On January 17, the BBC aired the first part of a two-part documentary about India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi. The documentary examined allegations about his role in the 2002 anti-Muslim violence in Gujarat.
The Indian government banned the film from being shown in India and forced social media sites to block access to it. This has sparked a major controversy between the two countries.
What Is The Documentary About?
The BBC has been ordered to court over its two-part bbc documentary on modi on India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his role in the deadly Gujarat riots of 2002. The Delhi High Court has issued a summons to the UK’s media organization to appear before it in a defamation case filed by a local NGO, Justice for Trial. The plaintiff claims the documentary “defamed the reputation of India, its judiciary and the Prime Minister”.
The two-part documentary aired in January in Britain and has sparked outrage in India, where Modi’s government has tried to block online sharing of it and accused the BBC of having an anti-India agenda. It revisits allegations that Modi’s state government aided Hindu mobs in the violence, which killed more than 1,000 people. The film cites a British Foreign Office report that found that Modi was “directly responsible” for the climate of impunity enabling the riots.
It has also prompted a backlash against students at universities in the country who have sought to hold screenings of the documentary. They’ve faced arrest, violence from rightwing groups, and accusations of treason by the government. The BBC has stood by the documentary, arguing it was “rigorously researched according to the highest editorial standards”.
Human rights groups have invited policymakers and journalists to a private screening of the documentary in Washington ahead of Modi’s state visit to the White House hosted by Joe Biden. The event will raise awareness about continuing concerns over discrimination against India’s minorities by the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government and its supporters.
The controversies surrounding the documentary highlight dwindling democratic freedoms in what’s often called the world’s largest democracy. Bobby Ghosh joins Amna Nawaz to talk about what’s at stake.
How Did The Documentary Come About?
The documentary India: The Modi Question was first aired in the UK in January and caused a storm of controversy for alluding to PM Modi’s role in the 2002 Gujarat riots. The riots were triggered by the burning of a train carrying Hindu pilgrims, and resulted in the deaths of hundreds of Muslims. The documentary cites a confidential report from the British Foreign Office, which states that PM Modi was directly responsible for creating a climate of impunity for those who committed violence against Muslims. It also alleges that he encouraged the riots and instructed police to stand aside, which led to the killings of many Muslims.
The BBC says the documentary was “rigorously researched” and includes a range of viewpoints from both sides of the debate. It is based on leaked documents obtained by the BBC from UK Foreign Office officials, who were investigating the riots at the time. The document alleges that the police failed to take action against the mobs, and that the Home Minister was “tacitly encouraging Hindu extremists”.
BJP leader Swapan Dasgupta accused the BBC of conducting a ‘hatchet job’ on the documentary. He claimed that his views were misrepresented and that he was quoted out of context. He said that the BBC should have consulted him before making such an important decision, which would impact the entire country.
Rami Ranger, a member of the House of Lords and a Conservative MP who has close ties to the Modi government, also criticized the documentary. He wrote to the head of the BBC to complain about the film, and demanded to know if any BBC staff were involved in the production of it. He added that it was “deplorable” that a Pakistani-origin journalist would be behind such a piece of work.
Indian tax officials have been searching the BBC offices in the country, a move that has drawn criticism from politicians and activists. It highlights the dwindling freedoms in one of the world’s largest democracies. In this episode of Inside Story, Bobby Ghosh discusses the implications for the BBC and for India’s relations with the UK.
Why Is The Documentary Banned In India?
In the weeks since India’s Ministry of Information and Broadcasting ordered YouTube and Twitter to block videos and tweets sharing links to a BBC documentary, Indians have found ways to circumvent the ban. The documentary is being shared on Telegram, Reddit and public file-hosting sites, while links to the BBC iPlayer remain active. The documentary has drawn renewed attention to a dark chapter in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s political history — allegations of religious violence against Muslims as he was chief minister of Gujarat in 2002.
