India: The ''world's largest democracy'', between obvious promises and recurrent 'admonitions'


By Olivier Guillard, a specialist in Asian issues, research associate at the Institut d'études de géopolitique appliquée, a researcher at CERIAS (Université du Québec à Montréal, Canada), Director of Information at CRISIS24 (Paris), and lecturer (geopolitics; political science) at EDHEC Business School (Lille), author of Géopolitique de l'Inde (PUF), and A Dangerous Abyss Called Pakistan (L'Harmattan, 2022).

How to cite this publication

Olivier Guillard, India: The ''world's largest democracy'', between obvious promises and recurrent 'admonitions', Institut d'études de géopolitique appliquée, Paris, November 29, 2023.


The views expressed are solely the responsibility of the author.

Few observers of the Indian subcontinent, the land of Mahatma Gandhi and Nehru in particular, will have missed the point lately; more often than not, in fact. When you read the Western press in general, and the French press in particular, it's not uncommon for the latter to tackle a topical Indian issue (be it political, ethnic-religious, security-related or societal, or even economic) with a deliberately unflattering tone, often right from the title of the article itself... A strange way of doing things, some may wonder.

This autumn seems to be no exception to the rule; in the twilight of 2023, the planet's now 1st largest demography and 5th largest economy has hardly been forgotten - not spared would be more accurate in some cases... - by the pens of Western journalists; who to describe a seasonal environment that is delicate for health (air pollution), who to zoom in on the political environment of the moment (elections in various states) a few months ahead of the general elections in spring 2024, who to evoke the sometimes difficult intercommunity relations (cf. in Manipur), or the current national economic and commercial dynamic.

There's nothing wrong with that, since these important matters deserve to be addressed and brought to the attention of the outside world, which is generally eager to follow and understand the day-to-day life of this now global Asian player, knocking on the door (now with solid arguments) of the world's major players.

On the other hand, what will seem more debatable will be the tone or approach regularly employed, chosen by the writer; from description to criticism [1], from explanation to admonition, there are often few steps to take and few words to write. We could understand this - albeit with some reservations - if the actor in question were locked in a permanent and deliberate maelstrom of hazardous, unfortunate and dangerous initiatives, if the country sketched by the media were rightly placed (by its wanderings) in the ban of nations, multiplying dubious policies for its citizens and neighboring states, constituted a particular risk for the international community, or represented a future threat to regional stability or global equilibrium; or, finally, if its political regime and its leaders openly expressed a desire for regional hegemony or hegemony in the concert of nations (a hypothesis possibly adopted by another Asian player...).

None of this seems to apply to the touchstone of the Indian subcontinent that India has become in the 3rd decade of the 3rd millennium, an increasingly sought-after (economically, commercially, scientifically and strategically) and appreciated (by many Western capitals, who see it as a solvent and promising source of growth) Asian partner, home to one in six of the world's population by 2023. In any case, following the example of the American press this autumn and certain French dailies (close to the business world) with their generally indo-compatible approach, several media are fortunately showing themselves to be more balanced, if not neutral, in their comments on India, even when the issue under discussion could, by its very nature, lend itself to a few delicate remarks or comments...

Against the tide of less virtuous examples, the emblematic and respected American daily The New Times generally aims for remarkable impartiality and eclecticism in its various publications evoking this or that feature of contemporary Indian society/situation, without excessive sycophancy (a flaw to be avoided as much as excessive systematic criticism...) or particular brutality in the use of verbiage and choice of angles, regardless of the subject matter. In the ten days preceding the writing of this modest tribune, the journalists and columnists of this unmissable North American landmark have repeatedly demonstrated what rich, "scientific", unbiased and inspired information for its readers can embody in the most diverse fields: Tea, a Train and an Epic Sunrise at a Summer Retreat of the Raj (November 21), A big year for India on the Global stage ends in cricket heartbreak (November 19), No Nation in the World Is Buying More Planes Than India. Here's Why (November 13), or In Mumbai, an Intimate Diwali Dinner Party (November 15).

By referring to a battery of previous articles dealing (quite rightly, as one would expect from news professionals) with issues [2] that are sensitive for the authorities or Indian society, the New York daily proves, if proof were needed, its professionalism, its code of ethics and its values. As we would like to see more often.

On the other side of the Atlantic, there are also a number of major titles in the French press that deal with Indian issues with the appropriate perspective and terminology, to the delight of readers eager to delve into the daily life of the "world's largest democracy", to find out more about our strategic partner[3] India, to give it legitimate attention, more in line with its now global dimension in the contemporary world: New Delhi veut déclencher des pluies artificielles pour lutter contre la pollution [4] ; Dans les universités américaines, les Indiens gagnent du terrain sur les Chinois [5] ; JO : l'Inde candidate à l'organisation de l'édition 2036 [6] ; G20 à New Delhi: l'Inde se rêve en « gourou du monde» [7]; and many other examples of inspired and balanced articles, fortunately.

Nevertheless. Are certain Asian capitals (particularly on the Indian subcontinent... but not only) - though far from exempt from reproach and more often than not the target of domestic and international headlines - faring comparatively better than others in the media's treatment of their strengths and weaknesses? Without in any way wishing to be polemical, the question clearly deserves to be asked.

[1] Le Monde, November 19 article; Libération, September 27.

[2] ''Toxic Air Is No Reason to Stay Inside for Delhi's Joggers and Yoga Fans'', The New York Times (November 12); ''New Delhi Chokes As Annual Curse of Pollution Returns With a Vengeance'', The New York Times (November 3).

[3] Signing of the France-India strategic partnership in 1998. As a reminder, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was France's guest of honor at the July 14, 2023 ceremonies.

[4] Les Echos, November 21.

[5] Les Echos, November 17.

[6] Le figaro, October 10.

[7] Le figaro, September 8.