NEW DELHI: The BBC documentary on Prime Minister Narendra Modi is a product of entrenched anti-Modi and anti-Indian lobbies in the UK of which the BBC is a part.
Modi has been in power now for almost nine years. There is nothing new to discover in him beyond what is already known. He has been surrounded by controversies inside and outside the country on minority issues, the lynchings, the democracy back-sliding, the Citizenship Amendment Act, the farmers’ agitation, the Delhi riots, the Shaheen Bagh sit-in, the initial handling of Covid, the revision of Article 370, demonetisation and the like. He and his party have been castigated as fascist, Hitler-like, majoritarian and so on. Along with this, the allegations about his complicity with the Gujarat riots have been doggedly aired by the opposition in India and echoed abroad for years.
So, the question arises about the purpose behind the BBC’s decision to do a documentary on him. That purpose is obviously malign. Its claim after the Indian government criticized the documentary that the BBC is “committed to highlighting important issues around the world” is mendacious. How have these issues already thoroughly discussed publicly in India and abroad become suddenly important and require highlighting?
Raking up after 20 years the Gujarat riots when Modi was Chief Minister is no longer “investigative” journalism, as all that needed to be investigated has already been done by the Special Investigation Team (SIT) set up by the Supreme Court in 2012 when the UPA was in power and whose work was supervised by the SC. In 2022 the SC delivered a 452-page judgment exonerating Modi of any wrongdoing. The BBC documentary takes no note of this. What is more, its documentary repeatedly uses expressions such as “allegedly”, “reportedly”, “it was widely reported”, “there were pretty credible reports”, which suggests hedging as they had no definitive evidence in hand but yet had the intent to tarnish the image of the Indian Prime Minister, irrespective of the SC ruling.
The complicity of the UK Foreign Office (FO) in this tarnishing exercise is confirmed by the BBC’s latest release which admits having obtained an unpublished report from the FO which “raises questions about Mr Modi’s actions during the religious riots that had broken out after a train carrying Hindu pilgrims the day before was set on fire killing dozens”. Apart from the dishonest manner in which this train fire is presented in its careful omission of the fact that it was done by Muslims, the FO report ordered by the then Foreign Secretary Jack Straw claimed that Modi was “directly responsible” for the “climate of impunity” that enabled the violence.
That Jack Straw ordered an “enquiry” on the Gujarat riots which on the face of it had nothing to do with the UK is explained by the fact that his Blackburn constituency has 35% Muslims and only 0.3 % Hindus. His concern about the riots was evidently motivated by electoral considerations and not any genuine concern about Muslims, as this is the same man who was complicit in drumming up support in the UK for the illegal war on Iraq that caused massive deaths and refugees and left behind a terrible legacy of terrorism.
Jack Straw ordering an “enquiry” or an “investigation” in a foreign country through its mission was gross interference in our internal affairs and a violation of our sovereignty. The UK mission had no right to do an on-the-spot enquiry, talk to local authorities, interview witnesses etc, which a proper investigation would have required. The mission had the right to glean whatever it could from the media, talk to its circle of contacts in the capital and send a cable to HQs, but had no business to send a diplomat to Gujarat to assess the situation. The UK mission in Delhi briefed the EU ambassadors on its very negative “fact finding” report which prompted me to issue a warning to local missions not to interfere in our internal affairs, particularly as it appeared that a move was afoot to send a limited EU team to Gujarat.
That the BBC relies on a half-baked, superficial, politically motivated “enquiry” by its diplomat in Delhi rather than looking closely at the details of the SC judgment as part of “rigorous research” exposes the pernicious intent behind the documentary, which is to revive old wounds, project Muslims as victims of nationalist Hindus, promote the current narrative that the minorities in India are not safe, foment the communal divide in India, and so on. And all this under the cover of journalistic freedom.
The BBC would have anticipated that it would be denounced by many in India but would also have calculated that it would give ammunition to opposition circles in India – which has happened – besides, importantly, exploiting its credibility as a media organisation in the Anglo-Saxon world in particular to bring down Modi and India in general international esteem at a time when India’s international image under Modi because of India’s high growth when economic recession is looming in many advanced economies, including the UK, the success of the digital revolution in the country, its ability to vaccine its billion plus efficiently, and the like.
India has now overtaken the UK as the world’s fifth largest economy. As president of the G20 India seeks to showcase the country as never before. Its independent position on the Ukraine conflict when the UK is war-mongering on the issue cannot but displease circles in the UK and the West in general, including think tanks, the western media, the ideological billionaires who are funding foundations to prevent countries like India to develop a strategic autonomy and resist the West’s control over their decisions. The BBC is part of this network that seeks to maintain the hegemony of the West.
It has been suggested that this attack on Modi is intended to indirectly undermine India-origin Hindu UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. India actually has no greater expectations from Sunak than it had from Boris Johnson. India is aware that Sunak would have to be careful in not being seen as unduly leaning towards India. Nevertheless, his response in the House of Commons to a tirade against Modi by a Pakistani- origin British MP quoting from the documentary was most inadequate.
To say that the UK’s position is well known (what is that position?) and hasn’t changed and that it does not tolerate persecution anywhere is evading a clear answer and adding an ambiguous caveat about persecution. And then to say he is not sure he shares the MP’s “mischaracterisation” (of Modi) instead of a stronger expression to rebut the MP was intended to say as little as possible for or against. Sunak could have spoken positively about India-UK ties, said India was a valuable partner with which the UK intended to strengthen its ties as envisaged in the 2030 Road Map etc. He could have thus sidestepped the issue if he did not want to address it frontally. He should have felt obliged to do this as it is the UK Foreign Office which leaked an internal report on the Gujarat riots and an erstwhile Foreign Secretary who talked to the BBC. He did not do it and lost an opportunity to contain the damaging fallout of the documentary.
(Kanwal Sibal is former India’n Foreign Secretary and Ambassador to Russia. This article first appeared on India Narrative)