New Delhi: A two-part BBC documentary titled “India: The Modi Question” on the “tensions” between the prime minister, Narendra Modi, and the country’s Muslims, which also includes a claim that the United Kingdom’s government had carried out a secret investigation in the 2002 Gujarat riots, has kicked a row.
In the first part of the series, which BBC Two aired in the UK on Tuesday, the documentary claimed that it had access to the findings of a British government secret probe into the 2002 Gujarat riots that was never released. The programme claimed that the report found Modi to be “directly responsible” for the riots that followed the burning of the four coaches of the Sabarmati Express train in the Godhra station, which killed nearly 60 Hindu pilgrims returning from Ayodhya. The documentary said the riots that saw mass killings, rapes, maiming, and destruction of property, had “all the hallmarks of ethnic cleansing”.
Officially, some 790 Muslims and 254 Hindus were killed during the large-scale violence that engulfed that state between February 27 and March 2, 2002. Unofficially, the figures are much higher. Most of the Hindus were killed due to firing by security forces.
In the programme, Jack Straw, who was the foreign secretary of the UK at that time, said, “I was very worried about it. 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,” he added.
The documentary further claimed that the probe found the extent of the violence was “much greater than reported” and there was a “widespread and systematic rape of Muslim women” as the violence was “politically motivated.” It further claimed that riots were designed to “purge Muslims from Hindu areas.”
Then the documentary went on to allege that (the orders) “undoubtedly came from Modi.”
The documentary can be seen by UK residents here. It is unavailable in India.
India rubbishes programme as ‘propaganda’
India sharply reacted to the BBC’s documentary on Modi. New Delhi described it as a “propaganda piece designed to push a particular discredited narrative”.
In a media briefing, the foreign ministry spokesman, Arindam Bagchi, said, “Do note that this has not been screened in India. We think that this is a propaganda piece, designed to push a particular discredited narrative. The bias, lack of objectivity and continuing colonial mindset is blatantly visible.”
He then insinuated that there was an agenda behind making and airing such a programme.
Bagchi said, “If anything, this film or documentary is a reflection on the agency and individuals that are peddling this narrative again. It makes us wonder about the purpose of this exercise and the agenda behind it. Frankly, we don’t wish to dignify such efforts.”
Sunak distances himself from documentary
Meanwhile, in London, the UK’s prime minister, Rishi Sunak, distanced himself from the BBC documentary. Sunak said he “doesn’t agree with the characterization” of his Indian counterpart.
The British prime minister made these remarks while responding to Imran Hussain, a Pakistan-origin member of the UK parliament, who raised the issue by citing the contents of the BBC show.
Sunak said, “The UK government’s position on this has been clear and long-standing and hasn’t changed. Of course, we don’t tolerate persecution where it appears anywhere but I’m not sure I agree at all with the characterization that the honourable gentleman has put forward.”