Narendra Modi: India bans BBC documentary on Prime Minister’s role in Gujarat riots

New Delhi

India has banned the showing of a BBC documentary about Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s alleged role in deadly riots in the country more than 20 years ago, in a move criticized by critics as an attack on press freedom.

A senior adviser to the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting said instructions to block the documentary were issued using “emergency powers” available to the government under India’s information and technology rules.

“Videos sharing @BBCWorld hostile propaganda and anti-Indian rubbish disguised as ‘documentary’ on @YouTube and tweets sharing links to the BBC documentary have been blocked under India’s sovereign laws and regulations,” senior adviser Kanchan wrote. Gupta Saturday on Twitter. both YouTube and Twitter complied with the order.

CNN has reached out to Twitter and YouTube for comment, but has not yet heard back.

The two-part documentary ‘India: The Modi Question’ criticizes Modi, who was chief minister of the western state of Gujarat in 2002 when riots broke out between the state’s majority Hindus and Muslims.

Violence erupted after the bombing of a train killed dozens of Hindus and was blamed on Muslims. In retaliation, Hindu gangs set fire to Muslim houses and shops. According to government figures, more than 1,000 people – mostly Muslims – were killed.

Modi and his ruling ruling Bharatiya Janata party came to power in India in 2014, riding a wave of Hindu nationalism in the country of 1.3 billion, where nearly 80% of the population adheres to the faith.

He has previously denied allegations that he failed to stop the violence in 2002 and a special investigative team appointed by India’s Supreme Court in 2012 found no evidence to prove him guilty.

Indian Foreign Ministry spokesman Arindam Bagchi called the documentary “a propaganda piece designed to push a particular discredited narrative”.

Speaking at a press conference Thursday, Bagchi told reporters, “It makes us wonder about the purpose of this exercise and the agenda behind it and, quite frankly, we don’t want to dignify such efforts.”

In response, the BBC said in a statement shared on social media that the documentary had been “rigorously researched to the highest editorial standards”.

The film took into account “a wide range of voices, witnesses and experts … including reactions from people in the BJP),” the statement said.

The Indian government had refused to answer when contacted by the BBC, the statement said.

CNN has contacted the BBC for further comment, but has yet to hear back.

The ban on the documentary has sparked resentment among many in India, with supporters of Modi defending him and opposition politicians criticizing the move

BJP spokesman RP Singh said he welcomed the ban.

“Considering the 2024 elections, an ecosystem is being built to tarnish the image of Prime Minister Narendra Modi ji,” he said in a statement posted on Twitter.

But opposition lawmaker Mahua Moitra said the government’s “furious censorship actions are unacceptable”.

“What the BBC show proves or disproves is for the viewers to decide,” he said.

The documentary examines an unpublished report from the British government that has come into the hands of the BBC, which the British public service broadcaster said came in the form of a diplomatic telegram.

The report reveals the violence, according to the BBC, showing the events had “all the hallmarks of an ethnic cleansing” and alleging “widespread and systematic rape of Muslim women”.

The BBC said Jack Straw, who was Britain’s foreign secretary in 2002 and appears in the documentary, claims Modi had “played a pre-active role in withdrawing the police and tacitly encouraging the Hindu extremists”.

The first part of the documentary aired on the BBC on January 17, with part two airing on Tuesday.

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