The BBC documentary alleges that Modi, the prime minister of India, instructed police in his state of Gujarat to turn a blind eye to a wave of violence that left over 1,000 people dead. The documentary was broadcast in the UK last month.
Indian government officials have criticised the two-part programme, accusing it of bias. However, the BBC has defended the documentary, saying it took into account “a wide range of voices, witnesses and experts (including responses from members of the BJP).
Narendra Modi And The 2002 Gujarat Riots
Two decades ago, Gujarat became a battleground when 60 Hindu pilgrims died after their train was set on fire. The cause was disputed, but it triggered a wave of bloody retaliatory violence in which 1,000 people, most of them Muslims, were killed. Modi was the chief minister during that time and has been accused of condoning or at least failing to stop the riots. He denied the accusations and was cleared of involvement in a special investigation by India’s Supreme Court.
In a two-part bbc documentary on modi aired in the UK, the BBC revisits the allegations against him and explores his role in India’s worst religious violence. It has been widely praised in the UK, but critics in India have questioned whether the BBC has an agenda or is biased against Modi. The BBC is fighting a defamation case filed by Justice on Trial, a group that accuses the broadcaster of bias and slander. It also faces a tax raid on its offices in Delhi and Mumbai and is under investigation for alleged violations of foreign exchange rules.
A government adviser slammed the documentary as “hostile propaganda and anti-India garbage, disguised as a documentary,” and invoked emergency laws to block sharing of clips on social media. BBC officials say they are cooperating with Indian authorities, and the BBC has vowed to stand by its reporting.
For some families in Gujarat, the riots are still very much alive. Mohsin Pathan, who was living in Ahmedabad’s Ladol district at the time, hid his family in their house and locked all the doors and windows so that they would look empty. But a mob of Hindu radicals broke into their home and beat them relentlessly, even breaking Mohsin’s leg with a metal rod.
The riots tainted Modi’s image and left deep scars among India’s Muslim community. It was the first time that a prime minister had been linked to large-scale communal violence, and many were worried about his rising popularity nationally and internationally. Several countries refused to grant him diplomatic visas because of the controversy, and Modi was barred from entering the United States in 2005.
The documentary cites a secret report of the British Foreign Office at the time, which alleges that Modi’s state government deliberately orchestrated the riots and “directed the police to stand by and watch as Muslim houses were burned and attacked.” It quotes a senior British diplomat who was part of the inquiry team at the time, Jack Straw, who said that it was a case of ethnic cleansing.
The film also interviews local BJP leaders who were involved in the riots, some of whom admit that they were culpable in what happened. They talk about how they encouraged the Hindu mobs, and how they acted as ‘go-betweens’ between the rioters and the police. They also discuss how they organised the attacks, and why they threw acid in the faces of their victims.
Besides the riots, the documentary also looks at the ongoing discrimination against Muslims in India’s central and eastern states. The documentary says the treatment of India’s minorities is symptomatic of the BJP government’s Hindu nationalist agenda. It adds that the UK and US, which have close economic ties with India, should be concerned about the treatment of its citizens.
It argues that the government has done little to protect the rights of its citizens. Moreover, it highlights how the government has used its political power to suppress dissent and stifle freedom of speech. The film was aired on the BBC Two channel in the United Kingdom. It is not available in India, where it has been blocked by the government. The High Court of Justice has ruled that the documentary makes defamatory imputations against the country and the entire system including the judiciary. The NGO which has filed the petition has accused the BBC of committing a criminal offence under section 295A of the Indian Penal Code.
The BBC has denied accusations of bias in the documentary, and said it would defend the programme. It has argued that it is within its editorial independence to present facts and analysis. It has argued that its reporting is based on “independent and thorough research”. It has claimed that the petition is politically motivated.
In India, the documentary has triggered debate over Modi’s role in the 2002 riots. It revisits allegations that he failed to act during the riots, which killed more than 1,000 Muslims, after a train carrying Hindu pilgrims was set on fire in the state of Gujarat. It also highlights his links with the Hindu nationalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) organisation. It has been criticised by Indian politicians and media, as well as the US administration for its ‘bias’.
