- We are proud of our pluralistic sabhyata, and we all have the responsibility to question our leaders and hold them accountable.
Sabrina Siddiqui of The Wall Street Journal was one of the only two journalists ‘allowed’ to ask a question during the recent press conference at the White House with Prime Minister Modi and President Biden. As a journalist, she asked the right question to Prime Minister Modi about his government’s human rights record and treatment of religious minorities in India.
Siddiqui asked “There are many human rights groups who say your government has discriminated against religious minorities and sought to silence its critics,” and asked, “What steps are you and your government willing to take to improve the rights of Muslims and other minorities in your country and uphold free speech.”
All hell broke loose; Prime Minister’s allies started attacking Siddiqui online for asking that question. I hope these men and women don’t live in the U.S.; if they do, they need the right education about freedom of speech and the role of journalists. If their man is clean, he needs to give more interviews to tough journalists in the industry who can ask the right questions.
The Biden Administration has blasted the attacks on the journalist, and I am certain Modi will not say a word about it; he thrives on division and discord.
Did Modi address the question? Instead, he gave a standard line that all Indians are equal and said that with a straight face. A ‘majority’ of Indians know him by now and have learned to discount his promises made to Indians in 2014 and again in 2019, and they also ignored his statement, which has no truth in it.
It is sad to read about the growing intolerance in India. Can we count on Modi to honor religious freedom and human rights? What kind of future society is Modi nurturing?
Leaders are transient people, they come and go, but India will remain a beacon of democracy and freedom with temporary setbacks. We are proud of our pluralistic sabhyata, and we all have the responsibility to question our leaders and hold them accountable. Modi has not held a press conference in the last nine years, and it is not in the interest of our nation. The freedom you and I have now to speak will not be there if Modi continues his style of governance.
At the Center for Pluralism, we monitor such trends where societies lose civility and religious freedom, violate human rights, and put themselves on the path of destruction. We hope all of us can commit to free speech and save democracies worldwide.
Here is an abstract from an article I wrote ten years ago, which is relevant even now. “Thomas Jefferson made a strong statement about the role of the media in a democracy when he noted, “If it was left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.” Describing the role of the Press, George A. Krimsky, the former head of news for the Associated Press’ World Services and co-author of Hold the Press writes, “In the wake of America’s successful revolution, it was decided there should indeed be government, but only if it were accountable to the people. The people, in turn, could only hold the government accountable if they knew what it was doing and could intercede as necessary, using their ballot, for example. This role of public ‘watchdog’ was thus assumed by a citizen press, and as a consequence, the government in the United States has been kept out of the news business.”
Modi may not be secure enough to hold press conferences regularly and answer all the tough questions journalists ask. If he can restore the culture we had before 2014, we will not have people attacking journalists who question the leaders.
Mike Ghouse is a social scientist, founder, and president of the Center for Pluralism in Washington, D.C.