India censors BBC documentary on Prime Minister Modi

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India has censored a documentary by the British BBC network that questions the role of today’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the Gujarat riots in 2002. Sharing excerpts on social networks was also banned.

The first of two parts of “India: The Modi Question” was released on January 17 and covers the prime minister’s early political life. He was governor of the state of Gujarat, in western India, when riots between local communities killed more than 1,000 people – mostly Muslims.

The violence broke out after a train carrying Hindu pilgrims was set on fire, killing 59 people.

Human rights organizations estimate that the number of people killed in the riots was at least double the number officially recorded. At the time, the conduct of the episode was criticized by Western nations, and Modi was later questioned for alleged complicity in the violence.

According to the BBC documentary, it is stated in a document from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the United Kingdom that Modi asked the police not to intervene in aggressions against Muslim groups. “The systematic campaign of violence has all the hallmarks of ethnic cleansing,” the paper says.

According to the Indian Minister of Information and Broadcasting, Kanchan Gupta, in a post on Twitter on Saturday (21), the government used emergency laws to censor the documentary. The BBC had not yet released the production in the country, but the video was available on some channels on YouTube.

The rules, in force since 2021, allow the blocking of information in an emergency.

The government ordered Twitter to ban more than 50 posts linking to the series, and YouTube was instructed to block posts with the video. The platforms, according to Gupta, complied with orders.

Modi denies allegations that he has failed to act. In 2012, a team appointed by the Supreme Court to investigate the then governor’s role in the violence came to the conclusion, in a 541-page report, that there is no evidence to prosecute the country’s current prime minister. The following year, Modi was chosen as the prime minister of his party, the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata. He won the 2014 and 2019 elections.

Last week, Foreign Ministry spokesman Arindam Bagchi called the BBC documentary a “propaganda piece” designed to promote a “lying narrative”.

“The bias, lack of objectivity and continued colonial mentality are visible. This film or documentary is a reflection of the agency and individuals who are selling this narrative again,” he said.

More than 300 former judges, veterans and Indian bureaucrats made a statement against the documentary. The series, they claim, is a “visibly motivated indictment against our leader, an Indian compatriot and a patriot”. “Once again the BBC’s relentless bias against India has resurfaced as a documentary.”

According to the Guardian, the BBC stated that the subject of the documentary was “rigorously researched to the highest editorial standards”. Last Thursday (19), British Labor MP Imran Hussain asked Prime Minister Rishi Sunak if he agreed with the document holding Modi responsible for the acts of violence. “Of course, we don’t condone persecution anywhere, but I’m not sure I fully agree with your characterization,” he said.

The opposition in India also reacted. The parliamentarian Mahua Moitra published this Sunday (22) the link to the documentary on Twitter and asked her followers to watch the series as long as they can.

“I was not elected to represent the largest democracy in the world to accept censorship,” he said. “What the BBC proves or does not prove is up to the viewers to decide. But the angry censorship actions of the government of India are unacceptable”, she added, in another publication, hours later.

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