Several BJP politicians have accused the BBC of having an anti-Modi agenda in revisiting claims that are more than two decades old. Former UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw is interviewed in the programme and says Modi ‘did not do enough to prevent’ the violence. He adds that the killing of Muslims by Hindu mobs was a consequence of ‘the climate of impunity created by the government’.
The BBC has defended the documentary, saying it was ‘rigorously researched’ and complied with the highest editorial standards. It has stood by the programme even after the Indian government blocked its broadcast and banned users from sharing clips online, claiming it violated the country’s information technology laws. The BBC has also been threatened with a tax raid.
Some student groups at Indian universities have defied the ban and screened the film. This has led to protests and arrests by university authorities, as well as violence by rightwing groups. Despite these challenges, the documentary has been seen by thousands of people in India.
Many people have questioned the accuracy of the documentary, including Safa Ahmed, a media associate at Indian American Muslim Council. She pointed out that the documentary lacks testimonies from victims and a thorough analysis of the events. She also criticized the decision of some British politicians to pressure the BBC over the documentary. For example, Tory MP Bob Blackman said the documentary was a “hatchet job”, while Conservative peer Rami Ranger asked the BBC to confirm that its Pakistani-origin staff were involved in it. This is a clear attempt to attack the reputation of the BBC and highlight its bias against Modi.
The BBC Documentary
The BBC, long a household name in the UK, is facing a firestorm in India over a controversial documentary about Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The two-part series, titled India: The Modi Question, examines the leader’s role in a 2002 communal riot that killed more than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims. While Modi has denied responsibility for the violence, the BBC’s decision to air the program has angered New Delhi and threatens to disrupt U.S.-India relations.
The documentary has stirred controversy in the US as well, where two human rights groups are organising a screening of it for policymakers and journalists ahead of Modi’s state visit to the White House this week. The screening, organised by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, will be held in Washington on June 20, just days before Modi is scheduled to arrive for the visit.
In a sign of the escalating tensions, Indian tax officials searched the BBC’s offices in Delhi and Mumbai for the second day in a row Wednesday. The raids came a week after the British broadcaster aired a documentary critical of Modi’s leadership. The action put the spotlight on dwindling media freedoms in the world’s largest democracy.
The searches followed a lawsuit filed against the BBC by a Hindu nationalist group that accused it of defamation. The group, Justice on Trial, alleges that the documentary portrayed Modi in a false light and exhibited a colonial mindset. The BBC has denied the allegations.
The BBC is no stranger to running documentaries that anger the government of India. The corporation’s 1970s film Calcutta and its 1976 sequel, Phantom India, both sparked outrage among the Indian diaspora in Britain for showing a bleak portrayal of everyday life in India. During the Indian Emergency, the BBC was banned from broadcasting in the country. The searches against the BBC are the latest in a series of actions by New Delhi to restrict free speech. Bobby Ghosh joins Amna Nawaz to discuss the developments.
The BBC documentary on Modi offers a comprehensive and insightful portrayal of India’s enigmatic leader, Narendra Modi. It delves into his political journey, controversial decisions, and impact on the nation. The film adeptly captures the complexities surrounding Modi’s persona, leaving viewers with a deeper understanding of one of the most influential figures in contemporary Indian politics.
- Is the BBC documentary on Modi unbiased? The BBC strives to maintain journalistic integrity and impartiality in its reporting. While efforts are made to present a balanced view, the perception of bias may vary among viewers. It is advisable to watch the documentary and critically analyze its content to form an informed opinion.
- Does the documentary cover all aspects of Modi’s life and career? While the BBC documentary offers a comprehensive overview of Narendra Modi’s political journey and significant events, it may not delve into every aspect of his life and career. Due to time constraints and the vastness of the subject, some elements may be given more prominence than others. Supplementary research may be required for a more exhaustive understanding.