‘India teetering toward authoritarianism’: Washington Post on Modi govt’s COVID response

Hyderabad: In a scathing attack on the Narendra Modi-led central government, the US-based newspaper Washington Post on Tuesday said that the Centre is suppressing “the truth” about the ongoing devastating second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. In an editorial, the publication also called on US President Joe Biden to “stand up for “Internet freedom in India”.

The Washington Post, in its latest editorial published on Tuesday, egged on tech giants like Facebook and Twitter to stand up for internet freedom in India, and stated that the United States should stand up for it as well. It was referring to the Indian government’s latest diktat to Facebook and Twitter, wherein both were asked to take down social media posts critical of the Centre with regard to its tackling of the surge in COVID-19 cases.

“What the ruling party calls “misusing social media to create panic” in society might, to an impartial observer, look more like criticizing those in power: The content in question included indictments from the opposition and calls for Mr. Modi to resign,” said the Washington Post’s editorial. It added that the Indian government “appears to be to be using the pretext of public health” to essentially insulate itself from “embarrassment”, rather than actually working to solve the problem.

The editorial is one among the many critical articles that the foreign media has written about the Modi government, and the way it has reacted to different events, including the ongoing farmer protests against three controversial farm laws. It correctly called out the Modi government for not being transparent in the way it functions – be it the PM CARES fund, or the way it planned to create a National Population Register.

“India’s ever-tightening hold on the Web puts these companies in a precarious position. They can continue to follow the laws of every nation they serve, even when those laws cut against their foundational values of free expression. Or they can refuse, putting their employees at risk of punishment and themselves at risk of banishment from a lucrative market,” said the Washington Post editorial.

It stated that tech giants or companies, which control a lot of the news flow, should say “no” to any “egregious curtailment of civil liberties”. The editorial, towards the end, called on US President Biden and leaders of “like-minded nations” support companies when they resist “bullying”. Case in point is the ongoing issue.

The editorial, in its conclusion, said that while the United States did the right thing by offering aid to India amid a “disaster” (pandemic), the White House should also speak to the Indian government on its “encroachment on expression”, and added that India is “teetering toward authoritarianism”. It added that while India hasn’t yet become an authoritarian state, the “path it takes regarding the Internet” could even steer the way how other small countries also function on this regard.

In this particular issue regarding social media posts being taken down over the last few days by Twitter and Facebook, the Centre has come under fire from all corners, including the opposition. One of the tweets that was taken down was by Congress MP from Telangana, Revanth Reddy. In fact, another Congress leader and spokesperson, Pawan Khera, also sent a legal notice to union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad and Twitter for taking down his April 12 tweet, on the surge of COVID-19 cases.

The tweet had questioned the “complete silence” of the union government in allowing the Kumbh Mela and election rallies to take place despite the worsening coronavirus situation in India.

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