“Those making a connection between an intolerant India and FDI are widely off the mark. Democracies by definition are tolerant and nobody is claiming that we are abandoning our democratic system……….At the heart of the controversy is Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s silence – specifically on the beef-linked murder of a Muslim – and his inaction in not reining in fringe elements of his party voicing communal views. His general statements against such acts and discourse which detracts from his development agenda are not considered sufficient to clear the air”, says the author.
Many believe that rising intolerance in India is becoming an issue in our foreign relations, to the point that foreign investment flows into the country may be affected.
The murder of a Muslim for allegedly stocking beef in one state, those of a couple of Dalits in another, the killing of a ‘rationalist’ in still another state, and some statements by BJP members inconsistent with our secular ethos are seen as instances of a dramatic surge in intolerance in India.
This has been enough for writers, artists, historians and scientists to return awards, and others of public standing to express concern.
The media has, of course, amplified the controversy, with denunciatory columns in some newspapers and unbridled TV debates.
At the heart of the controversy is Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s silence -specifically on the beef-linked murder of a Muslim – and his inaction in not reining in fringe elements of his party voicing communal views.
His general statements against such acts and discourse which detracts from his development agenda are not considered sufficient to clear the air.
Naturally, such an intensive debate in the country will be followed by local diplomatic missions – western in particular – and their assessment reports will reach their capitals.
Foreign correspondents will inevitably follow the domestic sparring over the issue and publish articles without being too rigorous in their analysis, as their target is newspaper readership and not policy-makers.
Indian or Indian-origin correspondents writing for foreign media are often inclined to write negative stories to make themselves more credible with head offices, besides catering to the biases of a few established US/UK newspapers who traditionally put the spotlight on some darker aspects of India’s social reality.
The NGOs, domestic and foreign-funded, focused on community issues will be drawn into the debate on rising intolerance as part of civil society’s increasing political activism.
Indian scholars and Western ones involved in India studies are networked and influence each other on the choice of issues to study and analyse and shaping perspectives on them.
Some foreign scholars get unusually large space in our papers for airing views on sensitive subjects, which reinforce the impression of foreign concern about unwholesome developments at home.
In addition, sections of India-origin populations, principally in some Western countries, have grievances against India which find sympathetic echoes in political, academic, media and religious circles there for a variety of reasons, including electoral.
Incidents relating to minorities in India especially draw negative attention.
The debate on rising intolerance in the country is closely linked to Modi’s rise to power, the political legitimacy that the Hindutva ideology is seen to have acquired as a result, and – what is anathema to devout secularists – the expanding influence of the RSS.
Those mounting a campaign against rising intolerance have been in their large majority always politically opposed to Modi and the Hindutva ideology.
Despite the judicial process through which Modi has been wrung for years, this group has not forgiven him for the 2002 Gujarat riots – and it is this entrenched prejudice that found echo in the questions posed to him by the BBC and The Guardian journalists at his joint press conference with UK PM David Cameron during his London visit.
Modi’s opponents at home and India-baiters in the US/UK establishment in particular are complicit in denigrating the Indian PM, and both feed on each other’s prejudices.
The leadership of the Congress has begun to target Modi personally for the reprehensible crimes that have been lately in the news, holding him responsible for allowing an atmosphere to be created which has encouraged such acts.
Such accusations, made recklessly in the context of domestic politics, do not serve India’s interests abroad as they give a handle to India’s opponents there to project a picture of India that is actually far from reality.
To say that dissent or freedom of expression in India is being suppressed overlooks the rampant criticism of the government in the media and the constraints that the judiciary has put on the power of the government and Parliament too.
Attempts to impose some constraints on the social media as part of counter-terrorism efforts have failed because of public opposition.
The government cannot even implement crucial parts of its economic reforms agenda because of political opposition.
Those making a connection between an intolerant India and FDI are widely off the mark.
Democracies by definition are tolerant and nobody is claiming that we are abandoning our democratic system.
Most countries in the world are not democratic, and so by definition they should not be attractive for foreign investment.
China has received vastly greater amounts of FDI than India and continues to do so, despite its open rejection of democracy and Western values and active suppression of dissent at home.
The Gulf countries are not paragons of tolerance, but corporate heads and governments too do not seem to hold back investments there for this reason.
Western businessmen are now thronging in Iran for economic opportunities.
Singapore’s authoritarianism is actually an explanation for its economic success. Our own investments abroad, especially in the oil sector, are not contingent on tolerance or lack of it in the countries concerned.
We can be our worst enemies.
As an extension of domestic politics we want to leverage external forces to make a democratically elected government of a country of 1.25 billion inhabitants accountable for few sporadic crimes.