India's Prime Minister's Office and the Congress party are livid about an in-depth article published in the Washington Post about Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
India threatens to escalate the matter into a diplomatic incident unless the newspaper and its New Delhi correspondent Simon Denyer apologize. The article referred to Singh as a "silent prime minister" and cited the jokes that circulate in India about it, such as requests for meeting attendees to place their phones on "Manmohan Singh mode" to avoid distractions, or about Singh's dentist explaining to his patient "at least in my clinic, please open your mouth."
The article highlighted the paradox between the Prime Minister's reputation for incorruptibility and economic acumen - and the rampant corruption and economic decline prevalent in the country.
''Under Singh, economic reforms have stalled, growth has slowed sharply and the rupee has collapsed. But, just as damaging to his reputation is the accusation that he looked the other way and remained silent as his cabinet colleagues filled their own pockets."
The article also painted the Prime Minister as sandbagged by the Congress Party, that is still wedded to the Gandhi cult and described Singh as too tired and aged to fight back.
Denyer, in his defense, claimed that what appeared daily in the Indian press was the same and worse, so he and the Washington Post stood by the story.
India, irrespective of the party in power, has a history of strong reactions to Western criticism. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi expelled the BBC correspondent from her country because the BBC had broadcast a series of documentaries about India by the famed French director, Louis Malle, that while broadly sympathetic, contained criticism of India.
The BJP Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee took umbrage at a Time magazine article entitled "Asleep at the Wheel" claiming that the Prime Minister was infirm and ineffectual. Time's correspondent Alex Perry was brought in for questioning on trumped up charges and India's ambassador to Washington conferred with the magazine's editors to seek the writer's reassignment.
What makes the Washington Post story perhaps more sensitive is that India will soon be going to national elections and India's educated class still takes western criticism more seriously than local .