India government criticises BBC’s Modi documentary

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The Indian government has criticised a BBC documentary on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his role in the 2002 Gujarat riots.

Foreign ministry spokesman Arindam Bagchi said India: The Modi Question lacked objectivity and was propaganda.

The first of the two-part series was aired in the UK on Tuesday. The second part will go out next Tuesday.

The BBC said it was “committed to highlighting important issues from around the world”.

It added that the Indian government was offered a right to reply, but they declined.

The first episode tracks Mr Modi’s first steps into politics, including his rise through the ranks of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to his appointment as chief minister of the western state of Gujarat.

The documentary highlights a previously unpublished report, obtained by the BBC from the British Foreign Office, which raises questions about Mr Modi’s actions during the religious riots that had broken out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. More than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, died in the outbreak of violence, one of the worst since Independence.

The report claims that Mr Modi was “directly responsible” for the “climate of impunity” that enabled the violence.

Mr Modi has long rejected accusations that he had any responsibility for the violence and not apologised for the riots. In 2013, a Supreme Court panel also said there was insufficient evidence to prosecute him.

For three days in 2002, Hindu mobs had a free run in Gujarat

Mr Bagchi questioned the BBC’s motive in doing the documentary now. “It makes us wonder about the purpose of this exercise and the agenda behind it,” he said.

“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 added.

In a statement, the broadcaster said: “The documentary series examines the tensions between India’s Hindu majority and Muslim minority and explores the politics of Mr Modi in relation to those tensions.”

It was “rigorously researched” and “a wide range of voices, witnesses and experts were approached, and we have featured a range of opinions, including responses from people in the BJP”, it added.

The report was part of an inquiry ordered by the then foreign secretary Jack Straw. It says 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,” Mr Straw is heard saying in the documentary.

It was “rigorously researched” and “a wide range of voices, witnesses and experts were approached, and we have featured a range of opinions, including responses from people in the BJP”, it added.

The report was part of an inquiry ordered by the then foreign secretary Jack Straw. It says 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,” Mr Straw is heard saying in the documentary.

The riots began after a fire on a passenger train in Godhra town killed 60 Hindu pilgrims

Speaking on what action the British government could take at the time, he said, “The options… were limited, we were never going to break diplomatic relations with India, but it is obviously a stain on his [Mr Modi’s] reputation.”

On Thursday, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak was asked in parliament by MP Imran Hussain if he agreed with the report that Mr Modi was directly responsible for the violence and “what more did the foreign office know of his involvement in this grave act of ethnic cleansing”?

Mr Sunak said “we don’t tolerate persecution anywhere”, but added that “he did not agree with the characterisation” of Mr Modi.

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