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Foreign Policy

Why India Banned a BBC Documentary on Modi



A BBC documentary targeted on Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s relationship with the nation’s Muslim minority has led New Delhi to accuse the broadcaster of a “colonial mindset” and threatens to disrupt U.Ok.-India ties. India: The Modi Question examines Modi’s function as chief minister of Gujarat throughout a three-day interval of communal violence in 2002 during which greater than 1,000 people died, together with 790 Muslims. Regardless of not airing in India, the documentary returns the occasions to the general public eye, which has angered India’s ruling Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Occasion (BJP).

The primary a part of the documentary was launched final week, with a second installment scheduled to air Tuesday. Over the weekend, India blocked the movie and banned individuals from sharing clips on social media, citing emergency powers underneath its data expertise legal guidelines. Twitter and YouTube have complied with the transfer. (In impact, this serves the BBC’s pursuits by defending the documentary from copyright violations.) The ban has solely introduced extra consideration to this system, with many individuals, together with opposition politicians, protesting the transfer and offering hyperlinks to obtain it.

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, whose household traces its roots to pre-Partition India, now faces a dilemma. He desires to enhance relations with India, beginning with a commerce settlement he hopes will exhibit that the UK can negotiate commerce phrases with different international locations superior to these allowed by the European Union. However a deal will not be assured, partly as a result of no British authorities can supply what India seeks—extra visas for college students and enterprise executives, together with the precise to remain longer within the nation. Moreover, India isn’t about to open its authorized or monetary providers sectors to British corporations, because the U.Ok. desires.

A BBC documentary targeted on Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s relationship with the nation’s Muslim minority has led New Delhi to accuse the broadcaster of a “colonial mindset” and threatens to disrupt U.Ok.-India ties. India: The Modi Question examines Modi’s function as chief minister of Gujarat throughout a three-day interval of communal violence in 2002 during which greater than 1,000 people died, together with 790 Muslims. Regardless of not airing in India, the documentary returns the occasions to the general public eye, which has angered India’s ruling Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Occasion (BJP).

The primary a part of the documentary was launched final week, with a second installment scheduled to air Tuesday. Over the weekend, India blocked the movie and banned individuals from sharing clips on social media, citing emergency powers underneath its data expertise legal guidelines. Twitter and YouTube have complied with the transfer. (In impact, this serves the BBC’s pursuits by defending the documentary from copyright violations.) The ban has solely introduced extra consideration to this system, with many individuals, together with opposition politicians, protesting the transfer and offering hyperlinks to obtain it.

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, whose household traces its roots to pre-Partition India, now faces a dilemma. He desires to enhance relations with India, beginning with a commerce settlement he hopes will exhibit that the UK can negotiate commerce phrases with different international locations superior to these allowed by the European Union. However a deal will not be assured, partly as a result of no British authorities can supply what India seeks—extra visas for college students and enterprise executives, together with the precise to remain longer within the nation. Moreover, India isn’t about to open its authorized or monetary providers sectors to British corporations, because the U.Ok. desires.

The controversy comes at a fragile second for the U.Ok.-India relationship. Many Western governments now see India as a associate and as a possible rival to China. However New Delhi has at all times pursued its personal pursuits; throughout Modi’s practically 9 years as prime minister, India has additionally turn out to be an more and more intolerant place, the place activists are jailed and minority rights are undermined. As Britain’s first prime minister of shade and its first Hindu prime minister, Sunak has a troublesome balancing act as he seeks nearer relations with India. And for Modi, the documentary brings again ghosts of the previous as India prepares for nationwide elections subsequent 12 months.


In its evaluation of Modi’s management, India: The Modi Query revives essentially the most controversial episode of the prime minister’s political profession. The primary installment facilities on the 2002 riots as a pivotal occasion in India’s fashionable historical past, which has drawn a vehement response from the federal government. In February 2002, a practice caught hearth in northern Gujarat, killing 59 individuals, most of them Hindu fundamentalist activists. The reason for the hearth stays a topic of debate; the BBC documentary states that Muslim protesters began it. Practically 100 Muslims had been arrested and 31 finally convicted for setting the practice on hearth.

On the time, Modi had been Gujarat’s chief minister for lower than 5 months. He allowed the our bodies of those that died on the practice to be dropped at Ahmedabad, the state’s largest metropolis, an motion his critics take into account provocative. Horrific violence followed: Mobs systematically attacked Muslim-owned companies, burned Muslims’ houses, and raped Muslim ladies. A former member of parliament was killed in entrance of his house. The BBC documentary assigns blame to Modi, citing a secret British diplomatic investigation that concluded that Modi was “directly responsible” for the “local weather of impunity.”

