Why does India get bad press internationally? The answer lies within complex layers of history and culture. Global media coverage of Kashmir is just the latest example of how misinformed, inaccurate and biased Western reportage on India can be.
Exhibit one: The New York Times editorial board wrote: “The Indian government’s decision to revoke the semi-autonomous status of Kashmir, accompanied by a huge security clampdown, is dangerous and wrong. Bloodshed is all but certain. The United Nations recommended holding a referendum to let Kashmiris decide their fate, but that never happened.”
Note the confidence with which The New York Times makes the assertion: “Bloodshed is all but certain.” Worse is the newspaper’s reference to the United Nations “recommending holding a referendum”, without mentioning the fact that the UN had set a pre-condition for Pakistan to vacate PoK before any referendum could be considered.
Exhibit two: Reuters reported: “Police used tear gas and pellets to fight back at least 10,000 people protesting Delhi’s withdrawal of special rights for Jammu and Kashmir in its main city of Srinagar on Friday, a police official and two witnesses said.”
Reuters’ sources? An unnamed police officer and two anonymous “witnesses”. The report of “a crowd of 10,000” protestors has been disproved by on-ground accounts from credible, independent Indian journalists. Reuters’ reportage clearly does not meet the standard of accurate and responsible journalism.
The New York Times editorial board has often been forced to apologise for inaccurate commentary. The BBC’s and Al Jazeera’s editorial coverage of Kashmir has been equally tendentious. Neither media organisation sufficiently stressed Pakistan’s malignant role in abetting terrorism in Kashmir. Without context, such journalism sets a low bar for itself.
Now history. Days before J&K acceded to the Indian Union on October 26/27,1947, Pakistan connived with Britain to annex J&K by force. Islamabad, with tacit support from the British, sent tribal Afridi fighters towards Srinagar. What transpired subsequently is well-documented. The Afridis were stopped just outside Srinagar and evicted by the Indian Army.
For Britain and the West, post-independent Pakistan has served as valuable geostrategic real estate. It helped thwart Soviet influence extending beyond the Khyber Pass. Pakistan plays the supplicant, ever ready to do the West’s bidding. The US prefers doing business with dictators — in the Middle East, South America and South Asia. Pakistan’s long line of military dictators, from the 1950s right up to Pervez Musharraf, has served Washington well.
The West’s pro-Pakistan tilt was evident when US President Richard Nixon and his Machiavellian Secretary of State Henry Kissinger tried to goad China into opening a second front against India during the 1971 Bangladesh war. A timely Indo-Russian treaty of peace and friendship signed astutely by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi with Moscow in August 1971, kept the Chinese at bay.
The US attempted, unsuccessfully, to help the beleaguered Pakistani Army by sending its Seventh Fleet to the Bay of Bengal in December 1971 to intimidate India.
While Independent India developed into a socialist democracy, Pakistan emerged as a capitalist dictatorship. For the US, socialism was culturally and politically anathema. It welcomed Pakistani dictators, but had little love lost for socialists like Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi.
The US, Britain and other Anglo-Saxon nations have a grim record of committing historical crimes: trafficking Africans to North America during the centuries-long Atlantic slave trade; invading and colonising countries; waging extra-territorial wars; destabilising elected governments; supporting apartheid in South Africa; dispossessing Aborigines in Australia and indigenous Indians in the US; imposing a racist White Australia immigration policy; and segregating African-Americans in the southern states of the US till as late as the 1960s.
Western media tries its best to avoid highlighting these issues. It was only when Democratic Presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris raised the issue of reparations for slavery that the US media gingerly took cognisance of it with a nervous editorial twitch.
Warren has gone further by suggesting compensation for indigenous Indians whose land was usurped by European settlers in the US.
Amidst all this, India is a tempting target. A large, diverse democracy, it has multiple mutinies, as the late VS Naipaul wrote, going on raucously at the same time. These provide easy pickings for Western journalists. They have learnt their lesson the hard way after the French magazine Charlie Hebdo was attacked by Islamist terrorists, several of its staff killed and the publication eventually forced to change ownership. The lesson learnt? It is safer to criticise India. Indians don’t hit back.
India, in fact, provides Western media an invaluable additional resource: Indian journalists. These editorial sepoys can be inveigled to write how brutish and viscerally communal India is. Were Western journalists to write the same articles, they would be accused of racism. Indian journalists thus serve as useful surrogates. The Indian government has compounded the problem by not having daily briefings to provide timely information on key political and economic issues, allowing international media to misinform and distort as it has done in its reportage on Kashmir.
India has real problems of poverty, corruption and sectarianism, but there are gripping stories as well of startups, space technology and the rise of a new Dalit entrepreneurial class.
You won’t find much reportage on these in the Western media that picks its Indian mutinies carefully.