Opinion | Umesh Upadhyay’s Book Offers Insight into Western Media’s Dubious Agenda on India – News18

Written By: Rajesh Singh
Last Updated: March 28, 2024, 18:52 IST
New Delhi, India
The Western press has yet to shed its colonial mindset.
A disconnect between reality and fiction is as obvious as the difference between water and oil. Or, it should be as obvious. But, for many, the few drops of oil that float on the water’s surface are more true, and the water is merely a distraction from that truth. Over the decades since India’s independence, and more so in the last ten years, the international media has driven a misinformation campaign with great vigour, seeking to belittle the country’s achievements and making mountains out of molehills—talking oil while studiously ignoring the water.
Seasoned journalist Umesh Upadhyay, in his book, ‘Western Media Narratives on India: From Gandhi to Modi’, has exposed the dubious agenda; the book’s name itself is self-explanatory. Unfortunately, certain sections of the Indian media, the academia and what is grandly termed as the ‘intellectual class,’ too have happily latched on to the false narrative. Several valiant efforts have been made by the Left-liberal ecosystem to paint India in poor light. In the process, reality has been twisted or conflated with unrelated issues.
Upadhyay’s book, however, deals with the Western media. The media’s projection of India and its leaders, and the scrutiny of the performance of governments, has been analysed and exposed for what it is—biased and misconstrued. The author sets the tone in the preface itself when he reminds the readers of the pro-Khalistan movement in Punjab during the 1980s. He was then in Canada, which has a sizeable Sikh population. The appointment of Giani Zail Singh as India’s president did not even make it to the newspapers. Strangely, though, a bus accident in the country, in which several pilgrims had perished, was reported in a local newspaper!
The author points out that sections of the Western press painted Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel as a villain for his efforts to integrate princely states into the Indian Union. “[…] newspapers [in Britain] had been publishing one-sided reports, describing Sardar Patel as a trouble-maker in Hyderabad who was not abiding by the standstill agreement entered into with the Nizam of the princely state.” Not just Sardar Patel, even Mahatma Gandhi and BR Ambedkar became victims of the Western press’ misinformation campaign.
Several decades later, despite the flow of credible information more readily available through technology, the Western bias continues to be reflected in its media. The author studies the case of impact of Covid on India. The Western press, while painting a most gory picture of the situation, dragged in the Spanish Flu of 1918-20, by way of comparison. “Some reports almost habitually mentioned Spanish Flu deaths in India while reporting on Covid-19. This was a rather unscientific way to set a narrative with an overwhelmingly anti-India overtone.”
The author discusses at some length the Covid crisis, and everything that he tells us about the West’s media is based on carefully researched material, which he adequately cites. Here is one example of the silly extent that the Western press went to, to paint a catastrophic picture of the pandemic: An opinion piece published in the Guardian, he points out, compared the situation to Partition and quoted experts who believed that the “lockdown was clamped by the Indian leadership in panic”. Not just that, the article also alleged that the Indian government had “thrown common Indians under the bus.”
The author of the opinion piece quoted a known Modi-baiter and former bureaucrat Harsh Mander, who, believe it or not, drew parallels with the great Bengal Famine of 1943. The opinion writer merrily swallowed this misplaced analogy and spoke of the “annihilation of poor people” etc.
Upadhyay offers another example of brazen bias. “Many Western publications had already declared PM Narendra Modi a ‘Hindu nationalist’ and his government as a Hindu nationalist government. So, they believed that the government could do nothing right.” In order to buttress its stand, the media “started cherry-picking the stories that suited their assumed beliefs.” Further, as the author points out, several such reports were based on hearsay, were unconfirmed, and rested on unverified data.
While the prejudices of the Western press, triggered by a jaundiced mindset, has in recent years targeted Prime Minister Modi and the BJP, by no means was the foreign media any more generous to other Indian leaders. Recall how the Western media targeted Indira Gandhi in the backdrop of the civil war that broke out in what was then East Pakistan, the Pakistan Army’s brutal suppression that followed, and the Indian government’s intervention that resulted in the creation of Bangladesh.
The foul language that the US President and his team then used against her, is on record. Surprisingly, neither the US press nor the people there condemned the language. As Upadhyay writes, “It seemed that the media was looking for an angle so that it could give an escape route to the former US president and his team […].”
The author also provides another interesting instance of the inbuilt bias that governs the thinking of the Western press. He referred to an advertisement that the New York Times put out in 2021, seeking candidates for New Delhi to head its business and economic coverage. One would expect the advertisement to detail the qualifications needed for the right candidate. But the advertisement talked of Modi “advocating a self-sufficient, muscular nationalism centred on the country’s Hindu majority.” It then went on to say that the “government’s growing efforts to police online speech and media discourse have raised difficult questions about balancing issues of security and privacy with free speech.” Need one say more about the newspaper’s intent?
This brings us to the question: Why, despite India having made enormous progress in all areas; despite becoming the world’s fifth largest economy and poised to become the third; despite emerging as a success story in digitisation (it accounts for more than 45 per cent of the world’s total digital payments); despite having lifted millions out of the poverty line…and more, does the Western media treat the country with disdain?
Upadhyay believes that the Western press has yet to shed its colonial mindset. It is perhaps having difficulty reconciling to the fact that an independent India has progressed, albeit after having to counter multiple challenges along the way. What the foreign media further cannot digest is that India has achieved all this and more, contrary to the conventional wisdom of the West that the country was incapable of governing itself without props and pearls of wisdom from the Western ecosystem.
The author rounds up his excellent narrative with the suggestion that there is now a need for a “New World Information Order” where a truer picture of countries such as India gets presented to the world at large. Such an effort has to be primarily driven internally by countries who, in Upadhyay’s words, have been “victims of Western narratives.” The story of Rising India has to be told. It is being told, but it needs to be done more forcefully and in a sustained manner.
The writer is an author and a public affairs analyst. Views expressed in the above piece are personal and solely that of the author. They do not necessarily reflect News18’s views.


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