The recently released two-part TV documentary by BBC (The Modi Question)–based on thoroughly reported documents and interviews–is a reminder of the painful and harsh reality that marks the life of minority communities in Modi’s India. It takes the mask off the face of India as the ‘largest democracy’ wedded to secular ideals and offers a reality check to the world. The first part was released by the BBC on 17 January 2023, and the second part on 24 January 2023.
The first part covers Modi’s early political career and his role in the Gujarat massacre. It sought to answer the question of one of the three British nationals who survived the violence. What happened to his two relatives, and if they were killed, then why, and how? What kind of violence were they killed in? Who did it and why didn’t the government take effective steps to stop it? Was the violence spontaneous or was it planned?
The second part examines the activities of Modi’s administration following his re-election in 2019. It covers a series of controversial anti-Muslim policies, including the revocation of Kashmir’s autonomy and a new citizenship law. It also depicts the violent response to protests against the new laws, and the aftermath of the 2020 Delhi riots.
The BBC documentary also shows never-before-published British government memos from 2002 that hold Modi “directly responsible” for the Gujarat massacre. The reports suggest the riots a “pre-planned” event by pointing to Hindu rioters’ use of data networks targeting Muslim residences, cite police claims that “implicit state Government pressure” prevented the forces from rescuing Muslim rape victims, note allegations from on-the-ground journalists and human rights groups that Modi personally ordered cops not to intervene in any Islamophobic attacks, and record how relief money was doled out in a discriminatory fashion by the state, denying most Muslim survivors while going to Hindu survivors.
The reports from Tony Blair’s government further labeled the riots a “politically motivated” campaign with “all the hallmarks of ethnic cleansing,” aimed at “purging Muslims from Hindu areas.” According to then–Foreign Minister Jack Straw, his office investigated the Gujarat riots because concerned Indian Britons had petitioned his government to do so. In an interview with The Wire, he said, “There were also people I knew whose families were directly affected by these inter-communal riots. They were making representations to us and that is one of the reasons why the then (British) high commissioner ordered this investigation.”
There is nothing dramatically new in this documentary for anyone who had observed and followed the aftermath of the 2002 violence. The so-called Jack Straw inquiry/report into the Gujarat riots in 2002 is not new news either. For instance, on 16 April 2002, the BBC had published an article titled “India’s opposition turns up the heat”.
Nitish Pahwa writes in the Slate.com, “For those who never believed Modi’s purported innocence regarding the riots, the new documents are a bombshell. To those devoted to Modi and his Hindu nationalist M.O., the BBC documentary is just another ‘anti-India’ hit job and political smear courtesy of the subcontinent’s former colonial administrator.”
Those who complain that talk of the complicity of Modi in the violence is far-fetched should be reminded what the Union Home Minister Amit Shah (a close ally of the prime minister Modi) had boasted just a few months ago (November 2022). During the campaign for the elections to the legislative assembly in Gujarat, he said, “During the Congress rule in Gujarat (before 1995), communal riots were rampant. Congress used to incite people of different communities and castes to fight against each other. Through such riots, Congress had strengthened its vote bank and did injustice to a large section of the society.” “But after they were taught a lesson in 2002, these elements left that path (of violence). They refrained from indulging in violence from 2002 till 2022. BJP has established permanent peace in Gujarat by taking strict action against those who used to indulge in communal violence,” the Union minister said.
It’s not difficult to decipher the hidden message in this dog whistling. ‘Rioters’ in the Hindutva lexicon always means Muslims who were ‘taught a lesson’ in Gujarat. So, the intent of the home minister’s statement was clear. He himself was reminding the Hindus of Gujarat about what was done in 2002 and taking pride in it – and was also obliquely threatening the Muslims.
And yet, many Indians are in denial. They are upset with the BBC. Truth does not matter to them. It repels them.
Rather than blaming the British government and the BBC, the Indian public ought to ask: Has the answer been found as to how the S6 coach of the Sabarmati Express caught fire? Why was it assumed that the fire was started by the Muslims of Godhra as part of a ‘conspiracy’? Why didn’t the then railway minister Nitish Kumar consider it necessary to investigate it? How did the then chief minister of Gujarat (Modi) conclude that some naradhams (sub-humans) had started the fire? Who were those naradhams? And why use this theory to virtually justify the subsequent pogrom, by calling it a ‘reaction to action’ – as in Newton’s law of motion? Who benefited from the Gujarat ‘riot’? Could the actual culprit, instead, be the chief minister himself who planned it meticulously to catapult himself to a national Hindu figure?
