Photograph: Ajit Solanki/Associated Press
The Indian government resorted to emergency laws in 2002 to block a BBC documentary examining the role of prime minister Narendra Modi during the uprisings in the western state of Gujarat in 2002.
In India, controversy broke out about the first part of India: The Modi Question, which consists of two parts following his rise through the ranks of the Bharatiya Janata party and his appointment as the prime minister of Gujarat.
The BBC also uncovered notes showing that Modi’s behavior was criticized at the time by western diplomats and the British government, including a government report that found the riots had “all the hallmarks of ethnic cleansing”.
Modi has been haunted for decades by allegations of complicity in violence during the Gujarat riots after 59 Hindu pilgrims were killed in a set fire on a train. The Muslim population in the province was blamed for the fire.
Nearly 1,000 Muslims died in violence across the state. The police were accused of standing on the sidelines and not doing enough to protect Modi, the minority community from Hindu mobs, and even tacitly supporting Hindu extremists. He denied accusations that he could not stop the riot, and in 2013 a supreme court panel said there was insufficient evidence to prosecute him.
The first episode of the documentary was broadcast in the UK on Tuesday last week. It was not released in India, but its content – including unauthorized video clips – is circulating on social media. This drew a harsh response from the Modi government, who described the documentary as “a piece of propaganda designed to further a certain discredited narrative”.
“Prejudice and lack of impartiality and frankly the ongoing colonial mentality are clearly visible,” Foreign ministry spokesman Arindam Bagchi said.
The documentary was also criticized in a joint statement by more than 300 former judges, bureaucrats and prominent figures accusing the BBC of “playing the role of both judge and jury to rekindle Hindu-Muslim tensions” and forcing a British imperialist agenda.
It also came up in the UK parliament, where Labor MP Imran Hussain challenged prime minister Rishi Sunak, claiming that the British government knew Modi’s role in the violence. “I’m not sure I joined the characterization,” Sunak replied.
Over the weekend, India’s ministry of information and broadcasting issued instructions banning the sharing of all clips from the episode under the law that came into force in 2021, allowing “information blocking in emergencies”.
Kanchan Gupta, an adviser to the ministry, said the government has ordered Twitter and YouTube to shut down dozens of accounts that posted clips of the Modi documentary for “harming the sovereignty and integrity of India” and “undermining the sovereignty and integrity of India”. baseless allegations”.
In a tweet, Gupta said, “Videos on YouTube disguised as ‘documentary’ sharing BBC World hostile propaganda and anti-India bullshit and tweets linking to a BBC documentary have been blocked under India’s sovereign laws and rules.”
The BBC said in a statement that its documentary was “rigorously researched to the highest editorial standards”.
The decision to block the documentary came in an increasingly challenging environment for media and press freedom under the Modi government, where critical journalists and media are subject to state and judicial harassment. Last year, India fell eight places on the press freedom index to 150 out of 180 countries, its worst position on record.
The ban on the BBC documentary was met with anger by opposition politicians, who accused the Modi government of censorship. Mahua Moitra, a lawmaker for the opposition party Trinamool Congress, tweeted the link to a clip and wrote: “It’s a shame that the emperor of the world’s greatest democracy and his courtiers are so distrustful. Sorry, I wasn’t chosen to represent the world’s greatest democracy to accept censorship.”
Asaduddin Owaisi, chairman of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen party, questioned why a documentary about Modi was blocked when another film paying homage to Gandhi’s murderer Nathuram Godse was released unopposed.