It is, of course, not out of any solidarity with India’s poor and suffering millions.
I wept watching Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s address to the British parliament. I found his desi accent difficult to follow, but cried nonetheless. In fact, I wept because of it, raising as it did so many personal issues for me. Watching him, I remembered how my mother – a village girl who left Punjab to wash dishes in London – was treated with disdain and condescension for her poorly spoken English, both by the British and bourgeois Indians who are, to this day, quick to assert social superiority at any instance.
Hearing Modi address parliament, Cameron et al paying painstaking attention to his every mispronounced word, spoken in an accent thick enough to cut with a chainsaw, was to sense a personal journey come full circle.
Equally interesting was to see how Britain’s media responded to him, to witness how this low-born Leviathan, who speaks English in the manner of curry-house waiter, dredged up various British neuroses – of race, class and nostalgia. Modi proved to be a litmus test of many British anxieties.
The left-wing press predictably abhorred his visit. The Guardian had a nervous breakdown, publishing a series of scathing articles attacking India for its religious intolerance, caste discrimination and oppression of women. Fair enough: all of these problems are unresolved in Indian society and demand reporting. What was telling, however, was that the visit of China’s unelected one-party tyrant – sorry, I mean ‘president’ – two weeks earlier hadn’t triggered a similar slew of criticism about that country’s myriad human-rights abuses.
That welcome was reserved for Narendra Modi, who received a bigger democratically decided mandate than any other politician in human history. Indeed, why is it that now, when Indians are more prosperous, open, longer-lived and democratically engaged than ever, the British Left has taken to heaping criticism on India as never before – a contempt pointedly expressed by Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour Party leader, who couldn’t stand to be in parliament when Modi gave his historic speech?
It is, of course, not out of any solidarity with India’s poor and suffering millions on whose destinies the British Left has zero influence, people who’ve never heard of The Guardian or Jeremy Corbyn, and for whom The Guardian could easily have provided a Hindi-language edition long ago if it were genuinely concerned with empowering them. The neurotic hysteria of Britain’s leading left-wing newspaper this past week has a more local and nastier motive.
The sad truth is that Indians came to Britain and, through much struggle and sacrifice, made a great success of themselves: the British Left – and its trust-funded propagandists at The Guardian – will never forgive them for that. Indian success in Britain, undermining as it does the Left’s demented ideologies of race and class, is simply unbearable. Those labels were never going to fit Indians, who don’t define themselves within such simplistic limiting boundaries, but for the British Left, to succeed in the face of racism and poverty as most Indians here did, is to commit a crime that cannot be punished enough.
If Indians in Britain were to riot, lower their academic performance or blow themselves up more, The Guardian‘s coverage of India would surely be more positive. Of course, they can’t focus their ire on British-Indians themselves – the racism would be too obvious – so the motherland is scorned instead. The British Left has a similar relationship with British Jews, another self-made and conspicuously successful minority. The Left’s hatred for them reveals itself as an obsessive contempt for Israel – or ‘Zionism’ as the lefties term it.
Neither the travails of the Indian masses, nor the politics of Israel and its neighbours, are of the slightest interest to the British working-class – the constituency Britain’s Left supposedly exists to serve – but they occupy an inordinate amount of space in this country’s left-wing psyche. This deeply prejudiced viewpoint is rooted in its neurotic fixation with class and the toxic resentment that stems from that.
A class-based perspective can only see life through the prism of a zero-sum game, an oppressor-victim dynamic. When anyone, particularly those of humble origins – like immigrants from India, for example – achieves success in Britain, the Left can only suspect it took place at someone else’s expense. And hence the stewing resentment that finds expression by shovelling scorn on India.
Britain’s India-loathing Left has its Indian soulmates, to be sure. Pankaj Mishra and Arundhati Roy have their specially reserved seats in London’s liberal salons, where they are regarded as champions of the teeming downtrodden. Of course, neither Mishra or Roy gives a shit about India’s masses: if they did, they would write in Hindi or Malayalam, or any of the other vernaculars in which ordinary Indians could actually read and be possibly inspired by them. But they deliberately don’t, knowing that the aam admi wouldn’t wipe his backside with the shrill whining rubbish they produce.
India’s poor are merely props for Roy and Mishra’s self-styled sainthood among western lefties. And they truly are saints of a twisted sort. Their incessant railings against the liberalising of India’s economy – which has lifted millions of Indians out of poverty – is simply the legacy of their uptight Brahmin backgrounds, an inherited revulsion of the material world and the spiritual pollution that comes with trade and manual work. Capitalism, and the physical toil and pleasures that come with it, offends their repressed and febrile high-caste sensibilities, and so they take to the pages of Britain’s press to inveigh against it.
Besides these two, The Guardian this week also commissioned a ridiculous piece by abstract artist, Anish Kapoor, declaring that India is ruled by a ‘Hindu Taliban’. No doubt the editor, Katharine Viner, regards Kapoor as a perfect representative of India’s diverse impoverished multitude given that he is a Doon-schooled, London domiciled multimillionaire.
Such is the warped idiocy behind the British Left and its attitude to India. Even more absurdly, when Modi was elected Prime Minister, the BBC’s Newsnight programme brought Kapoor on the show to discuss with William Dalrymple – another elite-schooled millionaire, and one who isn’t even Indian – what the election would mean for India’s barefooted rural masses. The editor of Newsnight, Ian Katz, previously worked, of course, for The Guardian.
The West’s viewpoint of India is profoundly skewed by the fact that English-speaking Indians have historically come from highly privileged and secure backgrounds – people whose views are to be the most distrusted because they are precisely the people most unsettled by India’s increasingly upwardly mobile population. I have learned to pay careful attention to the accent with which Indians speak English. When I hear dulcet Rugby-educated tones such as Salman Rushdie’s, I know the opinions on offer will resonate within a salubrious south-Delhi enclave and pretty much nowhere else on the subcontinent. When I hear the masala twang of Chetan Bhagat’s or Swapan Dasgupta’s English, I know I ought to pay attention – just as I did to Modi’s tar-thick Hindi-medium accent. These voices, rooted in a broader and more representative India, are deliberately ignored by Britain’s left-wing media because they challenge its nonsensical ideologies.
I’ve focused on The Guardian, because it pays more attention to India than the other British papers. The right-wing British press just collectively shrugged and tried to look the other way this week, resigned to Britain’s decreasing significance in the world, exemplified by a parliamentary address by a man whose English they couldn’t understand.
But just because someone’s paying you a lot of attention, it doesn’t mean they like you or have your well-being at heart. And when it comes to India, The Guardian most certainly doesn’t. I’ve written for the paper a fair bit myself – though I suspect I won’t be again after this article – but I found its coverage this week simply disgraceful. Indians should not mistake the sanctimonious pronouncements by the British Left towards India’s many problems – problems that Indians alone can resolve – for a genuine concern for India.
The British Left is locked in its own parochial neuroses of class and resentment, and its attitude towards India will only ever be a projection of that. Indians are largely an aspirational and enterprising people, and as such will always trigger the disgust of British lefties who are not, and never will be, India’s friends.
Nirpal Singh Dhaliwal is a British journalist and writer.
The Daily O