Bharat Express

Why the controversial BBC documentary is an attempt to damage PM Modi’s reputation at any cost?

the government has alleged a “colonial mindset” behind the “misrepresentation of facts” by the BBC to justify its ban. The opposition parties, on the other hand, view the ban as an assault on the freedom of expression..

January 28, 2023
BBC's Big Time Controversy

BBC's Big Time Controversy

The controversy surrounding the BBC documentary “2002: The Modi Question” is escalating to many universities as you read this article. Many left-wing student organizations are adamantly organizing screenings on various campuses. This has already led to unrest in Delhi’s JNU and Jamia Milia Islamia with students defying the campus authorities’ attempts to prevent the public showing of the two-part series.

The political arena is already witnessing a heated debate on the issue. The Congress Party’s Kerala unit has also gone ahead with organizing the public screening of the documentary.

Meanwhile, the government has alleged a “colonial mindset” behind the “misrepresentation of facts” by the BBC to justify its ban. The opposition parties, on the other hand, view the ban as an assault on the freedom of expression. Ironically, the former Congress Union Minister AK Antony’s son Anil Antony has cited the same freedom of expression to resign from the party. He has alleged the party has not taken kindly to his support of the ban. It is worth mentioning here that his father also quit the party as many as three times during his long political career, only to return each time.

The debate over the documentary stretches far beyond the bipartisan differences over the question of freedom of expression. The larger question is about the BBC’s motive. What was the need for the UK’s public broadcaster to come up with this documentary two decades after the Gujarat riots? Are there new facts that need fresh reconsideration? Certainly not. The Supreme Court of India has already settled the issue by giving a clean chit to PM Modi. Those found guilty have been punished and many of them are still behind bars.

The people of the country have also pronounced their verdict on this issue in no uncertain terms with PM Modi leading his party to emphatic victories thrice in Gujarat and twice in Lok Sabha elections. All these elections were part of a democratic process that the UK claims to espouse around the world. This leaves the BBC with little moral ground to defend the issue.

The title of the documentary itself smacks of bias. It gives an impression as if questions related to the heinous riots remain unanswered showing the negative mentality of its producers. And yet the documentary fails to raise any of these questions. It doesn’t even present any fact that is not already in the public domain. There is hardly anything new left to be said on the issue especially when the country’s apex court has already settled the matter.

Questions are galore about whether the documentary is the outcome of the western world’s unrest over India’s rise. India under PM Modi has remained steadfast in following an independent foreign policy, be it the revocation of Article 370 in Kashmir or not toeing the western line over the Ukraine war. The Modi government has resisted all temptations to outrightly fall into the western club against China and kept communications channels with Beijing open. India’s leadership of the Global South as the G-20 President on vital issues like climate change also does not align entirely with western interests. All these facts give credence to the Indian government’s claims of ulterior motives behind the BBC’s real intentions.

The controversy has also resonated in the UK Parliament. The country’s Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has gone on record to state that his government does not subscribe to PM Modi’s characterization in the documentary.

PM Sunak’s alacrity on this issue is another sign of PM Modi’s rising stature on the global stage. It took the US administration almost a decade to rescind its erroneous decision of revoking Modi’s visa after the riots. Contrast it to the present situation when there is a bipartisan consensus in Washington to keep PM, Modi, by the US’ side. The rousing welcome accorded to him during the September 2014 visit, followed by his address to the joint session of both houses of the US Parliament in 2016 proves this point beyond doubt. People still remember how the Indian Prime Minister won accolades for that historic speech.

The opposition’s stand on the controversial documentary is unfortunate in my view. Domestic political differences should not spill over to the international stage, especially when the country’s prestige is at stake. It is the time to show unity as the country’s polity has demonstrated on many past occasions when India’s dignity was assaulted in the garb of attacking the incumbent government. It is still not too late for the opposition parties to correct their course.