I would have appreciated had Prof Nitasha Kaul, a political science academic at the University of Westminster, put forward a well-argued anti-Modi case in her  article dated 12 May 2021 (published in The Conversation). Instead, one finds a melange of what she calls Modi’s media management, demonetisation, abolishing article 370, political style, and Ayodhya served with the topping of COVID19 statistics aimed to distort factual position. In so doing, she has achieved the rare feat of blending her varied expertise as a – novelist, poet, traveller, and artist besides being a political science academic.

Let us examine her major claims:

India’s COVID19 situation

Nitasha begins by providing statistics of cases and deaths by COVID19. She avoids presenting comparative by country position. Why? Is it because comparative statistics would show the country where she is working (UK) itself in bad light and demolish her argument? Here is the comparative statistics published by the Johns Hopkins University. It will be seen that her claim that crisis in India ‘’ connects directly to Narendra Modi’s leadership and judgement’’ is laughable.

Table 1: COVID19 cases and mortality as of 22 May 2021

Country Confirmed Deaths Case-fatality Deaths 100K population
India 26,289,290 295,525 1.1% 21.63
United Kingdom 4,473,773 127,972 2.9% 191.48
United States 33,085,106 589,223 1.8% 179.51
Brazil 15,970,949 446,309 2.8% 211.47
China 102,833 4,846 4.7% 0.35
(source: https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/data/mortality).

Furthermore, she hides from readers that Modi inherited the legacy of the Indian National Congress (INC) Party which ruled India for more than 60 years. In 2003, there was only one All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in India. The BJP government headed by Vajpayee initiated a proposal to add five new AIIMS and Prime Minister Narendra Modi developed a policy for AIIMS in every state. Today India has 22 AIIMS.  Consequently, the Modi government was required to cope-up with the shortage of hospital beds (0.5 per 1,000 population in 2017). As per world bank data, hospital beds per 1,000 population in U.K. were 2.7 (2019), U.S. 2.9 (2017), Brazil 2.1 (2017) and China 4.3 (2017).  Does Nitasha expect that the criminal neglect of the health sector for decades could be corrected in a matter of a few years?? Yet, she has the audacity to question why Modi ‘’did not learn from other countries and ramp up medical capacity in the last year’’.  Building medical capacity is not writing poetry Nitasha should know.

She also hides from readers that health is a state subject and India’s overall performance is mainly due to mismanagement by the states ruled by Modi’s opposition parties. These parties have been so irresponsible that they were found hoarding even oxygen cylinders so that blame gets passed on to Modi.

Nitasha, then suddenly veers sharply and pulls out the 2016 demonetisation card, among others. She asserts it ‘’has cost millions of people their lives or livelihoods’’.  But why would then Modi get re-elected in 2019 with even larger majority than what he secured in 2014?  Nitasha, a political-sciences professor maintains convenient silence! Instead Nitasha mixes the COVID19 issue with demonetisation and change of status of Kashmir!  I thought that as a Kashmiri Hindu (my assumption I may be wrong though) she would at least shed a tear for over 300,000 Kashmiri Hindus who had to run for life and became refugees in their own country following Islamic terrorism. But in Nitasha’s novel such incidences have no place as these events can’t be linked to Modi – the villain of her novel.

Media-Management or misinformation management?

Nitasha notes that Modi has not held a single press conference and hence there is no direct way to confront him. One would have thought that a political sciences academic would know that the Parliament was fully functional during the Modi regime except when the opposition boycotted. Modi regularly gives interviews to main TV channels including channels like India Today TV (recently caught in TRP manipulation case) and ABP News for whom Modi is an anathema. Indian media is mostly controlled by opposition parties. This largesse-addicted media under the INC regime has been at war with Modi since 2001 when he became state chief minister and continued spewing venom against him. Little did they know that it actually catapulted Modi to the Prime Ministerial post. It demonstrates that such manipulated media has zero effect on Indian voters.

The international media have little, if any, knowledge of ground-level situation in India and draw largely from the domestic English media. Fake news abounds both domestically and globally as University of Houston research found.  Modi government avoided responding to such misinformation campaigns so long as these were targeted at him or his political party.  But recent months have seen that instead of Modi the focus has shifted on India and anti-India campaigns have been unleashed. The COVID19-related misinformation campaign heightened to extreme levels and the government decided to put out factual information.  But putting out such factual information (or the other side of the story) is what Nitasha calls ‘’media-manipulation’’. 

