The BBC documentary served as proof of endemic Islamophobia in India.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been found complicit in the deadly Guajarat riots in 2002 which aimed at “purging” Muslims from Hindu areas, a new BBC documentary revealed.
Titled “India: The Modi Question”, the two-part documentary delved into Modi’s early political life under the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and his rise as the chief minister of Gujarat.
The first episode, which aired on Tuesday, touched on an unpublished report obtained by the British broadcaster that highlighted Modi’s apparent role during the deadly religious riots in Gujarat where more than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, died.
The riots were triggered after a train carrying Hindu pilgrims was set on fire.
During the riots, Muslim women were subjected to harrowing violence, with many reporting cases of rape. A group of 11 men accused of gang-raping Muslim woman, Bilkis Bano, and killing her family members at the time of the riots were released by Modi’s BJP party last year.
The reports brought back claims that Modi was linked to the violence at the time, after a Supreme Court panel in 2013 ruled that there was not enough evidence to prosecute him.
The BBC said its reports claim that the Indian prime minister was “directly responsible” for the “climate of impunity” that fuelled the violence. It also said the riots contained “all the hallmarks of an ethnic cleansing”.
Obtained from the British Foreign Office, the report was from an inquiry requested by the United Kingdom’s former foreign secretary, Jack Straw, who was in office at the time of the harrowing events.
Three British nationals were killed in the riots.
The report further revealed that “the extent of violence was much greater than reported” and “the aim of the riots was to purge Muslims from Hindu areas”.
“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 the Muslims,” Straw said in the documentary.
The documentary was another evidence of endemic Islamophobia in India that has constantly exacerbated with the presence of the BJP’s discriminatory practices.
In a tweet, Associate Prof of South Asian history at Rutgers University-Newark Dr. Audrey Truschke said: “[Modi’s] role in the massacre has been widely known and documented for 20+ years.
“He arguably became India’s PM not in spite of, but because of, such violence,” she added.
The documentary has caused outrage among the BJP-led government, which claimed it lacked objectivity. Questioning the documentary, India’s foreign ministry spokesman, Arindam Bagchi alleged it had an “agenda behind it”.
“This is a propaganda piece designed to push a particular discredited narrative. The bias, the lack of objectivity, and a continuing colonial mindset, is blatantly visible,” he said.
The BBC responded to Bagchi by defending its reporting, saying the information presented in the documentary was “rigorously researched” and noted “a wide range of voices, witnesses and experts were approached”
“We have featured a range of opinions, including responses from people in the BJP”, the BBC said, noting that the Indian government was offered the right to reply.
The Indian government blocked the documentary on YouTube as well as tweets sharing links to it, Kanchan Gupta, senior adviser at Delhi’s ministry of information and broadcasting, announced on Saturday.
In a Twitter thread, Gupta further accused the BBC of “hostile propaganda and anti-India garbage”, adding that the Indian government requested YouTube and Twitter to block the documentary.
“While the hate-series have not been made available in India by BBC World, some YouTube channels uploaded it to promote anti-India agenda,” Gupta said.
Similarly, Modi had accused the BBC of “false propaganda” at the time of the events.
One part of the documentary showed an interview filmed in 2002 between former BBC reporter Jill McGivering and Modi, in which the former questioned all accusations raised against the Indian official at the time.
In what appeared to be a defensive response, Modi said he did not agree with the “misguided” and “garbage” information McGivering had at the time regarding the safety of Muslims.
“You are also captive of this false propaganda,” Modi said in an aggressive tone.
Crackdowns on Muslims
BJP, which hails the Hindutva ideology, portrays India as a Hindu nation while alienating the 14.2% of its Muslim population. The ideology has been described as a variant of far-right extremism, which adheres to the concept of homogenised majority.
In 2016, BJP Minister of State for Skill Development and Entrepreneurship, Anantkumar Hegde, controversially claimed that “as long as there is Islam in the world, there will be terrorism”.
“Until we uproot Islam, we can’t remove terrorism.”
Since Modi came to office in 2014, Hindu mobs have continued to carry out human rights violations against Muslims.
Muslim Rohingya refugees in India live under the constant threat of deportation to Myanmar despite initially fleeing there our of fear of the army’s crackdown on Muslims.
Muslim-majority areas in Jammu and Kashmir continue to be oppressed by Indian authorities who employ discriminatory restrictions, including limiting access to information, health care and education.
Modi’s government also carries out discriminatory practices against Muslims in Assam, who make up one-third of the population in the northeastern state. In 2018, India stripped millions of Muslims in Assam of their Indian citizenship over immigration claims.
Last year, a mass crackdown on Muslims prompted a boycott campaign targeting Indian products in Qatar.