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Opinion | BBC's Modi Documentary: Lies, Lies And More Lies

By: Sanju Verma

Last Updated: January 23, 2023, 12:55 IST

New Delhi, India

The documentary The Modi Question is yellow journalism at its worst, bereft of facts and woven together by statements from known Modi naysayers. (PTI)

The documentary The Modi Question is yellow journalism at its worst, bereft of facts and woven together by statements from known Modi naysayers. (PTI)

The documentary by the BBC is a repugnant attempt to create an atmosphere of communal unrest in India by disputing well-established facts which have stood the test of time and more importantly, stood the test of India's judicial process

British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), the national broadcaster of the United Kingdom (UK), recently aired a two-part series documentary attacking Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s tenure as Gujarat Chief Minister during the Gujarat riots of 2002. Needless to add, the said documentary is a propaganda piece that is designed to push a discredited narrative. The bias, the lack of objectivity and the continuing colonial mindset of the BBC is clearly visible.

The documentary tries giving a clean chit to the role played by radicalised Islamists in the Godhra train carnage, which claimed a total of 59 Hindu lives. At about 9 minutes into the programme, the documentary claims, “the final death toll was 59 and the cause of the fire was disputed. But at the time, Muslims were blamed.” So, Modi is responsible for the Gujarat riots, but no one is responsible for burning 59 Hindus alive? How convenient! And then the BBC has the audacity to call this biased and shamefully one-sided reporting journalism? The documentary The Modi Question is yellow journalism at its worst, bereft of facts and woven together by statements from known Modi naysayers. Worse still, opinions from anti-Modi elements are dignified as hard facts. BBC cannot defame India’s sitting prime minister, India’s democratic ethos and India’s judicial process under the guise of investigative reportage. The said documentary refuses to divulge its sources and gives flimsy information on how the reportage is based on classified facts. This is a classic hit job where most sources of information are opaque, the credibility of people whose opinions are sought is zero and many of them have a history of a felony of some magnitude or the other. Jack Straw, one of the propagandists in the documentary is a discredited liar who lied in the House of Commons and was named and shamed by his colleagues and MPs Paul Flynn and George Galloway, in the run-up to the Iraq invasion of 2003.

Quite clearly, by insinuating that the Islamist perpetrators of the Godhra carnage were wrongfully blamed, the BBC is trying to fan communal passions and create a biased narrative that Muslims were/are discriminated against in India. The truth, however, is completely different from what the BBC is trying to peddle. Former BBC reporter Jill McGivering was then brought in to further lend credence to the insinuation. “This is in a State that has a particular history of tensions between the Hindu majority and the Muslim minority. There is a history of communal violence, nasty violence,” she was heard saying. McGivering tried to portray Narendra Modi as a Hindu hardliner who avenged the riots, which is again completely false.

The most important question is –why is the BBC denying the role of the Islamist extremists who set the Sabarmati express on fire? When Courts in India have already ruled against the bloodthirsty Islamists who willfully and deliberately burned alive 59 innocent people- largely women and children- who is the BBC to suggest that the cause of the fire was ‘disputed’? The BBC documentary on the Gujarat riots includes Tehelka stings of Babu Bajrangi and Haresh Bhatt, rejected by India’s Supreme Court earlier as being legally inadmissible.

What, therefore, gives the BBC the right to meddle in India’s affairs? In India, the Indian judiciary’s verdict is supreme. No foreign power or media house can dictate to the Indian government or our Courts on our administrative or judicial processes. Has the BBC ever aired a documentary on the Jallianwala Bagh massacre? Has the BBC, to date, ever bothered to even apologize, much less condemn the reckless statement by Winston Churchill who blamed Indians for breeding like rabbits for the horrific Bengal famine which left 3 million Indians dead? Has the BBC ever aired a documentary on the atrocities of the British Raj post-1857 right up till 1947? Why does the BBC perpetuate the atrocity of the partition of India by repeatedly and religiously referring to Kashmir as ‘Indian Administered Kashmir’? There is nothing called Indian Administered Kashmir and by using this term nefariously, the BBC is deliberately trying to delegitimise large swathes of Indian territory. Entire Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK) and Gilgit-Baltistan are an integral part of India, which the BBC refuses to acknowledge.