Professor Approvanand Jha of Delhi University has aptly covered the subject of Gujarat riots. In an article published in The Wire, he asks: “Even if we assume that the fire was started by Muslims, why was the subsequent violence allowed? Why was permission given to take out a procession in Ahmedabad with the bodies of the kar sevaks killed in Godhra? Why were the police not only passive but also involved in violence against Muslims? How was a former MP, Ehsan Jafri, despite his repeated calls to the chief minister and senior officials, not provided security and eventually killed by the mob? Why did the chief minister say that Jafri himself was responsible for this because he had fired on the mob? Why were the eyewitnesses of that time dismissed outright? Why was there no further investigation on the statement of Haren Pandya, former home minister of Gujarat, before a citizens’ tribunal that the Gujarat chief minister had a meeting with top officials encouraging violence? Why was the murder of Haren Pandya also pinned on an improbable conspiracy involving even more improbably ballistics? Is there any connection between the statement he made and his murder? Why was the charge made by Pandya’s family that the chief minister was responsible for his death not investigated?”
No, we won’t get those answers in Modi’s India. Victims are denied justice there. The Indian Supreme Court won’t allow a fresh hearing either. Are we surprised? No. It had acquitted the Hindutvadi leaders in the past of similar crimes, including those involving the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992. Is the judiciary credible anymore? If the Indian judiciary were to be believed, then no one was responsible for the demolition of Babri Masjid. Did that mob of hundreds of thousands gather on its own? Did that mob bring down the Babri Masjid in a moment of excitement? What a mockery of our intelligence in the TV-age!
One may recall that the Liberhan Commission, which was set up by the central government to investigate the demolition, blamed 68 people including senior BJP, RSS and VHP leaders for the demolition. Among those criticized in the report were Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the party’s chief LK Advani, and Uttar Pradesh chief minister Kalyan Singh. A 2005 book by the former Intelligence Bureau (IB) Joint Director Maloy Krishna Dhar claimed the senior leaders of RSS, BJP, VHP and Bajrang Dal had planned the demolition 10 months in advance. He also suggested that the Indian National Congress leaders, including the then-Indian prime minister P V Narasimha Rao and home minister S B Chavan, had ignored warnings about the demolition for deriving political benefits from the Hindu voters (see, e.g., Babri Masjid demolition was planned 10 months in advance – PTI, Outlook, 30 January 2005).
In Modi’s India these days, everything is Modi-fied! Behind the veneer of “development”, justice can take a back seat! That is why be it the 1984 anti-Sikh violence or the 1989 anti-Muslim violence in Bhagalpur, or Nellie or Mumbai, Indians did not and will not try to find out what was at the root of all those mass killings.
Nor are we surprised with Indian reaction against the BBC documentary on Modi. Their negative reactions show that they have been sufficiently immunized and as a nation they are not interested in truth anymore. They do not care about justice when the victims are non-Hindus. Morality has long been dumped in the trash can of Hindutva. That is what fascism does to a nation when the differences between right and wrong are obscured. Hindutva has simply robbed humanity of the Indians.
Fascists are known to fear free press. The Government of India, run by the Hindutvadi fascists, is uncomfortable with the ugly truth of the Gujarat case. It has banned the BBC documentary from being screened, describing it as propaganda, and asked social media sites to take down snippets of the documentary shared by users. Those who dared to view it were imprisoned or detained.
In February 2022, a documentary by BBC named, “Modi: The Man, The Myth, The Legend” was similarly banned by the Modi government for its focusing on the brutal way he had man-handled the Kashmir conflict.
By the way, this isn’t the first time India has banned coverage of the Gujarat riots. In 2004, the film board of the country’s BJP-led administration censured the documentary Final Solution, a two-part feature that dissected the animating factors behind the riots’ Islamophobic brutality. The ban was lifted only after a new opposition government came to power.
With Hindutva becoming a national ideology these days that is embraced by most Indians, it is highly unlikely that we shall see a repeal of the ban any time soon.