She thereafter notes that Modi did not ‘’plan to prevent masses of migrant workers perishing from starvation’’. Nitasha again hides that the migrant workers crisis was triggered by Modi’s opposition party that rules Delhi.  

She chides Modi for holding election rallies despite advice to the contrary from opposition parties but she hides that the very same parties were also holding election rallies.  She finds fault with the Hindu religious gathering of Kumbh but cleverly ignores similar gathering on Eid or at the opposition parties sponsored farmer’s agitation. She is at a loss to understand why Modi ‘’prioritised vaccine exports over essential domestic coverage’’. It is because she has not done appropriate research to find out why. INC-ruled states refused to use the vaccine and also there were global commitments.

She shows complete ignorance about the word ‘’Bharat’’ and ‘’Hindutva’’ by her assertion ‘’ “Bharat” (literally, the Hindi word for India) is the Hindutva – or Hindu nationalist – version of India that stands, not just for the country, but also connotes an idyll of pure Hindutva morality where there is no westernisation or its associated ills’’.  The word ‘’Bharat’’ is used in the Indian Constitution itself.  As for ‘’Hindutva’’ Nitasha is assigning her own meaning thereto which was neither intended by Veer Savarkar who coined the term nor by later RSS ideologues. Obviously, Nitasha’s analysis is superficial and guided only by the consideration to somehow put Modi in the dock.

Modi’s perceptions and priorities

Here again Nitasha pushes the left-liberal narrative that Modi is anti-minorities.  But she hides that Modi government abolished triple-talaq, an Islamic practice that subjugated Muslim women. At least as a woman Nitasha should have hailed the reform.

Like other Modi detractors Nitasha is envious of his international image.  Here she gives us hints about the real motivation behind her article, that is, to dent Modi’s image. But why would an academic be interested such endeavours?? It is alright for rival political parties or enemy countries or paid-journalist sepoys to do it but should an academic fall prey to it and compromise academic integrity?

In so doing, she demonstrates her naivety and disconnect with the ground-level situation. Is she aware that Modi brought the largest health insurance scheme in the world? He also brought the largest financial inclusion scheme? Provided free cooking gas to poor households as well as girls toilets in village schools? He made India open-defecation free (India was topping the list of countries without safe-sanitation. The safe sanitation coverage was just 39% when Modi took over now it is 100%). Just to mention a few of Modi’s achievements that made him popular with the masses.  Does Nitasha think that rural folks would be influenced by Modi’s U.K. or the U.S. mega-events or by the better life that he brings at their door-step?

It is funny that Nitasha describes Gujarat Leader Vallabhabhai Patel as a ’right-wing Hindu Indian independence leader’’. Even school children in India would know that Patel banned the RSS when he was home minister in Nehru’s cabinet but later withdrew the ban when more information came on hand.

Nitasha is worried that current central government offices would be demolished as Modi goes ahead with the Central Vista project.  It is a rhetoric of the INC to attack Modi government. Court cases were  filed in the Supreme Court against the project but the Court has given a green signal to the government.

She then dwells on the Ayodhya Ram Mandir and hides from the readers that the Ayodhya dispute has been resolved by Supreme Court verdict.  She calls is a narcissist monument and deeply hurts the faith of billions of people.  Why not she instead questions why 53 acres of prime land in Delhi is occupied by a monument for Nehru, 45 acres by Indira and 15 acres by Rajiv monuments when it could be used to construct hospitals?  But Nitasha’s article is taken it appears straight from the INC’s tool kit.

Nitasha would do well to separate her novel writing skills and political science-related research articles. As a novelist, I would certainly admire her skills making a villain out of a twice-elected people’s hero! If, however, she is writing this article as a political science academic then could I suggest that next time on she get it vetted by an undergraduate student at least so that readers are spared of a novel being pushed as research.

(Milind Sathye is a Professor in the Faculty of Business, Government and Law, University of Canberra. Views personal)

DISCLAIMER: The author is solely responsible for the views expressed in this article. The author carries the responsibility for citing and/or licensing of images utilized within the text.