Within the wake of the 2002 riots, the Indian public was aghast, and international condemnation was swift. Then-Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee represented the BJP however dominated in coalition and confronted strain from opposition events and civil society teams to hunt Modi’s resignation. Vajpayee said solely that Modi ought to observe the responsibility of a ruler. Modi then dissolved the state meeting and known as for contemporary elections, which he gained. The BJP misplaced India’s 2004 nationwide elections partly due to the social gathering’s conduct in Gujarat. But Modi saved profitable and by mid-2013 staked his declare to guide the BJP in nationwide elections the subsequent 12 months. He gained handsomely—the primary time in 30 years {that a} political social gathering had secured an absolute majority in India’s parliament. He improved his tally in 2019.

The BBC documentary depends on archival footage and interviews with consultants in India and survivors of the riots, however its interview with Jack Straw, who was Britain’s international secretary on the time of the riots, is probably essentially the most vital. He mentions that the U.Ok. Excessive Fee in India carried out its personal investigation into the violence. Its report back to the U.Ok. authorities found that the extent of violence was “a lot better than reported,” with an purpose to “purge Muslims from Hindu areas.” The report concluded that the variety of deaths was far larger than the official tally of 1,044 deaths, that the police had been advised to not act, and that the violence “undoubtedly got here from Modi.” One unnamed British diplomat cited by the BBC known as the violence a “pogrom.”

The documentary additionally reveals footage from a BBC interview with Modi quickly after the riots. When requested concerning the classes he has realized, Modi says he must discover ways to deal with the media. He has taken that to heart: Since changing into prime minister, Modi has not held a single impromptu press convention and has averted speaking to any crucial interviewer. The second half of the published reportedly covers his relations with Muslims as prime minister. In Modi’s India, life has turn out to be tougher for Muslims. They’re typically prevented from congregating to wish, at the very least one state has banned ladies from sporting hijabs within the classroom, and unprovoked mob assaults in opposition to Muslims have turn out to be extra common, to call just some examples.


With India’s authorities upset concerning the BBC documentary, it will likely be tougher for Sunak to succeed in the commerce deal he seeks. Final week, the documentary got here up within the British Parliament, when Labour Occasion lawmaker Imran Hussain talked about it throughout Prime Minister’s Questions, asking Sunak if he agreed with British diplomats who stated Modi was instantly liable for the violence in 2002. Sunak said Britain doesn’t tolerate persecution wherever however that he disagreed with the best way Hussain described Modi. Though Modi’s supporters stated this mirrored Sunak’s protection of Modi, the British chief didn’t go that far; he solely disagreed with Hussain’s critique.

Approaching prime of unrest between Hindus and Muslims in Leicester, England, final 12 months, the BBC documentary may trigger a headache for Sunak. He didn’t join any of this when he stood for the management of Britain’s Conservative Occasion, and he now should tread a cautious path. In spite of everything, the BBC documentary depends on a secret British authorities report written by diplomats, whom Sunak can not undermine, as a lot as he desires to strengthen ties with India. That hasn’t stopped different Tory supporters from commenting: Rami Ranger, a member of the British Home of Lords and a serious Conservative Occasion donor, called the timing of the movie “sinister” and requested the BBC to cease screening it.

In the end at concern is that Modi has by no means apologized for the violence in Gujarat. The European Union and the United States initially stated he wouldn’t be welcome on their shores, however by 2012—when it turned obvious that he may lead the BJP—these de facto bans had been eliminated. A Particular Investigation Crew report in India primarily ensured that Modi wouldn’t face censure or prosecution within the nation. His supporters have repeatedly cited this as proof of his innocence. Final June, India’s Supreme Court docket upheld Modi’s exoneration by the report. In the meantime, lots of these discovered responsible for the violence have been released, most lately 11 males convicted for gang-raping a pregnant Muslim lady; they’d served 14 years of their life sentences.

As the UK’s first Hindu prime minister, Sunak finds himself in an uncomfortable place because the BBC prepares to air the remainder of the documentary. The Conservative Occasion may search to clip the BBC’s wings, however it’s an unbiased physique and has vigorously defended the movie. Modi could thank his luck that he doesn’t face an identical broadcaster in India.

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