BJP accuses BBC of 'visceral political hatred' for Modi as documentary fallout spirals
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), India's ruling party, has accused the BBC of "visceral political hatred" for the Narendra Modi government, as controversy over a recent documentary that zooms in on the prime minister's role in the 2002 Gujarat riots continues to spiral.
Over the weekend, Delhi took the extraordinary step of exercising emergency laws to block the screening and the sharing of links to the BBC documentary that implicates Modi in the anti-Muslim pogroms that left around 2,000 dead in three days of mayhem in the western Gujarat state 21 years ago.
In an interview with Middle East Eye, Shazia Ilmi, a leader within the BJP, defended the Indian government's decision to block clips of the interview on social media, including Twitter and Youtube, claiming that it would stir social unrest in the country.
"Why create unrest in the society based on a falsehood? India is hosting the G20 ... Don’t you think that this propaganda film will adversely impact India’s relations with other countries?" Ilmi asked rhetorically.
"[The] BBC documentary is propelled not so much by the love of the minorities but more by the visceral political hatred for the ruling dispensation of the Modi Government," Ilmi added.
Since part one of the two-part series, India: The Modi Question, was broadcast last week, the Indian government has repeatedly accused the BBC of spewing propaganda against Modi.
'Not a colony anymore'
'We offered the Indian Government a right to reply to the matters raised in the series, it declined to respond'
Though several Indian activists have pointed out that the first episode did not reveal any new information about the Gujarat pogroms itself, it was the inclusion of a previously unpublished report compiled by British diplomats under former foreign secretary Jack Straw that has purportedly left Delhi seething.
The report, written by British diplomats following the riots in Gujarat, concluded that Modi was "directly responsible" for the "climate of impunity" that enabled the three-day long targetted attacks on Muslims in the state.
"The systematic campaign of violence has all the hallmarks of ethnic cleansing," the report added.
But Ilmi from the BJP said even if the British report was new, given that the Indian Supreme Court had exonerated Modi in 2013, the case should have been laid to rest then.
"Who cares ... we aren't a colony anymore. Our Supreme Court matters more than a UK report," Ilmi said.
The BJP leader accused the British broadcaster of focusing on the events in Gujarat while ignoring several other riots and incidents in which Muslims, Sikhs and Christians were targeted under previous Indian governments.
"So many riots happened in India. In fact, the Congress engineered riots for years," Ilmi said.
"In fact, the Gujarat riots were the only ones which resulted in maximum convictions," Ilmi said.
Responding to Ilmi's claims, the BBC said it was "committed to highlighting important issues from around the world" and that "the documentary was rigorously researched according to highest editorial standards".
"We offered the Indian Government a right to reply to the matters raised in the series – it declined to respond," the BBC said in a statement sent to MEE.
Normalising censorship in India
On Saturday, Kanchan Gupta, senior adviser to the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, described the BBC film as "hostile propaganda and anti-India garbage, disguised as [a] 'documentary'".
Gupta also announced that Delhi had blocked links to the film under "India’s sovereign laws and rules".
Ilmi admitted to MEE that she hadn't seen the documentary in full because of the restrictions by the government.
'Censorship of the BBC documentary is completely unsurprising'
- Sandeep Ravindranath, filmmaker
And Indian activists say censorship has become routine under Modi's government.
According to Access Now, India led the world in the number of internet shutdowns for the fourth year running in 2022.
In 2021, Modi introduced new IT rules that caution social media users against posting material that may be deemed against the Indian state. According to the rules, platforms are obligated to remove the offensive material or be held criminally liable if they do not comply.
"Censorship of the BBC documentary is completely unsurprising - people have been thrown into prison for much less - for things like Facebook posts," Indian filmmaker Sandeep Ravindranath told MEE.
"In fact, these bans are the expected norm now. It'd be really surprising if it hadn't been banned," Ravindranath said.
Ravindranath's nine-minute film, Anthem for Kashmir, which focuses on forced disappearances, extra-judicial killings and pellet-gun victims in Indian-occupied Kashmir, was taken down by YouTube in India in June 2022 on the instruction of the government.
According to a notice sent to Ravindranath and seen by MEE, YouTube said they had received a complaint from "the Examination Committee of India's Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology (MEITY)."
"We were trying to make a film that spoke for Kashmiris silenced by the Indian government. Instead, the Indian government silenced our voice[s] too and ordered YouTube to block the film. YouTube censored the film and enabled authoritarianism in India," Ravindranath said.
YouTube did not reply to MEE's request for comment in time for publication.
Attacks on minorities
Since Narendra Modi took over in 2014, activists and observers say that minorities in India, including Muslims and Christians, are being pushed further to the margins, with calls for their elimination becoming increasingly mainstream.
In 2019, several months after Modi became prime minister for a second time, the Indian government revoked Kashmir's semi-autonomous status and passed the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).
The CAA excludes Muslim immigrants and refugees living in India from obtaining citizenship.
According to Hindutva Watch, run in the US by Kashmiri-Muslim journalist Raqib Naik, there have been more than 1,000 instances of physical attacks and calls for violence across India since 2021, including calls for ethnic cleansing.
In its World Report 2023, published earlier in January, Human Rights Watch described the BJP government as using "abusive and discriminatory policies to repress Muslims and other minorities".
The second and final episode of the documentary airs on 24 January.