Pink, but not pretty

Calling out the Financial Times’ anti-India prejudices

The editors of Financial Times have timeandagain demonstrated an anti-India bias that is unfathomable. Or it is perhaps a ‘poison-pill strategy’ to prevent Anil Ambani or Vijay Mallya from buying over the paper and casting out the condescending snobs who sit on its editorial board. If these are strong words, they are only in response to an editorial that not indulges in crass moral equivalence but sees nothing wrong in using language that it probably considers taboo in other contexts.

It’s about David Miliband’s disastrous visit to Mumbai a few days ago. The newspaper is within its rights to find that Mr Miliband “was, of course, right” and that his only failing was being tin-eared and tactless. Given the context—Britain’s chief diplomat speaking at a sombre funereal occasion—that failing is the kind that should make decent Britons call for his resignation.

But the FT doesn’t leave it at that. It goes on:

More generally, the boyish Mr Miliband and Pranab Mukherjee, his septuagenarian Indian counterpart, do not seem to have hit it off. The studied informality of New Labour mateyness collided with official India’s Brahmin sense of decorum. Yet there is more than outrage in India’s over-reaction. [FT

Unless the FT’s editor’s think that “the studied informality of New Labour mateyness” has replaced a sense of decorum in the way the world conducts its diplomacy, shouldn’t it have called Mr Miliband out on this one? If indeed such chumminess is the new style in international politics, perhaps they should try that in Beijing or Moscow. “Hey Vladimir dude, can you extradite those mates of yours who go about our locals spiking drinks” is, shall we say, unlikely to impress those non-Brahmin Russians.

Which brings us to the “Brahmin sense of decorum”. The reference to caste was uncalled for, and is in gross bad taste. If Mr Miliband’s mateyness was of the New Labour kind, Mr Mukherjee’s decorum could well be the Old Congress kind. Does the FT equally drag in race and ethnic labels in other contexts?

There’s more:

First, the ruling Congress party is fighting desperately for re-election against the Bharatiya Janata party, Hindu supremacists who say the government is soft on terrorism and its causes: Kashmir and Pakistan.[FT

There’s a new odious label that the FT has invented for the BJP—“Hindu supremacists”. Now, the BJP can reasonably be approximated as “Hindu nationalist”, but it is gratuitous for the FT to describe it as a Hindu “supremacist” without justifying the label.

Second, kicking the former colonial power is a popular, almost cost-free way to send a message to Barack Obama. The new US president is believed to be considering a special envoy for south Asia, with Kashmir as part of the remit.[FT

Here the British editors of the FT claim undue importance. The truth is that far from being a favourite whipping boy, Britain is largely irrelevant. In fact that is implicit in the FT’s own argument: kicking Britain to send a message to America is cost-free because an uppity foreign secretary of an irrelevant country behaved improperly. And no, it’s not India’s fault that Britain is irrelevant.

Third, while Indian officials regard Kashmir as inalienable, much of the rest of the world sees a 20-year insurgency with 60,000 dead; that India refuses outside mediation or to call a plebiscite mandated by the United Nations after partition; and that New Delhi needs almost half its army to subdue 4m Muslims in the Valley of Kashmir.[FT

There they go again: the days when British editors could claim to speak for “much of the world” are long gone. One wonders how old the FT’s editors are, for their memory goes back only 20 years. If they were older, or had read their history, they would not have glossed over Britain’s own mala fides starting in the 1940s and 50s. India is still sorting out the mess Britain created.

And unless the FT thinks that all 4m Muslims in the Valley of Kashmir are terrorists and armed insurgents, it is baffling that it should claim that the Indian army’s job is to ‘subdue’ the population. First the FT indulges in moral equivalence between terrorists and their victims, and then again between Muslim terrorists and ordinary Muslims.

Indian officials talk windily of a “paradigm shift” in Kashmir following successful elections there this winter. But dozens of Kashmiris were shot down last summer in protests against Indian rule. This is a conflict that transcends regional boundaries. Pakistani support for the insurgents has helped spread jihadi extremism. And the religious right is influential in both India and Pakistan, which have twice been on the brink of war since they tested nuclear weapons in 1998. The Miliband storm was not in a teacup. [FT]

Mentioning the killings after the elections might make it appear that that was the order in which it occurred. But unless the FT does this, it can’t fit the facts to its conclusion. For just how can it sustain its argument if it were to truthfully say that an unprecedented number of people defied the calls of the separatists and turned out to vote, despite last summer’s killings?

The reference to the regional dimension, the religious right and nuclear weapons is the usual gratuitous garnish, it makes no substantial difference to the taste, but subtly adds to the smell.