The Indian diaspora in the UK has been left fuming with anger, after watching BBC’s recent documentary series on the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The first episode of the two-part documentary “India: The Modi Question” was aired on BBC Two on 17 January 2023 and the second episode on Tuesday 24 January 2023. While the Indian government has slammed the corporation dismissing the documentary as “propaganda”, BBC is sticking to its guns.
A Change.Org petition started by Ash Parmar, is now demanding a probe into BBC’s duties as a public broadcaster, calling for an independent investigation into the documentary. It was launched over the weekend and as we went to press, it already attracted thousands of signatures.
The petition said, “We strongly condemn the BBC for failing to meet the highest standards of editorial impartiality in its two-part documentary ‘India: The Modi Question’.”
It also called upon BBC Board to conduct an independent investigation into this serious breach of its duties as a public service broadcaster and publish the findings in full.
It also urged OFCOM, as the independent regulator of the BBC, to hold the organisation to account for its repeated failures to secure content standards which command the trust of license-fee paying audiences.
The petitioner further added, “We request OFCOM to discuss any necessary corrections and clarifications with the BBC as part of its regular meetings with the broadcaster on the ‘Impartiality and Editorial Standards Action Plan’ and ‘Serota Review’.”
Rationale and background to this collective mass complaint
The petitioner also explained the rationale behind this campaign. He said, “The BBC's two-part documentary on Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s tenure as Gujarat Chief Minister during a spate of riots in 2002 is yet another example of agenda driven reporting and institutional bias that now characterises this once globally respected organisation. The timing for airing, some 21 years later, a so-called investigative report that has nothing new in it, but only shoehorns old allegations to fit the producers clearly predetermined conclusions in itself speaks volumes.
“Inexplicably, it comes at a time when India’s Supreme Court has, after a lengthy investigation and due process, completely absolved Prime Minister Modi from the very same allegations of complicity in the 2002 riots that the BBC now seeks to rake up after more than two decades.
“Indeed, the programme itself reflects a hesitancy about the legal credibility of the accusations it serves up, repeatedly using words such as ‘allegedly’ and ‘reportedly’ without furnishing even a shred of credible new evidence. This clearly only underlines the agenda driven and distorted narrative that the producers have attempted to peddle.
“In contrast, Prime Minister Modi, as the (repeatedly) elected leader of the world's largest democracy, is credited for large scale social and financial inclusion programmes which have benefited tens of millions of India’s most vulnerable regardless of religion, caste, gender, or region…
“With this petition we strongly condemn the BBC for what is nothing but a piece of sinister propaganda journalism that deliberately misinforms its viewers.”
Some people have also written to their local MPs, asking to take a stand against the BBC.
MPs, Peers and community leaders come forward
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak addressing a question at the House of Commons raised by Bradford East MP Imran Hussain during Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) firmly distanced the UK government from the negative characterisation of PM Modi. Answering the Pakistani-origin Labour MP’s question, whether PM Sunak agreed “with his Foreign Office diplomats that Modi was directly responsible” for the clashes 20 years ago, Mr Sunak responded, “The UK government’s position on that is clear and long standing, and it has not changed.
“Of course, we do not tolerate persecution anywhere, but I am not sure that I agree at all with the characterisation that the hon. gentleman has put forward.”
A senior Labour Shadow Minister also distanced His Majesty’s Opposition from its party MP’s question. He clarified that it did not reflect the Labour party’s stance and the issue has reportedly been raised with Labour Leader Sir Keir Starmer.
Lord Dolar Popat, writing a letter to Tim Davie, Director General of BBC said, “The BBC play an important role in educating the UK population and are a trusted source of information around the world. Therefore, I was shocked by the documentary produced by the BBC implicating the Hon. Prime Minister of India in the Gujarat riots of 2002 which aired on 17 January 2023. The documentary was heavily one sided and failed to reflect the series of events that have unfolded since the riots. Prime Minister was cleared on his involvement by the Indian judiciary and parliament, which helped to lead his re-election as a trusted leader.
“The UK is a tolerant place and a place where religious freedom is seen as vitally important. As part of this, I condemn the stirring up of religious hatred in the United Kingdom by failing to accurately represent the situation in India. This false representation had old wounds by creating hatred between British Hindus and Muslims by attempting to paint India as an intolerant nation where Muslims are persecuted. If this had been the case, Muslims would have left India by now…”
He also reminded Mr Davie, about India’s progress since independence on diversity and the protection of law regardless of their race, religion and gender.
Lord Rami Ranger speaking on similar lines said, “The documentary not only insults two times democratically elected Prime Minister of the largest democracy in the world but also the judiciary and parliament, which investigated Mr Modi rigorously and exonerated him from being involved in the riots in any way.
“I condemn violence and loss of life wherever it takes place, and I equally condemn stirring up religious hatred in United Kingdom by bringing up the politics of the subcontinent to the United Kingdom…
“The BBC documentary has opened old wounds by creating hatred between British Hindus and Muslims by attempting to paint India as an intolerant nation where Muslims are persecuted…”
He further raised questions about the intention of Britain to shed light on its own “bloody” history that led to three wars and divided the country into India and pakistan. Lord ranger added, “Should you not make a documentary to take responsibility for the bloodshed that continues unabated? How about the famine in Bengal and the massacre of innocent people in Jallianwala Bagh?”
The Hindu Forum of Britain wrote to Deborah Turness, CEO BBC News and Current Affairs. It said, “Hindu community has in large numbers communicated to us the insensitivity and lack of judgement the BBC has exercised in airing a programme, which has the potential to cause untold damage at a time when communities, police and ordinary people in Leicester and other cities are trying to rebuild relationships, trust and harmony after the events of Summer 2022. This preposterous ill-advised production of airing of a Hindu hate piece could well be the ammunition thugs need to go out and target Hindus. Does the BBC not have any responsibility?”
Insight UK, a campaign group tweeted, “We strongly condemn the BBC's India: The Modi Question. How much longer will @BBCNews lies continue? Riddled with antisemitism, anti-hindu & anti-india bias, they've lost many viewers & yet continue spreading their hate. Is #BBC going down the road of complete disenfranchisement?”