Last week, the American weekly news magazine TIME splashed a portrait of Narendra Modi across the cover of its international editions. Next to the saffron-clad Modi was the headline: 'India's Divider in Chief'.
Back in India, which woke up to the cover last Friday, there was predictable outrage. First, the article came under attack for being biased. Then, TIME came under attack for spreading an agenda. And finally, the author -- Aatish Taseer -- came under attack for being a Pakistani (he's British).
What everyone so outraged by the "biased, agenda-driven" TIME article on Modi missed was perhaps the article itself. As did those who were busy celebrating the cover for exposing Narendra Modi for "who he truly is".
Yes, the Aatish Taseer's article, the online version which asks the question: 'Can the World's Largest Democracy Endure Another Five Years of a Modi Government?', does criticise Narendra Modi for helping "create an atmosphere of poisonous religious nationalism in India".
However, Rahul Gandhi -- the most prominent opposition face to Modi right now -- isn't spared either. In fact, Taseer describes the Gandhi scion with far more disdain than he does Modi.
Sample this: "Unteachable mediocrity".
For Aatish Taseer, Rahul Gandhi and his Congress party are no alternatives to Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party.
The TIME piece argues that the Congress party has "little to offer other than the dynastic principle, yet another member of the Nehru-Gandhi family". And, that the party lacks "political imagination", something that demonstrated by the Congress choosing to bring Priyanka Gandhi-Vadra -- Rahul Gandhi's sister -- into the Indian political arena.
The TIME magazine piece on Narendra Modi begins by noting that India was the first among the great democracies to "fall to populism". Modi's rise was a mark of this populism that gave "voice to a sense of grievance among majorities that is too widespread to be ignored".
And the rise of the populism, Taseer argues, was thanks in part to the first few decades of independent India when that saw the existence of a "feudal dynasty". And who was responsible for the existence of this feudal dynasty? You guessed it: "Nehru's political heirs".
The incumbent may win again-the opposition, led by Rahul Gandhi, an unteachable mediocrity and a descendant of Nehru, is in disarray...
Ironically enough, the TIME magazine accuses the Congress and the Nehru-Gandhi family of the very things Narendra Modi has accused them of.
Under the Congress rule, the article says, India was "clubbish, anglicized and fearful of the rabble at the gates". India, the article argues, was seen to be ruled by an English-speaking, "deracinated" Hindu elite that was "in cahoots" with minorities such as Christianity and Islam.
Khan Market gang, anyone?
'DIVIDER IN CHIEF'
It is after talking about the elite's stranglehold on power in the first few decades of independent India that the TIME pieces dives into the last five years of the Narendra Modi government and the presence of "an atmosphere of poisonous religious nationalism".
Ashish Taseer's critique targets Narendra Modi on many fronts -- the government's alleged tacit support to "mobs" that have targetted Muslims in the past five years, a "spotty" record on women's issues, and an attack on the academia over fears that Indian culture and religion has been demeaned.
Just when the reader starts thinking about if not Modi then whom, Taseer delivers his denouement and expressly rules Rahul Gandhi and his Congress party out.
Modi is lucky to be blessed with so weak an opposition -- a ragtag coalition of parties, led by the Congress, with no agenda other than to defeat him
"They have little to offer other than the dynastic principle, yet another member of the Nehru-Gandhi family. India's oldest party has no more political imagination than to send Priyanka Gandhi -- Rahul's sister -- to join her brother's side," Taseer writes, before essentially saying that this election is Modi's to lose.
"Modi is lucky to be blessed with so weak an opposition -- a ragtag coalition of parties, led by the Congress, with no agenda other than to defeat him."
It is this detail that seems to have been missed by those who are outraged over the TIME cover.
Oh, there's one more. And, this one was right there on the cover: An essay titled 'Modi the Reformer' that called Narendra Modi "India's best hope for economic reform".
Given the time we live in, it's not surprising that people have tweeted their like/dislike of the article without reading it. As this election campaign has shown, civil discourse is all but dead.