censorship,  India

No To Censorship

The BBC produced a 2-part documentary  which aired on 17 and 24 January 2023 entitled  India: The Modi Question, revisiting his role in the 2002 Gujarat riots and  set off an outsized reaction from the government of India which set about banning it from social media platforms as well as private showings in Indian universities. It is a disgrace that  social media platforms  such as Twitter and Youtube caved in to pressure from the Indian government and prevented even excerpts from the documentary to be shown. The Indian government has dismissed the documentary as neo-colonial propaganda and refused pointblank to engage with any substantial points raised. The popular mood in India is that the documentary is full of anti-hindu bias while domestic opponents have seized on the draconian lengths Indian authorities went to prevent screenings including cutting off electricity.

I haven’t watched the documentary which claims to have uncovered new evidence of Modi’s direct culpability for the massacre of hundreds of  muslims in Gujarat.From The Wire which is a stridently anti-Modi source I got this :

In the first part of a new series aired in the United Kingdom on BBC Two on Tuesday evening, a UK government report, earlier marked as “restricted”, that has never been published or revealed so far, has been shown in detail. The documentary has a series of images of the text of the report, and in one statement, the inquiry report says that “Narendra Modi is directly responsible”. It refers to the chain of events as a “systematic campaign of violence” which has “all the hallmarks of ethnic cleansing.”

The report is a result of an inquiry set up by the UK government, which was “alarmed” by what had happened in Gujarat. “I was very worried about it. I took a great deal of personal interest because India is an important country with whom we (the UK) have relations. And so, we had to handle it very carefully,” recalled former foreign secretary, Jack Straw (2001-2006), on camera, in the documentary. “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.”


If true, I do wonder why the Blair government went to such lengths to investigate this particular incident  and then shelved the findings without sharing it with judicial authorities in India at a time it mattered.

In India itself, Modi was cleared of  criminal complicity by two supreme court rulings during investigations and trials that were fairly extensive  though he will remain forever tainted by his failure to stop the bloodshed. His reflex to outright censorship does amplify the taint and creates a Streisand effect. Modi is in a strong position domestically and nothing in that documentary could have hurt him domestically. For him, this is  personal. He was persona non grata  and refused entry to  countries like the US for many years until he became Prime Minister and given his propensity to imagine himself as a global statesman, this documentary must have stung his ego.

Whatever the demands of the Indian government, it was wrong of  Twitter and Youtube to cave in to censorship. Indian users on Twitter and YouTube were confronted with a legal notice stating that the documentary contents had been deleted. Would the social media companies do the same for Iran or China? It is a chilling thought.