Now let us look at the BBC’s shamefully embarrassing track record as a broadcaster. It had to publicly apologise to the royal nanny of Prince William and Harry, Alexandra Pettifer, over false claims that she had an affair with Prince Charles while working as his personal assistant in 1995. The BBC, in 2011, had to apologise after an investigation found that the footage of child labour in a Panorama documentary about Primark was faked. In 2007, three years after airing a documentary that claimed HIV-positive orphans were exploited in clinical trials of AIDS drugs, the BBC apologised yet again. The apology was a response to complaints by several prominent AIDS scientists that the video Guinea Pig Kids primarily aired the views of AIDS denialists. The BBC Panorama documentary about global warming had a number of inaccurate claims, BBC’s Executive Complaint Unit ruled in 2022. Titled Wild Weather, the programme aired on BBC One in November 2021 with Justin Rowlatt as a presenter, incorrectly suggested that the death toll from extreme weather-related events was rising and is expected to rise further. BBC News, in 2021, was forced to admit the lies it spread via a video made in April 2018, that showed Syria’s Assad government using chemical weapons to kill women and children. This video and narrative was quickly used by other big Western powers, to justify launching over a hundred missiles into Syria a week later without any evidence, just one day before an investigation by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). Why was the BBC in such a tearing hurry? Clearly, it not only stands discredited but has crossed the line far too often from being a broadcaster to becoming a fake news peddler. And it does so with rabid impunity, to push its leftist narrative steeped in racism, imperialism and bigotry. Ditto has been the case with India.

In 2015, British filmmaker Leslee Udwin was in the eye of a controversy over her documentary on the December 2012 gang-rape of Nirbhaya in Delhi. Udwin’s documentary, among other things, featured an interview with Mukesh Singh, who was not only driving the bus in which the horrific crime took place but was also one of the rapists. Despite a request from the Indian government to not air this documentary by Udwin, the BBC went ahead and aired it, thereby legitimising the voice and opinions of a brutal rapist. Sensitivity is obviously an alien concept to the BBC and its TRP-hungry vultures masquerading as reporters.

BBC has been carrying out one hit job after another ever since Narendra Modi became the Prime Minister of the world’s largest democracy, driven by its visceral hatred for Modi. The fact that India last year overtook the UK to become the world’s fifth-largest economy under the outstanding leadership of PM Modi has only added to the BBC’s cup of worries and woes. Also, the Modi government does not need lessons in free speech from India’s fractious Opposition. Erstwhile Congress government had banned Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses in 1988 and The Red Sari by Javier Moro in 2010. The horrors of the 1975 Emergency by Indira Gandhi are a blot on free speech, even to this day.

Coming back to the BBC, as noted film actor Kabir Bedi puts it–“The Modi Question is an utterly biased documentary by the BBC, claiming Modi’s India is in ‘religious turmoil’, harping on decades-old allegations, long settled by the courts. It’s gutter journalism, scavenging for sensationalism and blind to the bigger picture.”

What is the truth about the 2002 Godhra train carnage? On 27 February, 2002, the Sabarmati Express was scheduled to reach Godhra station at about 3:30 am. On that day, the train was running four hours late. As such, it arrived at Godhra by 7:40 am. Eight minutes later, a mob of 2000 hardened radical Islamists set 59 Hindus- including 25 women and 15 children- in the coach S-6 of the train, on fire in Godhra’s predominantly Muslim area – Signal Falia. 31 Islamists were found guilty of the Godhra massacre on February 22, 2011, by the trial court (with only 11 receiving the death penalty and 20 receiving life in prison), and all 31 convictions were affirmed by the Gujarat High Court in October 2017, resulting in everyone receiving a life sentence. Before that, based on the testimony of witnesses and survivors, it was obvious to anybody with an iota of common sense, that radical Islamists had set the train on fire.

