The latest documentary from the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) on one of India's worst nightmares, Gujarat riots, has kept the country in divide as the documentary has brought up shocking facts and revelations and has directly held Prime Minister Narendra Modi responsible for what it has termed as ethnic cleansing.
The BBC has released the first of the two-part series in the UK on Tuesday while the second part will be released next Tuesday. The documentary has sparked a global spotlight and turmoil as it directly involves the accuses Narendra Modi, who, despite his polarizing regime, has become one of the paramount leaders of India. When riots in Gujarat unfolded in 2002 that killed over 1,000 people with more Muslim fatalities, Narendra Modi was the Chief Minister of the state.
The documentary, titled 'India: The Modi Question' delves into the Gujarat riots and reveals that the UK government has done an inquiry into the Gujarat riots. The documentary consists a speech from the then British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, who says, "What we did was to establish some inquiry and have our team go to Gujarat and find out from the results, what had happened and they produced a very thorough report. These were very serious claims that Mr Modi had played a proactive part in pulling back police and in tacitly encouraging the Hindu extremists. That was a particularly egregious example of political involvement to prevent police from doing their job to protect the Hindus and Muslims."
So, what's in the report shown in the documentary?
Before that, we need to have a brief about the Gujarat riots. The Gujarat riots, which an inter-communal violence, took place after the deaths of 58 Hindu pilgrims, who died after the train in which they were in was burned down on February 27, 2002. Their deaths have instigated the violence and the state government's commission concluded that the train was burned down by a Muslim mob. Following the commission's finding, the state witnessed large-scale attacks against the Muslim population.
The Muslim population was targeted by the Hindu mob and the riots happened when Narendra Modi was the Gujarat Chief Minister. Many brutal killings and rapes were reported against the Muslim people. While Modi was accused of inciting a pogrom, a special investigation team set up by the Supreme Court had claimed that there was no evidence to prosecute Modi and 63 others in the riots case. However, the activists have been demanding that Modi should be held responsibe. The BBC's documentary has now reiterated the same based on the inquiry done by the UK government.
The report produced to the UK government was not published before. The report says, "Extent of violence much greater than reported." "Widespread and systematic rape of Muslim women", "Violence, politically motivated", "Aim was to purge Muslims from Hindu areas", "Their systematic campaign of violence has all the hallmarks of ethnic cleansing". A former senior British diplomat, shown in the documentary, who was part of the investigators, says, "At least 2,000 people were murdered during the violence. The vast majority were Muslim. We described it as a pogrom, a deliberate and politically driven effort targeted at the Muslim community. The violence was widely reported to have been organized by an extremist Hindu nationalist group, the VHP (Vishwa Hindu Parishad), who have a relationship with the RSS."
The documentary further quoted the report saying, "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", "Modi met senior police officers on the 27th of February and ordered them not to intervene in the rioting, (however), police contacts deny this meeting happened." As the excerpts of the documentary were going viral on social media, the Indian government has given a strong rebuttal to the documentary.
The Union Ministry of External Affairs has labeled the documentary as a piece of propaganda. The Ministry's official spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said, "We think that this is a propaganda piece, designed to push a particular discredited narrative. The bias, lack of objectivity and continuing colonial mindset is blatantly visible. 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. Frankly, we don't wish to dignify such efforts."
The documentary was also erupted as a point of discussion in the British Parliament. On Thursday, a Pakistan- origin British MP Imran Hussain raised the topic only to have a rebuttal from Modi's British counterpart Rishi Sunak. Hussain said, "He (PM Modi) was, in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's own words, directly responsible for this violence. Given that hundreds were brutally killed and that families across India and the world, including here in the UK, are still without justice, does the Prime Minister agree with his diplomats in the foreign office that Modi was directly responsible and what more does the foreign office know of his involvement in this grave act of ethnic cleansing?".
In response, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said, "Mr Speaker, the UK government's position on this has been clear and long standing and hasn't changed. Of course, we don't tolerate persecution anywhere, but I am not sure I agree at all with the characterization (of Modi) the honorable gentleman has put forward." In India, Supreme Court advocate and social activist Vineet Jindal filed a complaint against the BBC on Friday over a documentary on Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Jindal took to Twitter and wrote, "The people of the country chose PM Modi. There is a constitutional government in the country and this act of BBC News is a conspiracy to incite Muslims against Hindus not just in India but in the world. Therefore, it can be dangerous and action should be taken against it." Meanwhile, the BBC said it was committed to highlighting important issues from around the world. It further said that the Indian government was offered a right to reply. However, the government declined it.
The first episode of the series delves into Modi's first steps into politics, including his rise through the ranks of BJP to his appointment as Chief Minister of Gujarat. Amid the controversial reception in India, the documentary was removed from the YouTube but the activists sharing key portions of it on social media.
Must watch: Excerpts from a BBC documentary just telecast in UK about our PM Modi & his documented role in the ethnic cleansing pogrom of 2002 in Gujarat pic.twitter.com/O1bAABRiA0— Prashant Bhushan (@pbhushan1) January 19, 2023