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Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Modis Ratings

As an Indian I am embarrassed that the two American Journalists did not even verify the material tossed to them.

By HARTOSH SINGH BAL

Narendra Modi in January 2010.Sam Panthaky/Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesNarendra Modi in January 2010.

NEW DELHI ” Narendra Modi, the leading figure of India's right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (B.J.P.), didn’t make Time magazine's list of the 100 most powerful people in the world this year. Midway through the online polling, after Modi’s stock had started to surge, liberals in India organized a counter-campaign. In the end, 256,792 votes were cast for him and 266,684 votes against.

Too bad for Modi: it’s an election year in the state of Gujarat, where he is chief minister, and he is known to be eyeing the country’s prime minister slot. But I, for one, am relieved: finally a defeat for Modi’s formidable PR team, which routinely manages to whitewash his responsibility for fueling sectarian strife and oversells his economic accomplishments, especially to Western journalists.

Modi has been accused of doing little in 2002, the year after he became chief minister, to prevent largely Hindu mobs â€” led in the main by people affiliated with the B.J.P. and allied organizations — from attacking Muslims throughout the state in retaliation for the death of 58 Hindu pilgrims in a train fire. According to government records, says the BBC, 790 Muslims and 254 Hindus were killed in that outburst, making it one of the worst incidents of anti-Muslim violence since India’s independence.

Since then Modi’s PR machine has worked hard to undo the damage by portraying him as an efficient administrator. Foreign journalists have served that mission well. Their concern for striking a balance in their copy seems to have demanded that they offset the stain of the 2002 riots by praising Modi’s achievements. Modi, in turn, has played his part by granting them access to him, which he rarely does for Indian journalists.

In a 2009 profile for The Atlantic, Robert Kaplan wrote, “I have met Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and both Bushes. At close range, Modi beats them all in charisma.” Kaplan also relayed some of Modi’s self-described achievements with little question: “What he gave me was not the usual promotional brochures, but long lists of sourced statistics put together by an aide. Gujarat had experienced 10.2 percent annual GDP growth since 2002. It had eight new universities. In recent years, almost half the new jobs created in India were in Gujarat. The state ranked first in poverty alleviation, first in electricity generation.”

Last month, just a week before Time’s online poll — and the very day that a profile of Modi in the magazine made the cover of its South Asia edition — William Antholis, the managing director of the Brookings Institution, posted “India’s Most Admired and Most Feared Politician” online. He, too, extolled Modi’s work: “Gujarat’s economic performance is without peer in India, growing an average 10 percent each year for a decade. That is faster growth than almost any place on earth, including most of China.”

Neither Antholis nor Kaplan treated the facts and figures that Modi’s team threw their way with enough skepticism. The decade of growth for which Modi gets so much credit is the decade during which the Indian economy as a whole averaged over 7.5 percent growth. Several Indian states of a comparable size, like Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu, have come close to matching Gujarat (pdf) on this count while doing better at improving living conditions for their citizens, especially marginalized groups.

The 2011 Human Development Report for India states that hunger and malnutrition are worse in Gujarat than in India’s other large states. According to the report, almost 45 percent of children in Gujarat are malnourished. A larger percentage of children go to bed hungry in Gujarat, one of India’s richest states, than in Uttar Pradesh, one of its poorest.
In terms of infant and maternal mortality, Gujarat’s record during the decade that Modi has run the state is poorer than that of the country at large. In 2006-2010, life expectancy in Gujarat was two years shorter than the national average (about 66 years). Gujarat ranked 17th among all Indian states in terms of literacy in 2001, the year Modi took over. Now it ranks 18th.

These figures belie Modi’s reputation as an efficient administrator. But you wouldn’t know it reading the foreign media. In fact, the coverage is so complimentary that Modi’s people have collected it in a 49-page e-book called “The World Lauds Narendra Modi — Excerpts from TIME, Brookings & The Economist!” and made it available on his Web site.

Hartosh Singh Bal is political editor of Open Magazine and co-author of “A Certain Ambiguity

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