In the recent history of democracy, none of the regional satrap has probably got the kind of hype that Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi has got. And considering news from India does find place in international media these days, it is but natural that Narendra Modi found himself there too.
However, unlike the corporate media in India that is going gaga over his chances of becoming the next Prime Minister, the coverage in the international media has been calculated and measured. The coverage for Narendra Modi in the international media can be broadly divided in three categories: the Western media, media from non-Muslim majority Third World countries and the media from Muslim majority countries. It is interesting to analyse how they have covered his sudden burst on national stage.
First the Western media. Most of the coverage on Modi has come from the resident journalists of the big media houses. However, on many occasions, journalists have flown from their base countries to cover him. One would generally expect them to be more rational in their writings as they are able to cut through the maze that the bureau chiefs feel so hard to overcome. But it has hardly happened. Take for example Robert Kaplan. The celebrated journalist and writer did a long piece on Modi sometimes ago. However, journalists in India, including yours truly, were somewhat surprised to see the outcome. Kaplan was clearly swept off the feet by oriental charms and proceeded to write quite a positive piece on Modi. But since Kaplan is Kaplan, the story was mentioned in several media outlets all over the world, prompting NaMo fans to say that world media did a favourable coverage of him.
Of the resident Western journalists, there were a few exceptions. Andrew Buncombe of The Independent is among the very few rational western journalists residing in Delhi. His reportage as well as blog entries are always calculated and measured. Buncombe not only managed to cut through the propaganda, but also to give a clear analysis of what is to be expected in years to come.
Dean Nelson of The Telegraph on the other hand has continued to support Modi’s candidature. “Despite the controversy surrounding his role at the time of the riots, his stature has grown steadily since then and he has built a reputation for turning Gujarat into one of India’s best-governed and most affluent states. His party has lost the last two general elections and has yet to transform its fortunes, but Mr Modi is increasingly seen as the leader who could finally return the Hindu nationalist party to power,” he wrote.
However, the case of American media is different a bit. Apart from some experts and lobbyists from the ultra-right think tanks who write regularly disguised as journalists, including one Sadanand Dhume, the tone of American media has been very measured. However, that is also because unlike its transatlantic cousin, the US has yet not decided to soften on Modi. In fact, just last month, Modi’s campaign team showcased a couple of Republican Congressmen and Senators who are apparently part of BJP lobbying team in the US, as independent US parliamentarians who lauded Modi. While the Indian media, perhaps inadvertently unaware of such lobbying tactics, fell for it, it found but no mention in the US press. On the other hand, in a 2012 global poll conducted by Time Magazine on the world’s most influential leaders, Modi came in third globally (while also amassing the most ‘No’ votes).
In spite of a slew of writing over the progress in Gujarat, The Economist has time and again questioned what he has done. As a responsible magazine, it needs to put both points. That is why, this particular paragraph is supposed to have irked the Modi camp quite some: “...making the trains run on time does not expunge his sins. Mr Modi has revelled in his reputation as a strident Hindu nationalist.”
Another Western journalist who writes with a negative perspective on Modi is Frederic Bobin – although it is a fact that writing just with a negative perspective ensures that readers give lesser value to one’s reportage. While writing for Le Monde, Bobin wrote: “Narendra Modi chooses to confront the matter with contempt, calling the protests fake propaganda. He instead strives ever more for the role of a saint, praying for peace, unity and harmony”. On the other hand, media in Third World has a very different take. Some quarters in the Chinese media have praised him. A particular Chinese journalist, who has studied in Gujarat and now works for one of the news agencies, has also tried to justify Modi’s candidacy.
The media in the Arab world has steadfastly refused to separate Modi from the 2002 pogrom, and has questioned the Indian judiciary system in failing to bring the bosses to book. The same goes for most newspapers and magazines from Pakistan.
Overall, it can be safely said that the international media has not yet been caught in the NaMo whirlwind that has so swept the Indian media off its feet. That’s not to say that the man does not have a credible basis for the hype being built. It is just to say that in the case of Modi, the media outside of India seems to have a more neutral point of view than media in India.