Yogi Adityanath op-ed: NYT should maintain the same objectivity in covering India as it does with other issues

Many in Delhi’s power circles are debating the appropriateness of the ministry of external affairs (MEA) getting involved in the issue of The New York Times’ critical editorial stance after the appointment of Yogi Adityanath as the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh. After all, NYT, is a 'democratic' paper of a democratic country and it is free to have its views, which need not be commented on by the government of another democratic country like India. There are strong merits in this argument. The MEA should have avoided getting involved in the issue of a paper, which incidentally is losing its credibility and circulations in its home country, the United States.

However, for a private Indian citizen, it is worth exploring why a publication like NYT has been repeatedly showing India in poor light over the last few years; in fact, its anti-India tirades predate the advent of the Narendra Modi government in 2014, although of late they have become sharper and more frequent. Invariably all the editorials of the NYT on India have been highly critical of Modi and his government’s policies, such as the ones on demonetisation, Kashmir, Pakistan, nuclear matters and space missions. Some of them have gone even to the extent of demonising his economic achievements in Gujarat as the chief minister, let alone as prime minister.

 Yogi Adityanath op-ed: NYT should maintain the same objectivity in covering India as it does with other issues

Yogi Adityanath. PTI

In fact, going by the editorial comments and op-ed features that appear in the NYT these days, many people feel that the paper is suffering from 'Indo-phobia'. Prof. Sumit Ganguly, a professor of political science at Indiana University, wondered in his 2009 article for Forbes, "why The New York Times editorial board has a 'hectoring' and 'patronizing' tone towards India, be it on its coverage on Kashmir or Indo-US nuclear deal or Indian economy."

In 2010, The Huffington Post charged that the NYT is 'Indophobic' and promotes neocolonialism with its slanted and negative coverage. Vamsee Juluri, author and professor of media studies at the University of San Francisco, has identified 'Indophobia' in certain sections of the US media, particularly in the NYT, as part of a racist postcolonial/neocolonial discourse used to attack and defame India and encourage racial prejudice against Indian Americans. Some speculate that "old-school" colonialists find India's recent economic progress to be incompatible with their 'Clash of Civilizations' world view.

US lawmaker Kumar P. Barve, a legislator of Maryland (he is the first Indian-American to be elected as a state legislator in United States history) once described a NYT editorial as full of "blatant and unprofessional factual errors or omissions," having a "haughty, condescending, arrogant and patronizing" tone. It is worth mentioning that when in September 2014, the Indian Space Research Organization (Isro) successfully placed a spacecraft into orbit around the planet Mars, thereby completing the Mars Orbiter Mission and earning plaudits from all over the world, the NYT published a cartoon, showing a turban-wearing man with a cow knocking at the door of an "elite space club." Predictably, the cartoon drew immediate criticism for being racist in content all over America, compelling the NYT to publish an apology saying that a "large number of readers have complained" about the cartoon and that they "apologise to readers who were offended."

More than China, it is the NYT which opposes India’s entry into the Nuclear Supplier's Group (NSG). It said that India’s membership was "not merited" as it had "fallen far short" in assuming responsibilities of a nuclear nation. This view was criticized by several western experts such as Prof Ramesh Thakur (Director of the Centre for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament at the Australian National University) and Alyssa Ayres (senior fellow for South Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations). Thakur found the NYT to be “frequently chauvinistic", reflecting “a deliberate bias", whereas Ayres advised the paper to “ground its arguments in an appraisal of the complete facts."

If I look at the issue as a journalist, who has spent enough years as an editorial writer and columnist, I find that while editorials are the views of the publisher in strict sense of the term unlike signed columns, the fact remains that senior editors (most of whom begin as Assistant editors in the edit page) who write the edits on their assigned areas enjoy virtual autonomy, save rare occasions. So in all probability, editorials written on India at NYT are written by those assigned to write on international affairs. That being the case let us see who constitutes the editorial board at NYT.

Led by James Bennet, the NYT editorial board consists of 17 writers, among whom there are two persons of Indian origin – Vikas Bajaj and Mira Kamdar. Bajaj mainly writes on global economy and that of the United States. But, Paris-based Kamdar has been assigned international affairs. Kamdar, it may be noted, has written extensively on India and has authored books like, 'Planet India: the Turbulent Rise of the Largest Democracy' and 'Motiba’s Tattoos: A Granddaughter’s Journey Into her Indian Family’s Past'. Any dispassionate analysis of her views on India suggest that India is a terrible country where there is no secularism, no real democracy, no social justice, and no real development. In fact, she (child of an Indian father and Danish mother) once wrote that "My immigrant Gujarati father is both a liberal Democrat and a supporter of Hindu fascism. This is not as unusual as one might think."

On another occasion in 2002, she wrote, “The Hindu militant leaders are bent upon transforming India from the secular democracy its founders envisioned 55 years ago into a Hindu religious state, sanitized of Muslims and other minority groups. This, grossly stated, is the core ideology of Hindutva: to unify India’s Hindus – otherwise divided by caste, class, region, language and sect – into a dominant political force that can restore modern India to essentially the Hindu past (of Indian sub-continent divided into 5,000 princely states before the arrival of Muslims in the early 8th century) from which it has been severed.”

In fact, as one can see, the above theme runs in almost all editorials in NYT on India under the Modi government. This is not to say that Mira has to change her views; in fact she has every right to propagate her opinions. However, the problem arises when the NYT sees India only through her eyes. Mira is the not the only 'expert' on India. For its credibility, the paper needs to do some rigorous fact-checking and air some alternate impressions. India is not bad a place as Mira, and therefore the NYT, believes it to be.

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Updated Date: Mar 28, 2017 13:29:56 IST