To The New York Times editor: Readers won’t understand Indian elections without an actual diversity of opinions

HAF submitted the following Letter to the Editor to the New York Times on June 4, 2019.

At the conclusion of India’s election and resulting landslide victory for the incumbent Bharatiya Janata Party and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, it is with deep concern and exasperation that we write to you about the obvious and blatant bias with which New York Times covered the largest exercise of democracy in human history, in its Opinion pages.

The Times’ bias in this section was a profound disservice to readers — neither did it represent with accuracy the complex dynamics underpinning politics and society in India, nor did it improve the already low religious literacy of Americans with its grotesquely caricatured portrayals of world’s third-largest religion and its adherents.

The latter is particular concerning to us at the Hindu American Foundation — the largest non-profit advocacy organization for the 3+ million Hindus living in the United States.

From the time the 2019 Indian elections began in April until May 31, the Times published, by our count, 14 opinion pieces on this subject.

Ten of these were published prior to the elections, of which six expressed negative views of the BJP, Narendra Modi, or Indian politics and government. Many showed deep antipathy towards Hinduism as a religion, expressed in such terms that if the subject were Judaism or Islam the opinions would rightly be described as anti-Semitic or Islamophobic. Several of the authors have a documented record of being bigoted towards Hinduism.

Of the remaining articles, three were neutral (detailing how the Indian election process works, for example). Only one expressed anything positive about the current situation in India.

After the election, three articles were published which were either virulently anti-Modi or somehow poo-pooed his party’s victory. A fourth piece was published, but it was a short letter to the editor rebutting one of the three aforementioned negative articles.

The elections resulted in an overwhelming victory for the Modi-led BJP. There was historically high voter turnout in most states. Contrary to the impression given in the Times’ Opinion section, there was in fact significant support for the BJP among minority religious communities, and from the so-called “lower caste” communities of all religious backgrounds.

Though without a doubt some in India feel threatened by an assertive Hindu identity, considering the election turnout and results, is the story of India in 2019 really one dominated by division, as your opinion writers overwhelmingly believe?

Perhaps it is that the Times’ own editorial perspective of the situation is indicated by the April 11 article “Under Modi, a Hindu Nationalist Surge Has Further Divided India” and the paper wished to give readers no other assessment in its opinion pages — even if that assessment was not supported by the facts, ground realities, or the election results.

While opinions are just that, at the very least there should be a nominal effort made to share a diversity of them. Doing that would far better serve the mission of seeking the truth and helping people understand the world.