The controversy over Freedom Ranking by the so-called international organisations is nothing but a story of a vengeful, dispossessed elite and their clueless Western collaborators
So India has been downgraded in two separate reports – one emanating from Washington and another from Sweden. This was inevitable, but it must as best seen as the middle of a story – essentially an “empire strikes back” in the original Star Wars Trilogy. The question is can one call it a conspiracy? Yes and no – on the Indian side it has been a conspiracy of the dispossessed elite, and on the Western side it has been a comical mix of the West’s usual shallow understanding of India, the limited echo chamber of interlocutors and interpreters of India that the Western academia chooses and the tyranny of methodology. It is effectively the story of a vengeful dispossessed elite and their clueless Western collaborators.
When Modi said nakhaoonganakhaanedoonga (I won’t encourage/benefit from nepotism/bribes nor will I allow others to) when he took office in 2014 I had an uneasy feeling. It remained amorphous for a while. After all getting rid of an edifice where every single institution in the country had been built on nepotism and loyalty to one family was never going to be an easy task. As it turned out far from being easy the disposed turned into a strong active cabal within the Government to protect their own turf. The dispossessed were initially paralysed by the scale of the 2014 victory, but that paralysis lasted a bare six months before a multi-axis attack began on the Government.
The Freedom House ratings follow a particularly non-transparent ranking system, particularly ironic for an institution that claims to “promote democracy”. Essentially the parameters and questions asked get changed every two to three years making a year-by- year comparison an exercise in futility
It started with the charge of cronyism and Rahul Gandhi’s now infamous “suit-boot ki sarkar” quip. The target of this was as much India’s business community as it was Modi and the BJP. After all, it was Indian business that had grown absolutely fed up of the rampant and blatant corruption under the UPA that had heralded a need for change and by all reports had either refused to provide election funding to the INC or reduced the amount provided significantly. Consequently, Rahul’s revenge would be terrible. He would label every contract that any corporate house in India won as somehow tainted. This would serve three goals – to extort money from corporate houses, to paralyse the government’s reform measures, and to create an aura of corruption around the government – not in the minds of the electorate, but rather in the intelligentsia. This is where the dispossessed elites come into the picture, as they were the primary tool of disseminating the message – the pain of their dispossession multiplying their fanaticism and making their bile all the more bitter. As a result, it didn’t matter that the Supreme Court resoundingly endorsed the government’s position that there was no corruption in the Rafale deal, every columnist worth his salt was to write that there was.
This template then started being applied across the board. Be it the canard of “Church attacks” that was proven wrong, or “rising intolerance” that never held up to any statistical scrutiny, or “lynchistan” which again was based on talking up a few data points and saturating Press coverage with these data points alone. The Kafkaesque nature of these concerted campaigns is clear from the fact that they have found zero resonance in India, or in Western governments, but they are the only things the Western Press wishes to talk about.
The Indian people are notoriously freedom loving – to the point that they’d much prefer anarchy over any semblance of “order” if that order comes wrapped in authoritarianism. This was demonstrated in 1977, when the emergency did bring in a certain discipline and order in government, but it alienated the population so completely that they resoundingly rejected Indira Gandhi in the 1977 election. Let us be clear, as horrific as the Emergency period was, compared to dictatorships like Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, China, North Korea, the USSR, Argentina, Chile, Portugal, Spain, Greece and a whole host of dictatorships at the time, it was relatively tame. Yet even this relative “light touch” dictatorship was too much for the Indian people. Today however we are led to believe that India is the grip of a similar situation, but unlike 1977 when the great Indian people punished the tyrant, in 2019 they are celebrating the tyrant. Clearly then the entire opposition narrative has no takers in India.
Freedom Rankings and their Methodology
Freedom rankings follow a certain methodology. The Freedom House ratings follow a particularly non-transparent ranking system, particularly ironic for an institution that claims to “promote democracy”. Essentially the parameters and questions asked get changed every two to three years making a year by year comparison an exercise in futility. However, what’s more interesting is the staff and consultants involved. They remain unnamed for a very good reason – so as not to decipher their political, business or ideological affiliations. Now remember the dispossessed elites we spoke about? These same elites act almost exclusively as the interlocutors and interpreters for these think tanks. Why is this? Mostly because much of the INC’s ill-gotten gains and the massive networks of nepotism they spawned saw to it that the beneficiaries of said nepotism spread far and wide over 70 years. Remember the benefit of this network is not just how they skew opinion, but also who they recruit and promote. After all which university professor would offer PhD seats, post-doctoral fellowships, and lucrative job openings to anyone who says to the professor “sir with all due respect you’ve written bunkum”? It’s much more likely that only people who fawn over and said professors and hold ideologically similar views, who come recommended by trusted friends, and who see the “unique hidden genius” in said professor’s works who will be given all these opportunities. Now multiply the annual job, faculty and fellowship openings by 70 years and multiply it again by the number of “prestigiousinstitutions” and you get an idea of the scale of institutional saturation involved. That is why when you don’t know who was involved as staff and consultants in the freedom house rankings, you know such rankings are simply not worth their salt.
