Truth must be silenced

BBC2’s documentary about the 2002 Gujarat pogrom has caused a storm. Modi’s government and its friends abroad have made accusations of insensitivity, racism and colonial attitudes, reports Bill Goodridge

In January, BBC2 transmitted a two-part documentary entitled India: the Modi question, in which an estimated 1,000 to 2,500 deaths in anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat state in 2002 were laid fairly and squarely at the door of Narendra Modi. Since May 2014 he has been prime minister of India, leading the National Democratic Alliance government, which has in the 543-seat Lok Sabha a total of 352 seats - 303 of which are those of the Bharatiya Janata Party, 13 of Balasahebanchi Shiv Sena (BSS - a split from Bombay’s street-fascist Shiv Sena) and 19 others.

The documentary relates Modi’s rise through the paramilitary Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh to leader of the wholly-owned RSS subsidiary, the BJP. It provides clear evidence of Modi’s culpability in the anti-Muslim pogrom, how he was banned from entering both the UK and the US as a result of his actions, and how his and the BJP’s guilt has been brazenly brushed under the establishment carpet in India. The documentary also has a clip of a rare interview with Modi that is chillingly venomous - graphically demonstrating why this ultra-rightist now refuses media interviews. The ‘Butcher of Gujarat’, as Modi is called in the documentary, was never likely to be best pleased at the portrayal.

Founded in 1925, the RSS was modelled on Mussolini’s Partito Nazionale Fascista. It has spawned several subordinate organisations other than the BJP, collectively and colloquially referred to in India as the Sangh Parivar (Sangh Family) of far-right Indian nationalist groups. They include Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) aka the World Hindu Council. Also involved in the 2002 Gujarat riots, the VHP has previously applied for and received local authority funding in the UK. The RSS and its malevolent progeny cohere around the ideology of Hindutva (‘Hinduness’) and fight for a purely Hindu nation. One vintage example of its consequences: after he had spoken about Muslims being welcome in an independent India, Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated by RSS member Nathuram Godse.

Exemplifying today’s India, four men convicted of gang-raping a Muslim woman were released from prison, thanks to the BJP government, and ceremonially garlanded by VJP honchos; and it is a commonplace that rapists and killers of Muslims and Dalits are not pursued by the corrupt, regime-loyal police. Terrorising Muslims and other opponents is de rigueur for the RSS/BJP in pursuing its aim of ‘purifying’ India, whether by state pogroms, unfettered Sanghi attacks, or by removing citizenship rights, as has been implemented recently. Buddhists, Christians, Sikhs and other ‘impure’ people-religion groups are also under threat from RSS fascist ideology.


Given that the carefully nurtured personality cult of Modi in India has reached the level of worship, the reaction from his acolytes to the BBC documentary were quite frankly hysterical. Interestingly, that included Tory peer Rami Ranger. Railing against the “Pakistani-origin” of the BBC staff behind this “nonsense”, he oozes hatred for Muslims. Ragner sees not only a “one-sided and insensitive” documentary, but the hand of a Pakistani government bent on promoting terrorism. Lord Ranger has donated more than £1m to the Tories and is a patron of the Conservative Friends of India. Fellow patrons include Iain Duncan Smith, Theresa May - and Rishi Sunak himself. There appears to be an unofficial alliance between BJP supporters in the UK and the Conservative Party.

However, but for the hoo-ha around Modi’s NDA government banning the documentary, few anti-Modi Indians would have heard of it, let alone tried to find out more. The BBC did its best to prevent the documentary from being streamed to anyone in India (no doubt for corporate and UK diplomatic reasons), but naturally enough people are using virtual private networks (VPNs). Young people not even born when Modi was Gujarat’s chief minister are anxious to get the dirt on the Führer.