The government denounced the documentary as “hostile propaganda” and said it was based on discredited evidence, but the BBC stood by the series and defended its research standards. In response to the censorship, student groups across India set up wildcat screenings of the documentary, only to face arrest, violent protests by rightwing groups and accusations of treason. The Supreme Court has now asked the government for its responses to two separate petitions filed by a journalist, a politician and an activist.
On January 21, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting issued directions to YouTube and Twitter to block multiple videos of ‘India: The Modi Question’. It cited emergency powers available to it under India’s 2021 IT rules. Both YouTube and Twitter complied with the orders, and the footage remains inaccessible on both platforms.
Digital rights activists say the censorship was an abuse of power and a clear violation of free speech rights. They have also raised concerns about the Indian government’s attempt to give its Press Information Bureau and other “fact-checking” agencies the authority to remove content that it deems ‘fake or false’ from digital platforms. The Editors Guild of India has urged the government to withdraw this proposal, calling it a form of censorship.
The apex court’s move to seek the documentary’s original records is another step in a legal challenge that could force the government to reconsider its decision to censor the BBC series. The petitions have been filed by journalist N Ram, Trinamool Congress MP Mahua Moitra and activist lawyer Prashant Bhushan. The apex court has sought responses from the central government and others on the pleas, and is scheduled to hear arguments later this month.
What Are The Implications For The BBC?
In a country as polarized as India, reactions to the BBC’s documentary have split along political lines. Many of PM Modi’s supporters view it as a vindication of the prime minister against what they see as an unsubstantiated campaign to defame him and Hindus. Others, particularly those affiliated with the opposition, are outraged by what they view as censorship by the UK media organisation.
The two-part film examines Modi’s role in the 2002 riots that left more than 1,000 people dead, the majority of them Muslims. Modi was chief minister of Gujarat at the time and the documentary cites a declassified British Foreign Office report that found him “directly responsible” for the violence. The Indian government responded with fury, accusing the BBC of bias and pursuing an anti-government agenda. It blocked access to the documentary online and used copyright laws to block sharing of clips on Twitter and YouTube.
However, the ban has backfired and has driven interest in the documentaries. Indians have taken to social media to share the links to the films, and the use of peer-to-peer sharing, as well as piracy, has allowed many to bypass platform bans and watch the film.
The documentary’s release has also prompted questions about the BBC’s editorial independence in the wake of the controversy over its reporting on Kashmir and Syria. In a letter to the BBC chairman, a group of Indian journalists wrote that they were concerned about how the corporation would be able to maintain its editorial independence in future. The BBC has since assured the group that it will continue to be independent.
But the controversy over the Modi documentary also raises larger issues about the role of the BBC in global affairs, and its relationship with the rest of the world. While the BBC is an independent broadcaster, it has close ties to the UK establishment and promotes Britain’s foreign policy positions. The BBC has been accused of having an agenda and failing to check its sources, but it insists that it is a global network with a global audience and that the documentary was based on legitimate research.
The BBC documentary on Modi offers a comprehensive glimpse into the life and political journey of Narendra Modi. It highlights his rise from humble beginnings to becoming the Prime Minister of India, showcasing his leadership style, achievements, and controversies. While presenting a multifaceted view of Modi, the documentary prompts viewers to form their own opinions about this polarizing figure.
- What is the main focus of the BBC documentary on Modi? The main focus of the BBC documentary on Modi is to provide an in-depth exploration of Narendra Modi’s life and political career, shedding light on his journey from being a tea seller to becoming the Prime Minister of India. It examines his leadership style, policies, and the impact of his tenure on the country.
- Does the documentary present a balanced perspective on Narendra Modi? The documentary attempts to present a balanced perspective on Narendra Modi by featuring various aspects of his life and political career. It includes interviews with both supporters and critics, offering insights into his achievements as well as controversies. However, given the complex nature of politics and the subjectivity of viewpoints, some viewers may still perceive it as biased, while others may find it objective.