In February 2003, an accused person made a judicial confession in which he acknowledged that Godhra was a well-planned attack and that he had personally participated in it. A judicial confession is conclusive evidence. This proves that the Godhra carnage was a pre-planned attack on the innocent Karsevaks who were travelling in the Sabarmati Express on that fateful day.

A report was published in the March 2006 issue of the Outlook, which includes the following two paragraphs- Gayatri Panchal, a resident of Ahmedabad, who survived the incident on February 27, 2002, but lost both her parents in her reaction to the report has said, “The report of the Banerjee Commission is absolutely wrong. saw everything with my eyes and barely escaped myself but lost both my parents.” Panchal, who has three sisters, said the Banerjee Commission report was not correct as the fire could not have been accidental as no one was cooking in the S-6 coach and it was packed with passengers. “Mobs pelted stones at the coach for a long time and then threw in burning rags and also poured some inflammable material so the coach was on fire. I will maintain the same wherever I am called to depose on the matter,” Panchal said.

So, it is clear that according to the eyewitness account, coach S-6 caught fire when radical Islamists drenched it in gasoline, set it ablaze, and circled the railway from all sides to prevent the Karsevaks from leaving, according to the police’s statement. It becomes necessary to refer to the Nanavati-Mehta commission’s comments which cite the forensic science laboratory’s reports. The report denies all the possibilities and conspiracies alleged by radical Islamists that the fire was a mere accident.

These conspiracies included ideas of an imaginary scuffle between Karsevaks and local Muslim vendors and an equally untrue incident of Hindus molesting a Muslim girl.

Here is what the commission has concluded- “About 60 litres of inflammable liquid must have been used in burning that coach.  The size of the S-6 coach was quite big. Its total area was 5000 sq. ft. The total quantity of liquid that was required for burning the coach could not have been thrown from outside, nor the fire which took place in S-6 could have been caused only by the burning rags thrown in it. The Godhra massacre is the clearest illustration of the ruthless inhumanity of Islamists, as seen by their sympathy for vile criminals, who did not even spare infants and toddlers.”

The documentary by the BBC is, therefore, a repugnant attempt to create an atmosphere of communal unrest in India by disputing well-established facts which have stood the test of time and more importantly, stood the test of India’s judicial process.

The BBC documentary’s conclusions on Modi are being presented by a group in India as the truth, to suggest that minorities are being “othered.” That is far from the truth. Muslims in India are, in fact, not a minority but the second-largest majority in India constituting over 14 percent of the total population. Thanks to Articles 26, 27, 28, 29 and 30 of the Indian Constitution, Muslims in India enjoy far more privileges than Hindus who make up over 78 percent of the population.

On 19 January, 2023, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak dismissed the villainous portrayal of PM Narendra Modi in the BBC documentary. Responding to Imran Hussain, a Pakistani-British Muslim MP, who quoted the characterisation showcased by the BBC in its documentary series, Sunak said that he does not agree with the characterisation of his Indian counterpart in the documentary. Imran Hussain said, “Mr Speaker, last night, the BBC revealed the foreign office knew the extent of the involvement of Narendra Modi in the Gujarat massacre that paved the way for the persecution of Muslims and the other minorities we see in India, today.” To this, PM Rishi Sunak replied, “Mr Speaker, the UK government’s position on this has been clear in long-standing and has not changed. Of course, we don’t tolerate persecution anywhere, but I am not sure I agree at all with the characterisation the honourable gentleman has put forward.”

The Supreme Court’s latest judgment on 24 June, 2022, on the Gujarat riots, gave PM Narendra Modi a clean chit, clearly ruling out any criminal conspiracy on the part of Modi. No leader anywhere in the world has been subjected to so much scrutiny, public glare, so many false allegations, so much unwanted, baseless and needless criticism for actions that were never his to start with and yet emerged taller, stronger, more confident and more invincible than ever before. Modi’s integrity has been validated not only by India’s highest court but also on multiple occasions by many lower courts, over a gruelling period of almost two decades. Do note that the Special Investigation Team (SIT) to probe the Gujarat riots, was formed on the directions of the Supreme Court when the Congress Party was in power, and yet the SIT, despite various political pressures concluded that Narendra Modi as the then CM of Gujarat had no involvement, whatsoever, in the Gujarat riots. So allegations by devious minds of the SIT being biased or the probe being misguided are just reckless insinuations by misguided minds.

