NEW DELHI: The Ministry of External Affairs is having a tough time coping with the negative propaganda against India, now further spiked by the dastardly attack on a Swiss couple at Fatehpur Sikri near Agra. The couple was chased and attacked by four men, with Quentin Jeremy Clerc in hospital with a fractured skull and his girlfriend Marie Droxz with a broken arm.

Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj and Tourism Minister KJ Alphons, both ministries particularly impacted by the violence in different parts of India, have written to Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath. The couple was attacked by four youth, who followed them, passed lewd comments, and then physically attacked them. Others stood by without lifting a finger to help, but shooting videos with their mobile phones.

Former diplomats said that India has not faced such negative publicity across the world as in recent years. This attack has drawn a wave of condemnation, exposing the violence that has become part of Uttar Pradesh polity whether it be attacks for alleged cow slaughter, love jihad, or just police ‘encounters’ to supposedly curb law and order. The violence has been continuing since Muzaffarnagar in 2013, with the advent of Yogi giving fresh impetus to lawlessness under his Hindu Vahini brigade.

The attack comes in the wake of a BJP created controversy over the Taj Mahal with wild claims based on political ideology and not facts of history being made.

MEA has been having a hard time coping. It has not been able to assuage the African nations over the rascist attacks, with the missions united in pressuring the government to ensure the security and safety of their students on this issue. The African students in Delhi in particular are vulnerable, and despite promises little has been done to ensure their safety as a recent attack on a Nigerian student has shown. The African media is replete with stories of Indian racism.

MEA is also busy trying to counter the negative propaganda against India in world media, with major newspapers like the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Guardian, the Telegraph and others writing fairly regularly hard editorials against India. This span across cow lynchings by mobs, love jihad attacks to the economy with India for the first time in several years grabbing the headlines for all the wrong reasons. As sources said, India seems to be attracting hostile media attention and while the governments are more circumspect the western capitals are feeling the pressure from protests---such as anti-Modi demonstrations in London---and the media that is questioning the “Hindu nationalists” and the violence in harsher language than used by the Indian mainstream press.

A third issue has been the economy with India slipping on indicators like the Global Hunger Index. Demonetisation started this spate of criticism with Forbes that has never been seen as anti-India noting at the start of 2017 : “Not since India's short-lived forced-sterilization program in the 1970s--this bout of Nazi-like eugenics was instituted to deal with the country's "overpopulation"--has the government engaged in something so immoral. It claims the move will fight corruption and tax evasion by allegedly flushing out illegal cash, crippling criminal enterprises and terrorists and force-marching India into a digitized credit system.”

All major newspapers in the US, UK and Europe have been reporting extensively on the continuing violence in India, particularly against the Dalits and the minorities.

Tourism is being impacted because of strict advisories being issued by most of the western governments warning their citizens not to visit India for fear or rape, and ‘scamsters’. Horrific incidents of sexual assault on Indians and visiting foreign women have been widely covered, and created a fear abroad that has impacted on not just the flow of tourists to India but on her image as a safe, and secure country.

Poverty is back in focus, more so as the violence has been against the very poor. The Muslims beaten and lynched by cow vigilantes, the Dalits flogged publicly, are all from tenements with the photographs flashed across the world damaging India’s efforts to project itself as a ‘shining’ developed nation that had grappled with and overcome its poverty. As a UK national visiting New Delhi said, “well you clearly are still in the dark ages, aren’t you? Killing people for what they eat, come on!”

In fact, in recent weeks and months international media reports on India’s economy have been overtaken almost in entirety by the continuing violence. Kashmir has been in the headlines with most of the major international newspapers carrying in-depth reports from Kashmiri writers about the ongoing protests and violence within. The deaths and in particular, the pellet injuries have been covered extensively in the foreign media.

The international coverage of India has shown a decisive shift since the attack on students with detailed coverage being given to the incident at that time. The Guardian reported from the UK about the Jawaharlal Nehru University protests with, “reaction of authorities to the protests at JNU – which is well-known for its politically active student body – comes against a background of what critics say is rising intolerance in India since Narendra Modi’s BJP came to power”. And noted that the government has “repeatedly been accused of seeking to repress free speech and of encouraging extremist nationalists who systematically intimidate critics.”

The Los Angeles Times wrote of the students protests at FTII, Hyderabad University and JNU stating,“In each case, the student demonstrators have been accused by BJP officials and authorities of anti-national behaviour. Kumar is the first student to face charges of sedition, under a colonial-era statute that was enacted to protect the country’s former British rulers but is now often used to discipline government critics.”

NYT in an earlier report under ‘The Enduring Curse of Caste’ wrote: “Mr. Vemula’s suicide — hardly a rarity among Dalits at India’s best universities — is emblematic of the problems of the country’s affirmative action program. Within a few years after independence, India had set aside for Dalits and other disadvantaged castes about 23 percent of government jobs and seats in public universities. Today, the reservations apply to many more groups and cover about 50 percent of such posts and seats. But numerical improvement does not an equal society make.

Dalit students still come from severe poverty. They lead de facto segregated lives on nominally diverse and inclusive campuses. They still face daunting disadvantages in the job market even after they graduate with degrees. The ability of “reserved” candidates is always suspect, regardless of their performance.

The gap between the high and the low castes, between so-called backward and forward communities, not only persists, it also manifests itself through ever-more subtle and complex forms of discrimination and violence. Being the beneficiary of reservations can itself be a stigma.”

The propaganda about growth and development, tourism and women emancipation that had dominated the foreign media and influenced the global perspective, has now moved into what can be loosely referred to as the ‘begging bowl syndrome’ where even a cursory look at the headlines on India today paint a picture of a country in strife with the economic promises of the government barely being noticed now.

The bad news from India has come on to the front pages, reversing the clock for Indian diplomacy that has “gone grey” as a former diplomat put it, in ensuring that negative coverage of India in the world media was replaced effectively by reports of an India climbing high. Now the NYT has moved back to commenting on what it terms as the Indian Prime Ministers “shameful silence” on cow vigilantes with Dalit rights moving out of the human rights talk shops on to the front and editorial pages of the big world media.

(Photograph carried by New York Times last year reflects the turn in coverage of India)