“Did New York Times pass off mishmash of local gossip as ‘editorial wisdom’?
“Newspapers, as much as anyone else have a right to voice their opinions. But unlike ‘anyone else’ newspapers have a duty to propagate the truth and nothing but the truth. The duty sits heavier on newspapers with a hoary provenance, as the New York Times has. C. P Scott’s famous aphorism, ‘comment is free, but facts are sacred’ comes to mind. Therefore one looks askance if a newspaper like the NYT passes off mishmash of locally collected gossip as the combined wisdom of its Editorial Board. One uses the word gossip here advisedly, as the quality of information one collects locally depends on the ideological slant of the source. In other words, it depends not on what one gathers but who one talks to.”
Those were the title and the first paragraph of the rejoinder I have sent to the Op-Ed editor of the New York Times.
The editorial, Narendra Modi’s Rise in India was published by the paper on Sunday, October 26, 2013. It reflected – believe it or not – the combined wisdom of the paper’s Editorial Board. I have mailed the rejoinder on October 28 at 10.58 PM. There was an instant auto reply. After the usual blah, blah for contacting the opinion section etc., it goes on to say: ‘We do not publish essays that are primarily responses to other opinion articles, columns or editorials in The Times.’ It helpfully adds, ‘The proper forum for such responses is the letters page [hyperlinked]’ and provides the e-mail address.
This is the usual routine to which all newspapers resort. They first damage the reputation of an unsuspecting ‘subject’, if it in anyway enhances their circulation. If there is a protest, they say, ‘you may submit a letter to the editor; and it will be considered for publication.’ If the paper indeed decides to publish it, it would be sanitized to entirely cleanse it of the report’s original shoddiness (sounds ironic; doesn't it!). The task of editing letters is assigned the junior most sub-editor, whose job it is to weed out any which are not in line with the paper’s political philosophy. What of the vaunted freedom of expression? Perish the thought. It refers to the freedom of speech of the newspaper management and any business interests it has or supports.
The victim rarely takes any legal action under libel laws because firstly, it is difficult to take on the might of a large newspaper. Secondly, the case meanders on and on and by the time, if at all, the victim wins the case the public would have forgotten all about the original slander.
Here is the rest of my rejoinder:
“First let us get some facts right. Referring to the 2002 riots, the editorial says ‘savagely killed nearly 1000 people, most of whom were part of the Muslim minority’. The truth is, one third of those killed were Hindus and the riots occurred as a reprisal for the horrific burning of 59 pilgrims (more than half of whom were women and children), returning from a Hindu holy site. This is not to justify the killings in any way, but only to put the unfortunate events as they occurred, in proper perspective. Cases relating to the violent crimes of passion (both by the original perpetrators and the retaliators) are in various stages in the Indian courts. Nearly three hundred people were sentenced to varying degrees of punishment so far. India has a robust, impartial judicial system.
“The editorial goes on to say that [Narendra Modi’s] ‘rise to power is deeply troubling to many Indians, especially the country’s 138 million Muslims and its many other minorities.’ This is far from the truth and is a bogey of India’s left-liberal dominated English language media. The six million Muslims of Gujarat have moved on since 2002. They have benefited as much as any other citizen from the state’s focus on development. Zahar Sareshwala, a Muslim businessman in Ahmedabad who has a car dealership for high-end BMWs, says a tenth of his cars are sold to Muslims. It is in direct proportion to their population ratio in the state.
“Contrary to the editorial’s assertion that ‘Muslims in Gujarat, for instance are much more likely to be poor than Muslims in India as a whole’, Muslims in Gujarat are much, much better off than their brethren in many other states including Bengal (which was ruled by an avowed ‘secular, pro-poor’ Communist coalition for more than thirty years), Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. These three states have India’s highest Muslim populations.
“The editorial says Modi’s presumed ‘strident Hindu nationalism has fuelled public outrage’. This again is a fabrication of India’s biased English language media. In the three general elections Narendra Modi fought (to become the state’s Chief Minister for a fourth time) he had never ever spoken of Hindus or Muslims. His constant refrain had been delivering the fruits of good governance and development to ‘my sixty million Gujaratis’ who include Hindus, Muslims, Parsees and ‘many other minorities’, the editorial mentions.
“Finally the editorial assertion that ‘[h]is economic record in Gujarat is not entirely admirable either’ will not find favour even with Narendra Modi’s bitterest critics in India. How NYT’s august Editorial Board came to this conclusion is a mystery. Business Standard, Times Of India and IBNLive quoted below as sources of Gujarat’s impressive growth story are not Narendra Modi’s admirers. If anything they lose no opportunity to carp at him at every possible opportunity. (The passages are excerpted from by blog, VOXINDICA)
“The state has registered an agricultural growth of 12.8% every year for the last five years against the national average of 2% (See Modi woos investors in state, markets brand Gujarat, Para 5) and a decadal growth of 10.97%. The state is drought prone and largely comprises of arid and semiarid land. It was observed for several decades prior to 2001 that the ground water table in large parts of the state was rapidly depleting. How then was it possible to achieve those impressive agricultural growth figures? It was possible because of the use innovative methods to conserve ground water and rainwater harvesting. Swaminathan S Anklesaria Aiyar (no fan of Modi) agrees that the agricultural growth achieved between 2000-01 and 2007-08 was an impressive 9.6% per year, despite a severe drought in 2002. (See Agriculture:Secret of Modi’s success)
“The Narmada Canal Solar Project is an innovative project in many ways. The solar panels that were laid along the Narmada canal for a distance of just 750 metres produce 1 MW of power (or 1.6 million units of electricity) and meet the requirements of 16,000 families. It prevents 9,000,000 litres of water from evaporating. The solar electricity plant near Charnaka in north Gujarat produces 214 MW of electricity. In order to produce the same amount of electricity, 900,000 tonnes of coal or natural gas are required! The plant prevents 8,000,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere. Gujarat has a canal network that is 85,000 kilometres long. Using only 16.2% of this canal length or 19,000 kilometres for electricity generation is expected to produce 2,200 MW of electricity and save 11,000 acres of cultivable land.
“To say that Narendra Modi’s ‘puppy’ remark was ‘incendiary’ is as bizarre as the rest of the editorial.
“Asked in an interview with Reuters, how he felt about the tragic loss of human lives in the 2002 riots, he replied that ‘if a puppy were to come under the wheels of his car, even if someone else was driving it, he would be pained’. This innocuous remark sent the Indian commentariat into delirium. They analysed each word, comma and pause. They analysed his tone, pitch and inflexion. They did not stop there. They began looking for hidden meanings and concealed metaphors. An English saying refers to ‘a good man, kind to animals and respected by all’. If one were to objectively analyse Modi’s answer, one would have understood that he tried to convey the anguish he felt when human lives were lost.
“The huge turnouts at his election meetings ever since Narendra Modi has been declared his party’s prime ministerial candidate are proof positive of his acceptance as a mass leader. The youth of this country sees in him a decisive leader with a vision, and one who can translate the vision into reality. The loss of one ally is really not significant in India’s prevailing political atmosphere. A party that gathers a critical mass will attract allies to give it a parliamentary majority.
“One hopes the foregoing convincingly rebuts every point in the editorial that misrepresented facts about Narendra Modi. May one expect that the New York Times does the decent thing by publishing the rebuttal?”
What is the need to make all these additional comments as the article was anyway going to be published in VOXINDICA if it was rejected by NYT. Here is the reason: The paper does not publish a retraction. However it might have received a number of rebuttals including the one from this writer. It is anybody’s guess which one or all made the paper but it carried a correction on October 28.
It would still not go the whole hog to say that it made a huge blunder but simply blames an Indian government report. For its own reasons, the Indian government won’t refute it. Of course!
But the big Q is why did the NYT publish a skewed report in the first place? What was its objective? Whom was it supporting, placating or propitiating?