Traditional Indian humility and silence are often mistaken in the West for weakness or an acceptance of culpability. We need to learn to stand up for ourselves and express ourselves confidently, clearly and loudly.
It would be extremely naive to assume that the BBC two-part documentary, “India: The Modi Question” that puts Narendra Modi back in the dock for the Gujarat riots of 2002, is an objective journalistic exercise or an honest attempt to take a “fresh look at the legacy of the events…” as the BBC claims. Neither of this is true.The timing, the nuances of the narration and the BBC’s close ties with the British establishment suggestthat there is more to it than meets the eye and militates against an altruistic motive. It is a sordid conspiracy of lies meant to sully the reputation of a growing global power and its popular leader by an ex colonial master reeking with envy at the rocketing fortunes of its former subject nation.
There is no denying that the Gujarat riots represented a horrendous and unfortunate chapter in the history of modern India; an occurrence that should not have happened. But it is important to recapitulate the details of the riots, the investigation that followed and the eventual verdict to dispel rumormongering by vested interests.
First the trigger event. On 27February2002, a train carrying Hindu Ram Sevaks returning from Ayodhya was surrounded by a Muslim mob in Godhra, doused with petrol and set ablaze. Fiftynine Hindu men, women and children were burnt to death. Seething Hindu anger spilled out onto the streets, leading to Hindu-Muslim riots that left 794 Muslims and 254 Hindus dead.
Post the 2002 Gujarat riots, we were made to believe through a relentless barrage of scathing criticism orchestrated by a significant section of the English language media that Narendra Modi, the Chief Minister of Gujarat was the Nero, who fiddled while Hindus went on a killing rampage. The Godhra burning was retold as an unfortunate accident and horrific tales were concocted to dub the riots as a pogrom conducted by the Hindu right-wing.
The Supreme Court-appointed SIT, after an exhaustive investigation, discovered that these allegations could not be substantiated. They were outright lies. Widely publicized incidents like the gouging out of a fetus from the uterus of a pregnant Muslim woman and the dumping of bodies into a well were also found to be untrue.
More importantly, on 26December2013 the metropolitan court in Ahmedabad upheld the SIT report that found no “prosecutable evidence” against Narendra Modi and exonerated him of any wrongdoing. The Supreme Court of India concurred with this decision.
Now the BBC in its newfound wisdom is attempting to overturn this narrative with the help of a little known closeted British Foreign Office report based on a fly-by-night enquiry by British diplomats based in India at that time. The report states: Chief Minister Narendra Modi is directly responsible.
However, taken aback by the strident Government of India (GOI) response to the BBC documentary, Jack Straw, who was UK’s Foreign Secretary at the time of the riots and who fared prominently in the BBC documentary, appears less definitive in a recent interview with Karan Thapar on 21 January. He all but admits that the report was less than accurate. Furthermore, he acknowledges that the British diplomats who filed the report were not trained investigators and they did the best they could; in effect conceding to the shortcomings of that impromptu enquiry.
A cursory reading of an excerpt of this so-called report published by the Caravan magazine reveals it to be a clownish document that is high on speculation and low in real evidence. The document speculates that the violence was “planned, possibly in advance” by Vishwa Hindu Parishad and conjectures: “The attack on the train at Godhra on 27 February provided the pretext. If it had not occurred, another one would have been found.”
Amateurish assumptions and far-fetched conjectures cannot make for a serious enquiry.
In summary, the BBC documentary is a malicious and vile attempt to resurrect discredited lies and defame Modi, Hindus and India in that particular order.
A host of other extraneous factors are driving this vilification campaign as suggested by its timing.
Over the last few years, India’s global profile has been growing exponentially, its diplomacy has acquired a new found assertiveness and the Indian diaspora is touted as a success story in almost every country they reside in. Specifically, India just surpassed the UK as the fifth largest economy in the world and is all set to overtake Japan and Germany to become the world’s third-largest economy by 2030 if economic projections prove right; 30% of the CEOs of the top Fortune 500 companies are of Indian origin, 10% of the faculty of top Western academic centres have an Indian background and the wealthiest family in the United Kingdom are the Hinduja brothers.
This scenario of success is apt to evoke emotions like envy and jealousy in others and it must be especially galling for an ex-colonial master to be bested by his former subjects. Hence this peevish attempt to put India in its place.
Additionally, the timing of the broadcast a year ahead of India’s 2024 general election speaks of an ulterior motive in play—of damaging Modi’s electoral prospects. Admixed with this messy situation could be a bit of Hinduphobia as well directed at UK’s first Hindu Prime Minister and an attempt to scuttle future trade ties with India that could prove crucial to PM Rishi Sunak’s success.
Finally, as an ardent proponent of free speech, I have mixed feelings about the decision to ban the screening of this program. Concerns about an over-reaction and a counsel for polite indifference expressed by a former diplomat is misplaced (Vivek Katju writes: BBC documentary on PM Modi raises questions about intent and timing, but government response could have been more self-assured. I.E. 24January). After having lived in the West (both UK and USA) for several years, I can confirm that traditional Indian humility and silence is often mistaken for weakness or an acceptance of culpability. We need to learn to stand up for ourselves and express ourselves confidently, clearly and loudly. The government did exactly that.