INDIA: The Indian government has criticised a BBC documentary on prime minister Narendra Modi’s role in the 2002 Gujarat religious riots that killed more than 1,000 people—while he was the state’s chief minister.
BBC documentary was released on January 17
The BBC documentary is a “propaganda piece” that exhibits a “colonial mindset,” said Arindam Bagchi, an Indian government spokesperson, while addressing a weekly press conference on Thursday.
“Let me say clearly that we believe this is a propaganda thing aimed to promote a discredited narrative. The bias, lack of objectivity, and, frankly, a persisting colonial mindset are all readily apparent,” said Bagchi.
The first of the two-part BBC’s documentary series was aired in the UK on Tuesday, January 17, and was briefly accessible on YouTube in India but has since been taken down. The second part of the documentary will go out next Tuesday.
The new BBC documentary, entitled “India: The Modi Question,” tracks PM Modi’s initial steps into politics in its first episode, including his ascent through the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to the position of Gujarat’s chief minister.
The documentary draws attention to a previously unpublished report that the BBC obtained from the British Foreign Office and which casts doubt on Modi’s actions during the religious riots that had broken out after a train carrying Hindu pilgrims had been set on fire the day before, killing dozens of people. The violence outbreak, one of the worst since Independence, claimed more than 1,000 lives, most of them Muslims.
According to the unpublished report that BBC acquired from British Foreign Office, PM Modi was “directly responsible” for the “climate of impunity” that encouraged the violence.
PM Modi has long denied allegations that he was responsible for the violence. A Supreme Court panel also ruled in 2013 that there wasn’t enough evidence to charge him.
“If anything, this video or documentary is a critique of the organisation and individuals who are peddling this narrative once more. It makes us wonder about the point of this exercise and the agenda behind it, and to be honest, we don’t want to elevate such efforts,” Bagchi said, questioning the BBC’s motive for airing the documentary at this time.
The BBC defended its production, stating that it is “dedicated to highlighting important issues from around the world” and that the Indian government was given the right to respond but declined it.
“The documentary series examines the tensions between India’s Hindu majority and Muslim minority and explores the politics of Modi in relation to those tensions,” the broadcaster stated in a statement.
“It was rigorously researched,” along with “a wide range of voices, witnesses, and specialists,” and also “we have featured a range of opinions, including responses from people in the BJP,” the statement added.
The report is the result of an inquiry that Jack Straw, the previous foreign secretary, ordered. “The extent of the violence was significantly more than reported,” and “the goal of the riots was to drive Muslims out of Hindu communities,” says the report.
“These were significant allegations that Modi had taken a deliberate role in withdrawing police and tacitly backing Hindu extremists. That was an especially severe example of political interference in preventing police from performing their responsibilities of protecting Hindus and Muslims,” Straw said in the documentary.
On Thursday, the documentary was also brought up in the British parliament when Rishi Sunak, Britain’s prime minister, was questioned by MP Imran Hussain about the reports’ claim that PM Modi was directly responsible for the violence.
Sunak responded, saying that “we don’t tolerate persecution anywhere,” adding that he “didn’t agree with the characterization of PM Modi.”
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