What's in the BBC documentary about Modi
The British Broadcasting Corporation's (BBC) documentary on Indian prime minister Narendra Modi's role in the Gujarat communal riots has created an uproar in India.
The UK channel, BBC 2, aired the documentary, 'India: The Modi Question' on Tuesday night in Britain, stirring up a storm in India.
Social media, Twitter in particular, is rife with discussion and debate on the matter. A former Indian diplomat, who had been foreign secretary in 2002, has termed BBC's decision to broadcast the documentary, as 'motivated'.
The Indian foreign ministry has issued a statement condemning the broadcast. The documentary cannot be viewed on social media and BBC did not broadcast it in India either. In some instances it is being downloaded from certain online services by means of VPN (Virtual Private Network). This correspondent got to view the film on Friday morning in this manner.
What's in the documentary?
The documentary basically shows how in 2002, Narendra Modi, who was Gujarat's chief minister at the time, used the Gujarat riots to become prime minister of India in 2014. The documentary covers many issues which may be nothing new, but what BBC has done is gathered all evidence and facts in one place to present a narrative. The narrative is that the Gujarat riots enabled Modi to become prime minister. The film shows how his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Hindutva organisation Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and Hindutva leaders and activists, along with the Indian judiciary, helped him to this end.
The most exclusive part of this one-hour documentary was a secret report of the British foreign minister Jack Straw. Jack Straw, who had been the British foreign minister from 2001 to 2006 (that is, during the riot), had given directives to draw up the report. He himself stated this in an interview that appears in the documentary. He was concerned because of UK's long-standing strong ties with India. That is why he said he had asked for the report to be prepared. Straw said, "I took a great deal of personal interest because India is an important country with whom we have relations. And so, we had to handle it very carefully. What we did was establish an inquiry and have a team go to Gujarat and find out for themselves what had happened. And they produced a very thorough report.” This diplomatic statement appeared in a part of the BBC report. This has been termed as a 'restricted' statement.
A senior British diplomat... said it was a deliberate, politically driven, violent campaign to eliminate the Muslim community.
It was not clear in the documentary, however, how much of this secret report BBC had managed to get hold of. But it did have a part of it for certain, which BBC has quoted in a few sentences, for example, "The extent of violence was greater than reported," and "There was a widespread and systemic rape of Muslim women."
The documentary also discussed how, after all of this, the highest level of judiciary exempted Narendra Modi from all charges
In the report, the British foreign ministry also termed this violence as 'politically motivated'. Quoting from the secret report, the documentary said that "the aim of the riots was to purge Muslims from Hindu areas" and that there was clear evidence of ethnic cleansing.
A senior British diplomat who had been on the investigating team, on condition of his name and picture not being published, gave an interview to BBC. In the interview quoted in the documentary, he said it was a deliberate, politically driven, violent campaign to eliminate the Muslim community. He said this was strategically organised by the extremist Hindu nationalist group Vishwa Hindu Parishad.
The British foreign ministry's secret report mentioned two more things. One, Vishwa Hindu Parishad would not have single-handedly been able to lead these riots without the state government's connivance. Two, it mentioned that Narendra Modi was directly responsible for this.
While this part of the documentary is important, the other parts too discuss various issues. For example, it stated that after Gujarat's former home minister Haren Pandya attended a public hearing by the civil society with opposing views on the Gujarat riots, he was mysteriously killed. The documentary partially investigated the matter.
The documentary also showed how the senior police officers who took a stand opposed to Narendra Modi and BJP, were sent to prison. One of them, Sanjeev Bhatt, was sent to jail for life in a case of 30 years ago. The documentary highlighted this and commented on the nature of the investigations in the case. All such matters led to the involvement of prime minister Narendra Modi.
Many of the persons interviewed in the documentary had somehow managed to escape with their lives. In some cases, several of their family members had been killed.
Some of these local BJP leaders who had been in Gujarat at the time of the riots, spoke about how they had killed people or had them killed by others
The documentary also discussed how, after all of this, the highest level of judiciary exempted Narendra Modi from all charges. During the three consecutive days of the riots, Narendra Modi had remained completely silent. Through an interview, the documentary highlighted the question as to why, as chief minister, he had not used the administration earlier.
BBC's journalist at the time Jill McGivering has been repeatedly brought into the documentary. She had been in Gujarat during the riots and had sent reports back to BBC. In an interview given for the documentary, she gave her opinion about the riots. Clips of her interview of Narendra Modi at the time have been included in the documentary. In the interview, Modi had said, I had given the media too much space, that was my only mistake.
Alongside interviews of several analysts, social workers, general people, political leaders and journalists, the documentary includes interviews of several BJP leaders as well. Some of these local BJP leaders who had been in Gujarat at the time of the riots, spoke about how they had killed people or had them killed by others. BJP's national level leaders, however, dismissed all allegations. The documentary includes a long interview of former BJP Rajya Sabha member, Swapan Dasgupta. It also has an interview of another important leader Subramaniam Swami.
India government reaction
India's foreign ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi yesterday strongly criticised the film. He termed this as a 'propaganda piece' based on 'discredited evidence.' In the meantime, the issue has whipped up a strong controversy between the India and the UK at a diplomatic level. It is predicted that this controversy will grow further in the days to come because on Tuesday, 24 January, the second part of the documentary will be aired.