Modi regime’s fanatic attempt to stop BBC documentary’s screening lowered India’s stature

In 2013, while addressing a public meeting, Modi had said that people earlier did not rely on the news coverage of the Doordarshan and looked to the BBC for “true and accurate” information

Modi regime’s fanatic attempt to stop BBC documentary’s screening lowered India’s stature

Arun Srivastava

The alacrity with which the Modi government used a law that cites ‘emergency’ provisions to stop Indians from watching the BBC documentary ‘India: The Modi Question’ — a narrative of the Gujarat pogrom that was carried out in 2002 by Hindutva bigots and delves into the role of the then chief minister of the state, Narendra Modi — is quite intriguing.

In 2013, while addressing a public meeting, Modi had said that people earlier did not rely on the news coverage of the Doordarshan and looked to the BBC for “true and accurate” information.

The BBC is certainly not the pliable media of India under Modi rule. There have been plenty of occasions when it exposed the wrongdoings of the British government. If at all the mandarins of the Information ministry or Home ministry were sure that it damaged the reputation of Modi, the government should have filed a legal complaint against BBC.

Instead, the Modi government slapped a ban on its exhibition on social media giant Twitter as well as YouTube.

Even after the ban, people across the country have been watching the documentary on archived links. Obviously, this has defeated the very purpose of imposing the ban.

Part one of the two-episode documentary highlights the 2002 Gujarat riots, one of the worst incidents of communal violence that shook the conscience of Indians and broke their trust in the system of governance. At that time, Narendra Modi was the chief minister of Gujarat. The documentary shows how riots broke out after a train carrying Hindu pilgrims in Gujarat was set on fire, killing 59 people.

The Hindu fanatics allegedly retorted and during three days of their gory operation killed at least 2000 Muslims.

Just after the documentary was telecast in the United Kingdom, it generated a massive hype back in India, prompting the Indian government to block it.

On January 17, the BBC released the first episode of ‘The Modi Question’, and on January 25, just a day ahead of the Republic Day, it aired the second part of the documentary. 

Incidentally, the information which the two-part documentary provided has been in the public domain in India and people are aware of the facts They have even accepted Modi’s clarification that he had nothing to do with the massacre of the Muslims.

It was 12 years after the gruesome massacre that the politically conscious and agile Indians voted him to the office of the Prime Minister. In 2013, a Supreme Court bench rejected the claim of his involvement in the deadly riots, saying that there was insufficient evidence to prosecute him.

Even after getting exonerated by the Supreme Court, what prompted Modi to slap a ban on the documentary, is the question.

Though by and large, the people did not show their averseness to the release of the two-episode documentary, debates are raging on the importance of the documentary after 20 years of the sordid incident, which had rudely shaken the democratic and secular credentials of the country. The BJP leaders and rightist intellectuals and academics have already described the documentary as a “propaganda piece designed to push a particular discredited narrative”.

Though some political activists, student organisations and politicians have organised public screenings of the documentary in non-BJP ruled states, some are also worried that the film would be used for polarisation of Hindu votes.

Some fear that just a year ahead of the Lok Sabha election of 2024, the BBC has handed over an effective instrument to the BJP and the Modi government to reignite the Hindutva feeling.

The Modi government has played a major gambit by deciding to block all online links broadcasting the BBC documentary critical of him. He has taken the risk of being accused of trampling on democracy. He has resorted to this act without bothering about accountability.

Reacting to the latest developments, Rahul Gandhi has said: “If you read our scriptures; if you read Bhagwad Gita or Upanishads; you will see it is written that the truth cannot be hidden. The truth always comes up. You will suppress the press, you can control the institutions, you can use CBI, ED but the truth is the truth. The truth shines bright. It has a nasty habit of coming, so no amount of banning, oppression, frightening people is going to stop the truth from coming up.”

The documentary reveals a previously unpublished report from the British Foreign Office that held Modi “directly responsible” for the “climate of impunity” enabling the violence and said it had “all the hallmarks of an ethnic cleansing”.

In a statement, the broadcaster said: “The documentary series examines the tensions between India’s Hindu majority and Muslim minority and explores the politics of Modi in relation to those tensions.”

It was “rigorously researched” and “a wide range of voices, witnesses and experts were approached, and we have featured a range of opinions, including responses from people in the BJP”, it added.

Already efforts are being made from the government level to set a fresh narrative that a time when Modi has been emerging as a global achiever, a concerted attempt is being made to malign his image. It is also alleged that the BBC is using Indian Muslims as cannon fodder against India's leadership.

Some rightist experts claim that the BBC kept the film ready, and it was waiting for the right time to hit the iron. The only new addition to the prevailing information is at that time the British government had conducted its own investigation into the cause of the Gujarat violence and found Modi “directly responsible”.

(IPA Service)

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