Dismissing the plea filed by Zakia Jafri, chief petitioner in the Gujarat riots case and widow of the Congress leader Ehsaan Jafri, India’s Supreme Court on 24 June, 2022, said, “The sizeable contents of the protest petition are found on the affidavits filed by those persons, whose versions have been found to be replete with falsehoods.” The top court further added, “We hold the appeal is devoid of merits and deserves to be dismissed.”

Looking at the needless persecution of Narendra Modi by vested interests, the Supreme Court was forced to make an observation that “the proceedings have been pursued for the last 16 years to keep the pot boiling, obviously for ulterior design.” Going a step further, the court also held that “all those involved in such abuse of process need to be in the dock and proceed with in accordance with the law.”

The Teesta Setalvad gang used Zakia Jafri as cannon fodder, exploiting her emotionally and using her as a pliable tool for their nefarious designs against Modi. Teesta and her husband Javed Anand claim to be social activists but it is now widely known how this duo used their NGO to funnel funds for illegitimate purposes. The money raised for the victims of Gulbarg society was used by Teesta and Javed to fund the duo’s foreign vacations and to buy expensive champagne and lingerie. What can be more shameful than usurping money meant for riot victims and then splurging it on hairdos at beauty salons, which is precisely what Teesta did. The dubious antecedents and mala-fide motives of the highly corrupt Teesta Setalvad are in the public domain and not based on hearsay. In fact, the apex court has castigated Teesta, in no uncertain terms, on how she used Zakia Jafri to abuse the judicial process, only because she wanted to hit back at Modi. Coming back to Teesta, the Supreme Court on June 24, 2022, made an observation that the SIT which gave a clean chit to PM Modi in 2010-11 had “fully exposed the falsity of the appellant’s claims after a thorough investigation.” Terming Zakia/Teesta’s submission as “far-fetched and an attempt to undo and undermine the industry of the SIT,” the court called it “questioning the wisdom of the Supreme Court” in a scathing reply to Zakia, Teesta and her cronies on how they had willfully abused the judicial process, simply to target Modi.

In the final analysis, going by the historic Supreme Court verdict of June 24, 2002, there was no state-sponsored pogrom in 2002, as claimed by many. Period. Not just Muslims, but Hindus too, lost their lives in the 2002 Gujarat riots and hence, to paint the 2002 riots as a pogrom against Muslims is nothing but divisive politics that was played brazenly by the then Congress-led UPA government. The good part is, the truth has finally prevailed and desperate attempts by the Congress, Leftists and the Lutyens’ establishment to tarnish the image of Narendra Modi, have flopped and failed miserably.

If anything, PM Modi has only grown more popular and taller in stature, every time he is needlessly attacked. As for banning the BBC documentary, it is the unquestionable right and prerogative of the Indian government to do what it deems fit. Why should the Modi government be expected to give a free pass to the BBC and the unadulterated trash that borders on cringeworthy sensationalism that the BBC seeks to broadcast? India does not need to be told how to run its democratic institutions by BBC-style white colonisers and supremacists, nor does India need lectures from Rahul Gandhi and his durbaaris who suffer from the ‘Brown Sahib’ syndrome. Former Chief Justice of the US, Potter Stewart, once said, “Ethics is knowing the difference between what you have the right to do and what is the right thing to do.” Clearly, a much discredited BBC needs to go back to the drawing board to take a hard look at itself and learn the difference between the “right to do" and the “right thing to do."

Sanju Verma is an Economist, National Spokesperson of the BJP and the Bestselling Author of ‘The Modi Gambit’. Views expressed are personal.

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first published:January 23, 2023, 12:55 IST
last updated:January 23, 2023, 12:55 IST
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