The BBC’s documentary on Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s involvement in the 2002 Gujarat massacre has come as a bombshell for India’s ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP). The Modi government was swift to block the two-part programme, telecast with a gap of one week, in the country. The Indian government asked social media platforms, including YouTube and Twitter, to ensure the documentary was not shared on their mediums – which they agreed to do, presumably because of market pressures and Indian employees in these companies.
Dismissing the documentary as a “propaganda piece”, the Indian foreign ministry spokesperson said the film was meant to push a “discredited narrative”. He added that a “bias”, “lack of objectivity”, and “continuing colonial mindset” is “blatantly visible” in it. “It makes us wonder about the purpose of this exercise and the agenda behind it, and we do not wish to dignify such efforts.”
The Indian opposition has been critical of the ban imposed by the Modi government on the BBC documentary, calling it an imposition of censorship in the country. However, the overall impact of the opposition’s protest was not so effective due to the unprecedented popularity Mr Modi enjoys in the country.
While the BJP’s umbrella organisation, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), has launched a countrywide campaign to condemn BBC, the Indian government, through pro-India MPs in the UK, has asked the British government to probe whether the BBC team that investigated the Gujarat massacre included people from Pakistani origin. Additionally, the government has blocked both episodes of the BBC documentary by invoking censorship laws.
As regards the documentary, there is nothing new that the knowledgeable circles in India or aboard were unaware of. The acts of savagery perpetrated against the Muslims in Gujarat in 2002, when Mr Modi was the chief minister of the state, are known to everyone. The massacre had embarrassed the BJP government so much that Prime Minister Vajpayee threatened to resign. The first episode is entirely devoted to the Gujarat massacre. It contains the interviews of BJP and RSS members, recorded through hidden cameras.
The interviewers openly acknowledge that Mr Modi gave the RSS and BJP members 72 hours to “avenge the massacre of Godhra incident”, in which a train carrying Hindu pilgrims was reportedly set on fire at the Godhra station in Gujarat. BJP apologists like Swapan Dasgupta justify the massacre as a reaction to the Godhra incident. Surprisingly, the BBC did not interview Rana Ayyub, a Muslim Indian journalist who came up with an excellent investigative report on Modi’s involvement in the massacre of Muslims in Gujarat. However, the BBC’s documentary testifies to what Rana Ayyub has been saying for many years.
The second episode focuses on the plight of Indian Muslims under Hindu majoritarian rule, where dozens have been killed by cow vigilantes. The police watched the lynching of hapless Muslims like silent spectators. The Muslims have to prove their Indian citizenship, while nearly two million have already been deprived of citizenship on the pretext that they are Bangladeshi citizens.
Similarly, the documentary reveals that through a pre-planned policy, the Modi government deployed over 25,000 troops in occupied Jammu and Kashmir and announced the revocation of Articles 370 and 35A of the constitution. The occupied state was divided into two union territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh. A massive crackdown was launched after confining people to their homes. Hundreds of pro-Kashmiri politicians and activists were arrested.
A Kashmiri lawyer, Habeel Iqbal, told the BBC that “the [Indian] army is guilty of torture in Kashmir and in, at least one instance, a village was made to listen to the torture on a public announcement system.” The BBC documentary carries the army’s denial of such allegations.
On lynching Muslims in India, or killing protesting Kashmiris in the Occupied Jammu and Kashmir state, the UN Human Rights Council’s (UNHRC) spokesperson unequivocally called it the worst violation of human rights. The UNHRC team was not allowed to probe into the human rights violations reported by the Kashmiri journalists and international media. On the contrary, journalists were terrorized and detained on sedition charges.
The BBC documentary highlights the sad fact that the very nature of the Indian state is at stake. Ironically, Prime Minister Modi got off scot-free of his crimes against Muslims. According to the BBC documentary, Modi was greeted by a massive crowd of the Indian diaspora in the US Former president Trump also described Modi as his “best friend”.
French scholar and specialist on South Asia, Christophe Jaffrelot, while commenting on the plight of Muslims to the BBC argues that the West doesn’t care about what happens in India, because they are looking at the country as a balance against China, and as an economic market they can exploit. As a result, they have turned a deliberate blind eye to human rights lapses and the fact that India does not always live up to its constitutional and democratic commitments. The American and Western endorsement of Modi has further encouraged the RSS-led “muscular nationalism” in India to suppress minorities, especially Muslims, to foster electoral gains.
In an interview with Karan Thapar, N Ram, one of India’s highly regarded journalists and a former editor-in-chief and publisher of The Hindu, said about BBC’s second episode: “An excellently conceived, excellently produced episode. It’s got a mix of people arguing both sides … there is nothing exaggerated here … nothing is overstated.” N Ram believes that this episode holds up a mirror to the Indian people, reflecting the sort of country India is becoming, and this is something that the Indian media and, perhaps, Indian news television channels, in particular, have failed to do. Mr Ram agreed and confirmed that the BBC had put together the full and true story of the treatment of Muslims in India since 2014, which, in fact, is something the Indian media should have done but did not do.
The BBC documentary is a bold attempt at collating maximum evidence against the modus operandi of a Hindutva majoritarian rule. The channel must have assessed the consequences before releasing the documentary, especially when it faces the wrath of a hate-mongering vindictive RSS, whose tentacles are all over the country and in major world capitals. There is no doubt that the hate-based agenda of the RSS has received traction within the majority of the country’s population, which would turn minorities, particularly Muslims, into second-rate citizens.
Hopefully, the world powers, instead of looking at India as a lucrative market or a counterbalance to China, would look at the plight of over 500 million minorities in a country that houses the world’s largest poverty-stricken people. Incidentally, an overwhelming number of poverty-stricken people India are Muslims.
Note: This article appeared in BOL, dated 29 January 2023.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article are of the author and do not necessarily represent Institute’s policy.