In their quest to put an end to the corrupt gravy train of yearly rental “intellectuals”, the NDA Govt. hasremoved an elite, refused to create an elite and in the process created a massive narrative vacuum that is being monopolised by the vengeful remnants of the old regime
Mind you these networks don’t simply operate in such benign ways – and have a sharp extortion angle to them as well. Infosys N R Narayan Murthy’s family for example has quite a reputation for social climbing, given their own dirty machinations in the ugly war for the control of Infosys that played out a few years back. How do they insulate themselves form scrutiny at home or aboard? Simple – you fund the people that you think will attack or expose you. Not surprisingly, N R Narayana Murthy’s son provided a large corpus to noted Hindu hater Sheldon Pollock for “advanced studies” of India. Unsurprisingly, the company under his father was also a major funder of a corpus set up to fund “public spirited journalism” in India. The person chosen to lead this fund is a known beneficiary of Gandhi family largesse and the dispersal of funds is exclusively to rabid left publications who deal exclusively in innuendo, with just one, token right wing grantee. Unsurprisingly the person leading this fund not only writes exclusively for these left wing rags, but also actively promotes them as a bastion of true journalism, to whom he then dispenses funds, with absolutely no concept of “conflict of interest”.
Consequently – between promoting their own, this cabal establishes its own outlets as the only source of “real and legitimate” reporting in India, among them the only reliable data points. Notice here how the system is rigged? They are the only real intellectuals, they are the ones who appoint what constitutes “real news” and hence “real data points”, they are the ones who must be funded in order to avoid hit jobs by said “real journalists”, who they then promote into strategic jobs, faculties and fellowships, to perpetuate the gravy train.
This is where the rather more scientific and relatively well-intentioned V-Dem report falls into the data-point trap and what constitutes “real data points”. Their methodology seems sound, the problem is the data sources they choose are already rigged form the get go. After all when the data sources are corrupted, how good can the output be? Notice the big difference emerging however between Western governments and their Press. This fear of a failing democracy hasn’t infected Western governments unlike their think-tanks and newspapers, and this begs the question, why? The answer is simple: the Western diplomatic corps is a source of primary information gathering. They seldom if ever rely on Press reports, preferring instead to talk to people and collate data from hard statistics. That they have a presence in the capitaland in several other cities enables them to expend large resources for primary data acquisition and there is a statistical need for them to gauge if an interlocutor is pro or ant government and balance out their claims based on said statistics. After all they are not in the business of website hits, number of views and newspaper sales and don’t have to resort to hyperbole in order to improve visibility or circulation.
Where India Failed
Let us be clear, while India’s democracy remains stronger and more vibrant than ever, the Government has failed significantly in its duty. Foreign policy is not just about doing ones job as per dharma, but also combating misinformation and propaganda against India. In this, the Government has erred. For starters, we have consistently talked up these same flawed ratings systems when they are favourable to us – for example the ease of business indicators and good governance indicators. Second, when outrageous lies were being peddled over the CAA/NRC which started with the Seelampur and Jamia riots, morphed into ShaheenBagh, which then morphed into the Delhi Riots, or the Farm Riots which are monopolised entirely by brutal absentee landlords; at no point did the Government put up a robust point-by-point defence of the kind the late Pramod Mahajan used to under the Vajpayee Government. Finally, the Government failed to learn from the lessons of Vamana and Mahabali on the evil of too much generosity or from Yudhishtira on the pitfalls of inflexible ideological purity. In their quest to put an end to the corrupt gravy train of yearly rental “intellectuals”, they have removed an elite, refused to create an elite and in the process created a massive narrative vacuum that is being monopolised by the vengeful remnants of the old regime. While such a lofty belief in “satyamevajayate” or the truth alone will triumph is admirable, a little bit of Krishnaesque action is long overdue. After all the entire lesson of the Mahabharata is about the limitations of idealism and how it has to be adapted to real life. Action is needed – and it is needed now.
(The writer is Senior Fellow at the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies)