India needs to factor in hostile global media

There has been a fair amount of outrage over the disruption of India’s Independence Day celebrations in London by a demonstration of Pakistani Kashmiris and a handful of Khalistanis. The outrage is warranted, and more so in the light of the BBC’s predictably one-sided coverage of the event in Central London.

However, indignation should not take away from the fact that events like this are likely to recur in the coming months. Indians should also be reconciled to sustained hostile media coverage. We should be mindful of the international media’s tendency to latch on to a new ‘cause’.

The elevation of Jammu and Kashmir into a focal point of Left-liberal indignation was only to be expected after the dramatic developments earlier this month. For the past few years, a narrative centred on the growing clout of “Hindu majoritarianism” has been playing out in Western capitals and campuses.

This narrative is less focused on a rigorous political dissection of Indian democracy which, for all its many shortcomings, is thriving. It is more an aesthetic rejection of the political style of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and particularly his inclination to take difficult decisions that past leaders had been inclined to leave festering.

It is also linked to India’s robust re-discovery of nationalism which, in the eyes of the Anglophone intelligentsia, warrants comparisons with the politics of anti-immigration in Europe and the US, and the recovery of a national self in countries such as Russia, Turkey, Hungary, Poland and Japan.

Secondly, there is the human rights dimension. In the past, liberals in the West—as opposed to Western governments—have been remarkably indulgent towards secessionist movements.

This is not because there is any natural love for ‘self-determination’ and Balkanisation of large countries but because of sustained propaganda by human rights bodies who combine tearful stories of oppression of ‘minorities’ with lavish funding from bodies such as the European Union and the UN.

Last Christmas was, for example, taken by concern over the Rohingya issue in Myanmar and led to Nobel Prize winner Aung San Su Kyi being thrown off her pedestal. Earlier, during the civil war in Sri Lanka, the LTTE was projected as the ‘good’ guys and the Sri Lankan army as the baddies.

The gruesome track record of the LTTE in recruiting children, using civilians as human shields and targeting individuals was conveniently brushed under the carpet.

Of course, in the game of vilification, Israel has been the favourite target. So fierce has been the assault on Israeli nationhood that anti-Semitism—deemed a complete no-no after World War II—is now near-respectable.

The Labour Party in Britain, which is likely to be in the forefront of abusing India over its J&K policy, has made anti-Semitism a part of its Left-wing ecosystem. That is why the equation of Kashmir with Palestine is likely to be a feature of the coming months.

Thirdly, as far as the demonisation of Modi’s India is concerned, the ammunition has been provided to the West by two categories of people: a small section of the Indian media that depends on subsidies from unknown quarters and India hands in the West whose punditry feeds the Western media.

The endless petitions that are in circulation denouncing everything from the alleged loss of academic freedom in Jawaharlal Nehru University to beef-related lynchings have seamlessly merged into demands that Article 370 be restored to its temporary permanence.

A year ago it was felt by the habitually outraged that this was a passing phase and that India would come back to its corrupt, blundering normalcy.

After the election, this hope has disappeared but with this sense of hopelessness has come a determined ferocity to try and inflict maximum amount of damage on a country that voted for Modi, even if it means condoning Islamist radicalism and playing second fiddle to Pakistan.

Finally, the next few months should witness frenzied attempts by Pakistan to harass India politically, diplomatically and even militarily. Islamabad is likely to cash all its IOUs. This, however, is not because it is even remotely in a winning position on Kashmir.

Far from it. Today, Pakistan is faced with the grim reality of losing an issue that nurtured and sustained its nationhood since the time it lost control over its eastern wing in 1971.

The prospect of extracting revenge for the humiliation in Dhaka has kept the country going, even as it has sunk into internal disarray. Now, at one stroke Modi and Shah have unilaterally deemed that Kashmir will no longer be a negotiating issue. The erstwhile state is now fully a part of India and governed by the entirety of its Constitution.

Is it any wonder that Pakistan is fuming? Its anger is bolstered by the fact that the support it is likely to attract from the international community is likely to be minimal, even if tries to blackmail the world on Afghanistan. Hence the angry disruptions in London and the agonised articles in the Western media.

India’s response should be cool, calculated and strategic. Mere shows of anger and hurt won’t do. We need to improve the quality of our public diplomacy, leverage our economic clout strategically and turn global lobbying into a fine art. Political audacity has to be backed up with finesse.

Swapan Dasgupta is a senior journalist and Member of Parliament, being a presidential nominee to the Rajya Sabha.