The sycophants are dangerous


By Tavleen Singh

It should have been a good week for our Prime Minister. He has just returned from what appears to have been a very successful trip to Europe. As well as meeting important leaders, he would have been happily reminded of the good old days when he met members of the diaspora in Berlin and Copenhagen and they chanted Modi, Modi, Modi. The Prime Minister was in his element when Indian musicians in full costume appeared out of nowhere, allowing him, as usual, to try his hand at playing a big drum. Journalists who traveled to Europe to cover his tour were flattering in their reporting of his successes. A Hindi news channel reported that it was Modis’ stature that would soon end the war in Ukraine. The Danish Prime Minister seemed to confirm this by publicly urging him to speak to Putin. Modi couldn’t have asked for more. Within hours of returning to the motherland, however, some uglier realities began to surface. First came the news that the Asia-Pacific director of Reporters without Borders (RSF) had, during a congressional briefing, presented a report titled Indias Crackdown on Free Speech. Nobody wants to see India become a very strong dictatorship like China… said Daniel Bastard (but) the situation becomes more or less the same in some respects. The report he presented to the US Congress spoke of routine violence against journalists, mentioning Kashmir in particular, and said that the Indian media were forced into self-censorship. Then came alarming news from the World Health Organization that the Indian government had covered up Covid deaths to such an extent that the true figure was probably 10 times the official tally.  The same officials who let us down so badly this time last year said the WHO was defaming India and using a methodology that was unreliable. They said India had a very strong birth and death registry and that indicated that the official figure of 4.81 lakh deaths at the end of 2021 was accurate. Let us now examine whether the accusations against Modi are true or malicious propaganda. This newspaper did a thorough analysis of the WHO charges and concluded that although there may have been an undercount, the actual figure falls far short of the WHO estimate of 47.4 lakh death. What we have to ask ourselves is why India’s official numbers are being questioned, and the answer, IMHO, is that too many lies were told by too many officials at the height of this wave murderous Delta that swept India last summer. When bodies were seen floating in the Ganges, we were told this was normal as some Hindus believed in giving their loved ones jal samadhi. When the banks of our most sacred river began to be covered with thousands of shallow graves, the official explanation was that there were Hindu communities who believed in burial. When people started dying from lack of oxygen and hospital beds, the official explanation was that it was an exaggeration. When queues formed outside the cremation grounds, we were told that there were vulture journalists who did not have to report from the cremation grounds. Few people did. The media was whipped into such submission.  The courage we once showed in pointing out government corruption and failures began to die before Modi won his second term, and has died again in the past four years. Reporting on politics and governance has become difficult. Journalists who continue to show defiance are routinely punished by Indian government investigative agencies. And anyway, there are only a handful left. There are private news channels today that look so much like government mouthpieces that if poor, seedy old Doordarshan were shut down for good, it wouldn’t be missed. The problem with forcing civil servants and journalists to become slavish sycophants is that the government begins to believe its own propaganda. So, when international organizations or newspapers report failures and loopholes, the response of the highest Modis government officials is to speak of an international conspiracy against India. It’s crazy talk. As the Prime Minister reportedly discovered during his tour of Europe, the West is keen for India to succeed so that it can act as a buffer against the emerging new world order led by China. If there is an international plot, it is for India to somehow overcome its governance and economic policy failures to emerge as a real challenge to China. When India performed well, it was applauded by the same Western newspapers that our officials accuse of being anti-Indian. It is because the media policy of the Modi government has essentially consisted of muzzling the national media that there has been bad press abroad. It is because we lied about the extent of the horror we experienced during the Covid killer wave last summer that there has been such a severe loss of credibility. Sycophants have a place in autocracies where, for a time, they thrive on singing praises to the Dear Leader, but even there they end up weakening him instead of helping him become a better autocrat. In democratic countries, the damage caused by sycophantic officials and servile journalists is incalculable. Until it’s too late.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.