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Modi is the flavour of Indian election coverage in US : Editorial by Arun Kumar

New Delhi, 20 April-2014, Arun Kumar(IANS): As American media reports on the sounds, colours and smells of India’s crucial parliamentary election, Bharatiya Janata Party’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi is the flavour of the season.

Modi is the flavour of Indian election coverage in US : Editorial by Arun Kumar

The big story of course is India’s ‘insanely huge and complex’ (Time), ‘jaw-droppingly enormous’ (Washington Post) election ‘juggernaut’ (Wall Street Journal), but analysts have on the most part focused on not who but how Modi may become the new tenant of 7 Race Course Road, the official residence of the Indian prime minister.

Painting the Indian election as a “face off” between “Nehru-Gandhi heir and populist Hindu nationalist” (CNN), leading media outlets as also think tanks, have dilated on the fortunes of the two leading parties – Congress and BJP – as also newcomer Aam Aadmi Party.

But “frontrunner” modi gets the lion’s share of coverage even as it is acknowledged that Modi’s path to the top office will depend on a group of secondary politicians, including “three ladies” – Tamil Nadu’s Jayalalithaa Jayaram; West Bengal’s Mamata Banerjee; and Uttar Pradesh’s Mayawati (New York Times).

Time this week listed Modi as number one of the six choices ahead of musician Beyonce and President Barack Obama (3) in an invitation to readers to weigh in on 150 “artists, icons and leaders” who should figure in the magazine’s annual Time 100 list of the world’s most influential people.

A CNN story on what it called “India’s first social media election” also began with how during the Holi festival more than three million Twitter followers of Modi “received a personalised greeting from him.”

Some Indian politicians “are borrowing strategies employed by US President Barack Obama’s 2012 presidential campaign, with the use of Thunderclap, an online platform which helps to make content viral,” the news channel noted.

How “India’s Muslims (are) worried about controversial Hindu leader as national elections”, as a Washington Post headline put it, is another theme of American media coverage.

In the same vein, New York Times Saturday ran an opinion piece by Basharat Peer, author of “Curfewed Night,” a memoir of the conflict in Kashmir, on “Being Muslim Under Narendra Modi”

“The Hindu nationalist who may be elected India’s next prime minister is no comic book hero” said the story pegged on a new comic book “Bal Narendra” (“Boy Narendra”) about the BJP leader.

The latest issue of Foreign Policy magazine too has a piece by James Traub, a fellow of the Centre on International Cooperation on “Watching Modi, the Maestro, at Work.”

And to think that less than six months ago Modi was mentioned only in the context of denial of a US visa for his alleged role or inaction during the 2002 Gujarat riots as the State’s chief minister.

Now the visa issue is mentioned, but only in the context of what Jeff Smith, director of South Asia programmes at the American Foreign Policy Council in Washington, described as “the futility of the (US) visa policy” regarding the BJP leader.

Suggesting “the US government has so profoundly mismanaged a decade-long visa ban” he looks at a Congressional report that Modi “would automatically be eligible for an A-1 (diplomatic) visa as head of state” as “welcome – if long overdue – news.”

Similarly Richard M. Rossow, Wadhwani Chair in US-India Policy Studies at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies writes about “Preparing for a New Team in New Delhi” even as he acknowledges “nothing is certain in Indian politics.”

(Arun Kumar can be contacted at arun.kumar@ians.in)