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Critical commentary on the Narendra Modi government in the latest issue of renowned magazine The Economist has been triggering spirited debate on social media since Thursday.

The Economist, a weekly magazine from London, on Thursday released its print edition for January 25 to 31, with the cover reading 'Intolerant India: How Modi is endangering the world's biggest democracy', complete with an illustration of the lotus, the BJP's electoral symbol, atop barbed wire.

The Economist print edition features three articles that criticise the Modi government's handling of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act and National Register of Citizens, its inability to push reforms and the economic slowdown.

The long-format 'Leader' article is the most damning and argues "India’s 200m Muslims fear the prime minister is building a Hindu state". It describes the National Register of Citizens as a scheme that "looks like the most ambitious step yet in a decades-long project of incitement", which began with the Ayodhya agitation.

The Economist argues, "Alas, what has been electoral nectar for the BJP is political poison for India. By undermining the secular principles of the constitution, Mr Modi’s latest initiatives threaten to do damage to India’s democracy that could last for decades..."

The Economist also notes Modi has been able to calculate a "sizeable minority" of voters are sympathetic to his stance on Muslims, which "is enough" to keep him in office.

On the economy, The Economist sounds a warning note in the article 'India’s economy risks swapping stagnation for stagflation'. The article on the economy notes the rise in prices of Railway tickets, mobile tariffs and edible items. The Economist argues, "This miscellany of misery will complicate the government’s efforts to fight an economic slowdown" and forecasts that "another splurge" by the government is expected in the upcoming budget.

The third article analyses Modi's political strategy and is headlined 'Narendra Modi's sectarianism is eroding India's secular democracy'. It argues that after his second Lok Sabha poll victory in May 2019, Modi "has now taken his gloves off" to pursue a "Hindutva social agenda".

Not surprisingly, the adverse coverage in The Economist has triggered a social media storm. Critics of the BJP and Modi chose to highlight an issue of The Economist in 2010 that noted the progress India was making under the Manmohan Singh government.

On the other hand, Ishakaran Singh Bhandari, a lawyer and popular rightwing influencer, tweeted, asking youngsters to stop reading "western media", alleging it was "nothing but rank Islamist agenda".

Dr Vijay Chauthaiwale, the head of the BJP's foreign affairs department, slammed the coverage in The Economist as a "colonial" mentality. He tweeted, "We thought the Brits had left in 1947! But the editors of @TheEconomist are still living in in colonial era. They are furious when 600m Indians do not follow their explicit instructions of not voting Modi."

In May 2019, Time Magazine had described Modi as 'India's divider in chief'. The Time Magazine issued generated much debate online and criticism by the BJP. The lead article's author, Aatish Taseer, was stripped of his Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) card in November 2019. While the government claimed Taseer lost his OCI card as he did not reveal his father was a Pakistani, critics of the Modi government insinuated the move was a response to Taseer's writings.
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