displeasure.
Mihir Sharma, who writes and edits opinions at Business Standard, and is known to be critical of Modi, sees an “absurd relativism” in the comparison between Cameron and Modi. “The mainstream of the Conservative party is in no way as theocratic as the mainstream of the Sangh Parivar,” says Sharma. The Sangh, according to him, is not separate from the BJP.
Hindol Sengupta, editor-at-large at Fortune India, believes that it is a case of “prejudiced terminology” in the foreign press. The prejudice, he thinks, extends to the Indian media too. “If certain seemingly discriminatory terms are used for Prime Minister Modi, then that only reflects deep-seated prejudice and bias against him in the Indian ecosystem including the media,” he says. Social commentator Santosh Desai says, “Attaching a tag to Modi is not appropriate. But probably, the media just tries to help readers who are not familiar with the country.”
The labeling of world leaders is not rare, especially in the foreign media. However, in a country that has had its share of religious violence, a seemingly bigoted tag on its Prime Minister could well chisel a partisan, and intolerant image of the country.
This article was republished from the Newslaundry.com.
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