'The Modi Question': Why A BBC Documentary Has Led To Outrage

By BOOM Team

A BBC documentary series titled 'The Modi Question' that revives some age-old questions on the Gujarat riots of 2002 has led to political debates in India and in the UK.

The documentary reveals a never-before-published report that the British inquiry team had sent to the United Kingdom government. The report says that Narendra Modi, who was then the state’s chief minister, was “directly responsible for a climate of impunity” that led to the violence in the Gujarat riots.

In February 2002, anti-Muslimriots broke out in several parts of Gujarat after at least 58 Hindu pilgrims returning from Ayodhya were killed after the train caught fire. Over 1,000 people were killed in the ensuing riots, most of them Muslims.

What Is The Documentary About?

The documentary features a former senior diplomat, one of the investigators sent by the UK government, as saying that the violence had been planned by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), an affiliate of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).

“At least 2,000 people were murdered during the violence, the vast majority were Muslims. We described it as a pogrom, a deliberate and politically driven effort targeted at the Muslim community,” he said.

“The VHP and its allies could not have inflicted so much damage without the climate of impunity created by the state government. Narendra Modi is directly responsible,” the investigator is seen saying in the BBC documentary.

Jack Straw, who was the UK’s foreign secretary at the time of the violence, said the allegations against Modi undermined his reputation. In the BBC documentary, he says, “These were very serious claims – that Chief Minister Modi had played a pretty active part in pulling back the police and in tacitly encouraging the Hindu extremists.”

Straw said they established an inquiry and have a team go to Gujarat and find out for themselves what had happened.

The report said that the systematic campaign of violence had “all the hallmarks of ethnic cleansing”. It also claimed there was widespread rape of Muslim women during the 2002 violence.

The documentary also features victims of the Gujarat violence. A British national, who was 18 at the time of the Gujarat violence, was interviewed for the programme.

How Has India Responded?

India snubbed the BBC documentary and termed it "propaganda". Foreign ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said the documentary lacked "objectivity" and showed a "continued colonial mindset".

"Do note that this has not been screened in India. So, I am only going to comment in the context of what I have heard about it and what my colleagues have seen. Let me just make it very clear that we think this is a propaganda piece designed to push a particular discredited narrative. The bias, the lack of objectivity, and frankly a continuing colonial mindset, is blatantly visible," Bagchi said in a press conference on Thursday.

"If anything, this film or documentary is a reflection on the agency and individuals that are peddling this narrative again. It makes us wonder about the purpose of this exercise and the agenda behind it and frankly we do not wish to dignify such efforts," he stressed.

There has also been criticism of the documentary on Twitter with people questioning BBC over the veracity of the facts. "Anti Modi BBC' also trended on Twitter on Thursday as people voiced their opposition to the documentary. Here are some of the tweets:

However, several critics and members of the Opposition hailed the documentary for making "startling revelations". "No matter how much the BJP govt may try to cover up the truth, the world sees Modi for what he truly is," Shama Mohamed, spokesperson of the Congress party wrote on Twitter.

How Has The UK Government Responded?

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said that he didn't agree with the "characterization" in the documentary as he distanced himself from the BBC documentary series that has sparked a row.

"The UK government's position on this has been clear and long-standing and hasn't changed, of course, we don't tolerate persecution where it appears anywhere but I am not sure I agree at all with the characterization that the honourable gentleman has put forward," he said.

Sunak said this in the British Parliament when lawmaker Imran Hussain raised the matter in the House.

"BBC revealed the foreign office knew the extent of Narendra Modi's involvement in the Gujarat Massacre that paved way for persecution of Muslims and other minorities that we see in India today," Hussain said.

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