On a day when Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s plea to put a stay on his conviction in a defamation case was rejected and in a separate case, all accused persons in the Naroda Gam masssacre of the 2002 Gujarat riots were acquitted, editorials in two foreign newspapers – Financial Times and The Washington Times – expressed concern about “democratic backsliding” in India.

The editorials also criticised the West for turning a “lamentably blind eye” to the actions of the Narendra Modi government, which the newspapers said, is seen as a counterweight to China.

The newspapers pointed out that during her visit to India in March, US Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo had described Modi as “unbelievable, visionary” and “the most popular world leader for a reason”.

In view of Raimondo’s comments, The Washington Post wrote that the US administration should be as vocal about Modi’s “backsliding” as it is about Xi Jinping. The Financial Times wrote: “Businesses and investors see opportunities in India for growth and diversification away from China. But the weakening rule of law will make them think twice.”

‘Widespread democratic decline’ – Changes in syllabus to attack on press and minorities

Besides the Surat court’s refusal to stay Gandhi’s conviction, Financial Times editorial flagged a number of other developments that could be seen as the Modi government targeting its rivals and critics.

“Modi’s backers have stifled free expression across media, civil society, and politics, and have stoked inter-religious tensions with India’s Muslim minority,” the editorial added.

The British daily noted that the Varieties of Democracy Institute, a Swedish think tank, has described India as an “electoral autocracy”.

On attacks on press freedom, the newspaper mentioned the income tax searches at the Delhi and Mumbai offices of the BBC in February, weeks after the British broadcaster released a documentary examining Modi’s alleged role in the 2002 Gujarat riots.

“The government exerts enormous influence on media outlets through its ties with owners, and editors are pressured to toe the government line,” the Financial Times noted.

The Washington Post wrote that the recent changes made in National Council of Educational Research and Training, or NCERT, textbooks is a “discouraging development for the world’s most populous democracy”.

In a slew of changes made in the textbooks, paragraphs have been purged about the 2002 Gujarat riots, the Mughal rule in India, attempts by Hindu extremists to assassinate Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi and the subsequent ban on the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. No NCERT textbook now has any reference to the Gujarat riots.

“A healthy democracy must be prepared to re-examine its past without airbrushing out unpleasant events,” The Washington Post editorial said.

The editorial in the US-based daily also criticised the searches in the BBC offices, describing them as “intimidation tactic most commonly used by China, Russia and other dictatorships to silence the news media”.