Do an Internet search for “will Hindu nationalism derail Modi’s economic reforms agenda?" or a phrase to that effect, and you will discover so many pieces on the subject that to digest them in their totality will take you just slightly longer than reading Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace—although, given the literary and analytical merits of most of these pieces, I do not recommend attempting the exercise.

Now that the Narendra Modi led government has managed to shepherd all but one of its Christmas ordinances through Parliament, and appears to have a road map of sorts for making a case for the land acquisition Bill, you might reasonably hope to see a diminution in the production of such pieces. But you will be disappointed.

That Modi the economic reformer is besieged by religious and social conservatives within his own Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the larger family of Hindu organizations has become such a handy and all-purpose trope for those hostile to the man or the party that they are unlikely to discard it. Nor are they likely to allow themselves to be persuaded by evidence to the contrary.

Facts, if inconvenient, may always be ignored by those who made up their minds long ago. Or, better yet, one may manufacture an entirely new set of falsehoods masquerading as facts—such as that religious minorities are under threat in a BJP-ruled India—to deflect attention from the government’s considerable progress in pushing forward the economic reforms agenda while at the same time refraining from embracing the socially conservative agenda favoured by some of its supporters.

It is entirely to be expected, of course, that Indian commentators tied umbilically to the Congress-fed intellectual and media establishment should take this self-servingly anti-BJP tack. One does, after all, need to remember on which side one’s bread is buttered, and genuflect vaguely in the direction of the creamery now and again.

It is easy to dismiss those critics at home who have a vested interest in the BJP failing. What is more damaging is the unremitting hostility of the Anglo-American liberal media establishment, for they help to shape perceptions of the influential elite in the US, the UK, and elsewhere. In the vanguard of the assault is The New York Times and, in particular, its increasingly vitriolic unsigned editorial commentary on India, which has long since lapsed from being merely anti-Modi, which would be entirely legitimate, to veering into outright spin, which is, or ought to be, illegitimate in a media organization that purports to produce the national newspaper of record in the US.

My sense of anger and dismay is sharpened by the fact that I was one of the stable of writers who helped launch and nurture the now defunct “India Ink" blog for the first year of its existence—which, in its day, produced genuinely good content—a far cry from the rabid anti-India editorializing of today’s New York Times.

Lest you believe my barrage is ill-tempered: consider The New York Times’ unsigned editorial (A rebuff to India’s censors, 26 March) on the quashing of Section 66A of the Information Technology Act. While it rightly criticizes the Modi government’s use of the law, it excuses the previous Congress-led government, which introduced the law, as acting on a “misguided" belief that it would curb hateful speech. The editorial also argues that Section 66A has been used by the government and “right-wing activists" against those who purportedly insult Hinduism—without adding that it has been used at the behest of many other aggrieved parties and groups.

This editorial, indeed, deserves to be a case study in spin, perfectly constructed so that nothing that is said is literally untrue. Rather, the uninitiated reader is swaddled in a carefully spun fabric of half-truths, omissions, and insinuations—and thereby is invited to be complicit in the writer’s implied agenda. As a friend aptly put it, just because something is factually true, doesn’t mean it tells the truth.

The reader who knows little about India will be left with the impression that the muzzling of free speech is a vice unique to the BJP, rather than being a larger problem of the Indian polity cutting across all parties. He or she will then be primed to be unsympathetic, if not downright hostile, to the Modi government, and will be more receptive, and less questioning, of manufactured stories suggesting, say, that India’s minorities are imperilled.

Ironically, the visceral dislike of Modi and the BJP by the Anglo-American Left serves the interests, not of progressive groups, but of fundamentalist evangelical Christian organizations who rightly see the BJP as an obstacle to their aggressive proselytizing agenda: thus forging an unholy alliance of convenience bent on seeing the BJP fail.

One cannot dismiss lightly the importance of public opinion shaped by a hegemonic and agenda-driven media narrative. It was widespread popular support for war—fuelled in no small measure by disingenuous media reportage and commentary on what turned out to be non-existent weapons of mass destruction—that emboldened former US president George W. Bush to invade Iraq in 2003, and that subsequently legitimated the invasion. We all know the sequel.

Every fortnight, In the Margins explores the intersection of economics, politics and public policy to help cast light on current affairs.

Comments are welcome at views@livemint.com. To read Vivek Dehejia’s previous columns, go to www.livemint.com/vivekdehejia

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