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Why BBC’s ‘The Modi Query’ Is So Controversial

Last Tuesday, the British Broadcasting Company launched the primary episode of “The Modi Query,” a two-part documentary collection that tracks how the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi climbed the political ranks of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Get together throughout his time because the Chief Minister of the state of Gujarat.

The documentary was initially broadcasted within the U.Okay., but it surely rapidly generated hype in India after unauthorized video clips started circulating on social media platforms, reminding viewers of Modi’s controversial function within the 2002 Gujarat riots—and prompting the Indian authorities this week to dam it from being aired on Indian platforms.

What’s the documentary about?

The 59-minute documentary takes an in-depth take a look at the 2002 Gujarat riots—one of many worst outbreaks of non secular violence in India for the reason that nation’s Independence in 1947. It traces how the riots erupted after a practice carrying Hindu pilgrims within the northern state of Gujarat was set on hearth and killed 59 folks. The Muslim group was held allegedly answerable for the incident, resulting in heightened retaliatory assaults and the deaths of over 1,000 Muslims.

The riots came about below Modi’s watch, who on the time was Gujarat’s Chief Minister. Uncooked and chilling footage reveals how the police stood by as Hindu mobs attacked Muslims and non secular assaults took maintain of the state.

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Why is the documentary so controversial?

In India and overseas, questions on Modi’s complicity in abetting the violence have generated controversy for many years, however the BBC documentary goes a step additional in highlighting his function by way of skilled commentary — it reveals {that a} beforehand unpublished report from the British International Workplace held Modi “immediately accountable” for the “local weather of impunity” that enabled the violence and stated it had “all of the hallmarks of an ethnic cleaning.” The BBC additionally uncovers different memos by the British authorities and Western diplomats, together with the previous British International Secretary, Jack Straw, who unequivocally criticizes Modi’s conduct on the time.

Nonetheless, the documentary additionally options interviews with former BJP politicians who help Modi and strongly deny his involvement within the riots. They cite the Indian Supreme Courtroom’s verdict in 2013, which acknowledged that there was inadequate proof to prosecute him.

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In response to Kenneth Roth, the previous govt director of the NGO Human Rights Watch, Gujarat has all the time been probably the most delicate points for Modi as a result of he demonstrated “passivity within the face of large-scale ethnic violence.” However, Roth provides, Modi exhibits intolerance in direction of a variety of criticism as a result of worry of reputational hurt, and his response to this documentary isn’t any totally different.

“Folks are inclined to assume that India is a democracy, that there’s nothing to fret about relating to free expression,” says Roth. “However Modi isn’t abiding by the necessities of free expression in the best way {that a} Democratic chief ought to.”

Representatives for the BBC and India’s international affairs ministry didn’t instantly reply to TIME’s request for remark.

401733 09: A mob of Hindus wielding swords and sticks again off after Indian Fast Response Drive officers stopped them from attacking a small group of Muslims March 1, 2002 in Ahmadabad, India.

Ami Vitale—Getty Photographs

Can the federal government block the documentary from being aired in India?

Beneath the emergency powers granted by the nation’s data and know-how regulation, the Indian authorities has already issued orders to YouTube and Twitter demanding that they block any content material associated to the documentary from being printed on their platforms.

Kanchan Gupta, a senior adviser to the Indian authorities, introduced the information on Twitter on Saturday, calling the documentary “vile propaganda” which undermined “the sovereignty and integrity of India” and had the potential to “adversely affect India’s pleasant relations with international international locations.” The choice was backed by numerous Indian ministries, together with the Ministry of Exterior Affairs, which discovered the documentary pushed a discredited narrative, solid “aspersions on the authority and credibility” of the Supreme Courtroom, and created “divisions amongst Indian communities.”

To this point, YouTube and Twitter are complying with the Indian authorities’s orders. Over 50 tweets containing hyperlinks to the documentary have been taken down, according to the Lumen database. They embody tweets by Derek O’Brien, a member of the Indian Parliament, in addition to Supreme Courtroom advocate Prashant Bhushan and American actor and political activist John Cusack.

Media organizations and digital rights activists have lengthy criticized the IT legal guidelines that allow the Indian authorities to censor social media content material. The legal guidelines have been challenged within the Supreme Courtroom, in addition to a number of Excessive Courts, with proceedings at the moment underway.

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What has the Indian response to the documentary and the federal government’s choice been?

Critics of Modi say the block affirms Modi’s ardent base of supporters, who’ve decried it as “colonial” and “white” propaganda. “The bias and lack of objectivity and admittedly persevering with colonial mindset are blatantly seen,” Arindam Bagchi, spokesperson for the international affairs ministry advised reporters at a press convention final Thursday.

However in keeping with Roth, the “principal victims” of Modi’s censorship are Indian residents. Subsequently, minimizing legitimate issues raised about Modi within the documentary as colonial partisanship “shirks accountability for his personal intolerance of reliable criticism.”

That is compounded by the truth that banning a documentary that was not in any other case standard in India has solely invited extra viewers, says Hartosh Singh Bal, the political editor of Indian journal The Caravan, who additionally seems within the documentary as a commentator. “Frankly, the ban has been fairly silly as a result of it’s attracted much more consideration to the documentary than would have been in any other case potential,” says Bal. He provides that it’s now being screened throughout college campuses as “an act of resistance” amongst youngsters who beforehand considered these occasions as a dated chapter in historical past.

“In some senses created much more consciousness than the federal government might have anticipated,” provides Bal, noting that it has introduced new relevance to the battle.

Whereas the occasions of 2002 catapulted Modi into his present place, Bal says he stays extraordinarily delicate about his worldwide fame and nonetheless needs to be considered as a statesman. However clamping down on this documentary in what Bal calls a “ham-handed style” will solely verify the expectations of his fiercest critics.

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Write to Armani Syed at

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