From human rights concerns to sensational speculations, a critical analysis of how Western media portrayed Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s state visit to the USA.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was on an official state visit to the USA from June 21 to 24. While Prime Minister Modi has visited the US multiple times in his tenure, this was the first time his trip was classified as a state visit during his nine-year-long reign as prime minister. The last state visit to the US by an Indian was by then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh from November 23 to 25, 2009.
While Prime Minister Modi and President Joe Biden affirmed a vision of India and the United States as among the closest partners in the world, some liberal Democrat lawmakers boycotted Mr. Modi’s address to the joint session of Congress. The two sides announced new deals involving high-end defense cooperation, semiconductor industry investments, and a partnership in quantum and advanced computing and AI.
Persistent questions over the state of democracy and human rights in India also surfaced during the time which 75 U.S. members of the Congress raised in a letter to Mr. Biden. But what gained eyeballs was the implied narrative run by the Western media. In the process of identifying the reporting patterns of the Western media, we analyzed articles from June 20 to June 24 on popular news websites. The key points which were repeatedly referred to in the articles were:
- Human rights violation in India
- Mr. Modi’s past tenure
- Consistent emphasis on India becoming the most populous nation
- The Hindu-nationalist right-wing ruling party
Dissecting the reporting by Western media:
While ‘Modi’s India’ remained the favorite phrase of the outlets, the dominant interest lay in downplaying the image of India. A lot of meticulous editing and re-editing produced the most rancorous write-ups. Indeed, the content team must have had sleepless nights during the state visit. Let us see how.
Media outlets particularly ‘The New York Times,’ ‘BBC,’ ‘Guardian,’ and ‘RT’ put out various versions of the same article during these four days. Each piece was more fractions than the previous one.
Successive versions of the edited articles started carrying out sections on the human rights concerns in India amidst Modi’s visit. In an article titled ‘Biden announces raft of new deals with Modi amid calls to address human rights concerns’ by the ‘Guardian,’ dated: June 22, 2023, 10:18 (UTC), the editors changed the piece to a total number of 9 times. However, the idea to add the ‘human rights concerns’ did not hit them at first. The first chosen headline for the piece was ‘Biden to Welcome Modi at White House in attempt to deepen US-India ties.’
As the versions extended, the alleged human rights concerns found more space along with the mention of ‘Hindu Nationalism.’
After due coverage to religious minorities, it was then the turn of the Prime Minister’s Gujarat tenure. Still, in a rather hasty move, they forgot to mention the clean chit that PM Modi received in 2012 from the Special Investigation Team (SIT) appointed by the Supreme Court of India (the supreme judicial authority and the highest court of the Republic of India.) It was finally tweaked in the sixth version of the piece.
In the end, it was the turn of Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, well-known vocal anti-India US representatives publicly known for their pro-Pakistani affiliation.
They attempted hard to start off the piece with a negative connotation, with the lines “A handful of lawmakers boycotted the Indian prime minister’s address to Congress, while protesters gathered near the White House,” but guess the team had to go long hours of discussions and debates as they decided to drop off the lines (first added in version eight). The final piece can be accessed at: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2023/jun/22/joe-biden-narendra-modi-visit-washington.
In another Guardian article titled ‘Modi’s US visit prompts condemnation and protest from Muslim leaders, ’ Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar found more space, apparently, with no mention of the supply chain, GE Fighter jet, Microchips, sale of armed drones, semiconductors, or AI- wherein lay the actual purpose of the official state visit. In 2019, Ms. Omar drew criticism from Democrats and Republicans alike for tweeting that certain pro-Israel groups were “all about the Benjamins, baby,” appearing to refer to hundred-dollar bills in what was seen as invoking an antisemitic trope about Jews and money. She later apologized for the comment. Two years later, Ms. Omar seemingly equated “atrocities” carried out by the U.S. military to those committed by terrorist groups like the Taliban and Hamas; she later said she had not meant to compare them.
If the continuous editing and re-editing were not enough, ‘The New York Times also indulged in putting up controversial headlines. An article was published on June 22, 2023, with the headline ‘The Dangerous Reality of Modi’s’ India’ but due to reasons known only to them, they later deleted the Google search headline and chose another one, ‘Narendra Modi Is Not Who America Thinks He Is’ One may still access the previous headline upon a plain google search.
After the NYT, it was ‘Al-Jazeera’ which was most concerned about the usual human rights concerns.
The ‘prestigious’ media portals did not shy away from tweaking the content from each other and making it their own.
The US media was not alone in the gamut but the Canadian media too played along.
The next attempt was to refer to India as the ‘world’s most populous nation’, on a consistent basis. While the writer had the option to describe India using multiple other attributes, they chose to go with the mundane description that China had held onto for a long time in the nineties. An article from ‘rtcom’ first published or seen on June 21, 2023, 12:30 (UTC) was later edited on June 29, 2023, 17:45 only to omit the line ‘Asia’s third biggest economy’; which could be considered as a positive tone.
In another article, put out by the same media portal titled ‘Biden embraces Modi as the US intensifies its fight against Russia and China’ the same tactic has been applied. Human Rights concerns and ‘world’s most populous nation’ are mentioned in the same paragraph.
About 8 hours later, after publishing the article, the writers decided to omit the line ‘world’s most populous democracy’ the title which they had bestowed for the US, and replaced it with ‘country.’
Of course, the mistake is made by the Indian media for not having mentioned the Black Rights Movement, gun violence, and target-killings in the US when American counterparts visit India.
The same kind of phrases could be traced in various articles in NYT from ‘Biden Seeks to Bolster Ties With Modi Soft-Pedaling Differences’ to BBC’s ‘How Modi and Biden turbocharged India-US ties.’ and Washington Post’s ‘Biden should toast India with Modi- and have a word about democracy.’
Narratives can be shaped to appear truthful through persuasion and self-justification. They serve to promote the narrator’s version and may not always be based on objective truth. The Western world has effectively maintained its narrative of superiority and justification for its ideas and goals over time.
On a plain Google search, the Vox first published the headline ‘Is Joe Biden ignoring Narendra Modi’s war on India’s Democracy’ but upon opening the article, the headline seems to be ‘The world’s largest democracy is collapsing before our eyes.’ Seems like democracy was their favorite choice of subject matter to jot down the pieces.
The New York Times too chose to present their stories the same way. Human Rights violations, the world’s most populous nation, persecution of minorities, and Hindu-nationalist right-wing parties were the ingredients that comprised the articles published during the time span of four days.
NYT even went a step further. They targeted the G20 presidency of India and presented the logo of G20 which consists of a globe above the lotus flower (the national flower of India) and named the official visit an ‘image-building’ program, ignoring the fact that President Biden officially invited the Indian Prime Minister.
Phrases like ‘he seeks to bolster ties,’ ‘image-building,’ and Reuters’ ‘India’s Modi starts Washington visit to build Biden, US ties.’ clearly imply a forced exerted effort from PM Modi’s side, longing for Biden’s companionship.
In another poorly chosen issue, the NYT published a full-fledged article on ‘Why Modi and other Indian Leaders Stay Single’ in which they mockingly blamed Modi’s hyper-nationalism to be the reason for his decision to stay single. Imagine a similar article on Xi Jinping in which he chose to marry twice.
The list of articles that we analyzed for this story can be accessed below:
The thoughts and opinions expressed in this are those of the author and not necessarily WeThePress.
Articles were analyzed using News Sniffer tools.