Student groups across the country have been organising viewings. After the screening at Kerala Students Union, activists demonstrated outside carrying an effigy of Modi, labelled ‘Butcher of Gujarat’. In Delhi, officials cut off power at Jawaharlal Nehru University, then went so far as to send in the riot police at Jamia Millia Islamia University - aided by Sanghi goondas wielding clubs - and detained 70 students; at Rajasthan Central University, Ajmer students were suspended for watching the film; and University of Hyderabad authorities have started an investigation into a student screening.

As the former editor-in-chief of The Hindu, N Ram, wrote recently,

… the real offence committed by the BBC film was investigating and establishing the umbilical connection between Modi’s highly controversial role during the 2002 Gujarat pogrom and the panoply of post-2019 BJP government policies that discriminate against and target Muslims in new ways - muscular, violent and toxic - and on an unprecedented scale. (Prospect January 31).

Blank cheque

Set up by the British colonial administration in 1919 as an arm of the state, the Press Information Bureau has been continually strengthened by Indian governments - both Congress and BJP - over succeeding decades from 1947 to the present. Most recently, increased powers granted in 2021 under the Modi government allowing the PIB to force social media platforms and online entities to take down anything it considers “fake or false”. A blank cheque if ever there was one.

On January 20, the ministry of information and broadcasting acted under the 2021 emergency powers to block India: the Modi question on YouTube, as well as Tweets mentioning and linking it. The RSS/BJP intends going further, however: the Digital India Bill currently passing through India’s parliament is intended to restrict public criticism even more.

A public interest litigation (PIL) petition filed with India’s Supreme Court seeking to restrain the government from censoring the documentary (ie, reversing the ban) was heard on February 3. The PIL names the ministry, Twitter Communications India, and Google India as respondents. At the hearing, Supreme Court justices Khanna and Sundresh ordered the federal government to produce, at the next hearing in April, all its original records relating to the ban. But, on past form, this will run and run: currently, there are also 17 ongoing cases in several high courts around the country similarly challenging the operation of the censorship laws; all are awaiting judgements.

Already the raft of ever more repressive legislation has increased online censorship and greatly increased government control over information. In recent years, numerous leading newspapers have been forced by the BJP to sack editorial staff for ‘excessive’ criticism of the government.

According to Reporters Without Borders:

The violence against journalists, the politically partisan media, and the concentration of media ownership all demonstrate that press freedom is in crisis in ‘the world’s largest democracy’, ruled since 2014 by prime minister Narendra Modi, the leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the embodiment of the Hindu nationalist right.

Reporters Without Borders placed India 150th place out of 180 countries in 2022 (it was 142nd in 2021). Ten journalists are currently in prison, three or four are murdered every year, while the

Hindu far right wage all-out online attacks on any views that conflict with their thinking. Terrifying coordinated campaigns of hatred and calls for murder are conducted on social media, campaigns that are often even more violent when they target women journalists, whose personal data may be posted online as an additional incitement to violence … India is one of the world’s most dangerous countries for the media.

Multi-billionaire Gautam Adani recently acquired India’s last major independent TV broadcaster, New Delhi Television. Adani and Modi are politically aligned - so much so that Adani has been getting multi-billion loans from government banks to leverage his companies’ financing way beyond the normal proportion of borrowings to assets. However - chickens and roosts - he has now suffered losses of many billions of dollars after being accused of “brazen stock manipulation and accounting fraud” in a recent report by US short seller Hindenburg Research. Billionaire oligarch Mukesh Ambani of Reliance Industries (a personal friend of Modi) already has over 70 media outlets, which try to persuade its 800 million Indian readers and viewers to support the BJP government. All bases are covered on the media front.

In its article on the BBC documentary, the national-socialist Communist Party of India’s New Age recalls the Gujarat pogroms:

Modi, who was chief minister at the time, has been cleared by a Supreme Court appointed panel of any wrongdoing … In a telling interview to the BBC in 2002, Modi was asked if he would have had done anything differently. He said he wished he had managed the media better. Two decades later, his government appears to be faithfully following that lesson. Modi’s government has said that the BBC documentary reflects a “colonial mindset”. There is nothing more representative of colonialism than mass censorship (February 5-11).