Why BBC Documentary On Modi Is Smear Campaign Against India's Majority And Its Elected Government; A Detailed Response - Part 1

Swati Goel Sharma

Jan 27, 2023, 07:58 AM | Updated 07:58 AM IST

BBC documentary on Modi
BBC documentary on Modi
  • The documentary has pushed several slanderous narratives about India.
  • In a series beginning today, the author will respond to each of these claims made in it.
  • The recently released two-part documentary by the British Broadcasting Corporation (or the BBC) on Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, which has polarised the political and social discourse in the country, is not merely a profile of Modi but also a commentary on India's internal conflicts.

    In doing so, the documentary has pushed several slanderous narratives about India.

    These include the claims of a 'Muslim pogrom' in 2002 in Gujarat when Modi was chief minister, the claims of 'Muslims-under-attack-from-Hindutva-forces' from 2014 onwards when Modi became the prime minister, and representation of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh as a Nazi-like Fascist organisation that believes in racial superiority of Hindus over other religious groups.

    In a series beginning today, the author will respond to each of these claims made in the documentary, which can be fairly concluded to be a smear campaign against India's majority community and the government its voters have elected.

    Claim 1: Indian Muslims are subjected to hate speeches in a one-sided attack

    The BBC documentary begins with a journalist from The Wire, which incidentally pulled down two of its major anti-government reports last year on charges of fabrication, sitting in a dark room, watching a speech on his mobile phone.

    In the speech, a man is chanting ‘Har Har Mahadev’ and telling his audience that they would have to kill or get killed to survive as there was no other option left. He says, “These are axes, they are meant to chop off the heads of ‘vidharmi’. Har Har Mahadev”.

    Here, the BBC has wrongly translated “vidharmi”, which literally means 'one who does not follow dharma', as “non-believers”, which is an Abrahamic concept to refer to people who do not believe in a particular person as being God’s Prophet or Messenger.

    The journalist tells BBC that the speech had a direct call for violence, something that the prime minister [Narendra Modi] should have spoken against, but he has not.

    The visuals change to Modi taking oath as prime minister in 2014.

    The beginning of the documentary is a one-sided portrayal of what are called “hate speeches” targeting religious communities in India. It gives an impression that Muslims in India are targeted with hate speeches by the country’s majority Hindus in a lopsided attack. The truth is far from it.

    Had the BBC shown visuals of a Hindu person listening to ‘sar tan se juda’ chants raised by hundreds of thousands of Muslim participants in street rallies and then news of a Hindu actually beheaded by radicalised men, then one could have called it a balanced portrayal of hate speeches in the country.

    Beheadings and killings over perceived insult of Islam or Islamic figures by fanatics were a prominent feature of communal conflicts in the run up to the Partition of India to carve out a Muslim-majority country.

    It took just four decades for calls for beheadings and killings to be back on the streets in a partitioned India with the publication of Salman Rushdie’s novel Satanic Verses in 1989.

    In recent years, such rallies were taken out in 2015 in West Bengal and various districts of Uttar Pradesh in reaction to a pamphlet distributed by a UP resident named Kamlesh Tiwari. Then in 2021, after a statement made by a resident named Yati Narsinghanand, and later again in 2022 after a statement on a television news debate by former Bharatiya Janata Party spokesperson Nupur Sharma.

    Kamlesh Tiwari was stabbed and shot to death in his office in 2019 by two Muslim men, fanaticised by the rallies. Another Hindu man, Kanhaiya Lal, was beheaded by two Muslim men at his shop in Udaipur last year.

    These men were indoctrinated by social media posts asking for beheading as a just punishment for insult of Islam’s Prophet. The killers had been in touch with Pakistan-based extremist group Dawat-e-Islami. Kanhaiya had merely shared a Facebook post in support of Nupur Sharma.

    Yet another Hindu man, Umesh Kolhe, was killed by three Muslim men last year for supporting Sharma against beheading threats. The men were radicalised by proselytising group Tablighi Jamaat.

    Sharma was recently given a gun license to protect herself as she has been on the target of many extremist organisations.

    Earlier this month, two such men, a Muslim and a Sikh, beheaded a man with Trishul tattoo on his hand, filmed the video and sent it to their handlers in Pakistan, to “prove their capability” in creating terror among Hindus.

    This is a brief list of actual beheadings and killings due to hate speeches by members of the Muslim community, but completely left out from BBC’s reportage.

    Instead, the speech by the Hindu man shown in the documentary, which was a reaction to these rallies and the resulting killings, has been used without context to suggest a one-sided attack on Muslims.

    Hate speeches against Hindus are not limited to beheading slogans for so-called ‘blasphemy’. In 2019, a Muslim man from Kashmir named Adil Dar carried out a suicide attack killing 49 paramilitary soldiers.

    Before the attack, Adil recorded and released a video in which he said that “it was not in the uncouth cow piss drinkers to deal with our attacks”. The piss-jibe was thrown at Hindus.

    This slur, in fact, is openly used for Hindus not just by terror operatives but people in the media, politics and entertainment industry. Calls for economic boycott and Islamic subjugation of Hindus are also common.

    Maulana Tauqeer Raza, who is a prominent Muslim cleric and chief of the Ittehad-e-Millat Council Party, said last year that if Muslim youth took law into their hands, Hindus would have no place to hide.

    In 2021, Sarwar Chishti, who claims descent from Moinuddin Chishti and is a Khadim of his tomb in Ajmer, issued a threat to Hindus saying, “We [Muslims] ruled over you [Hindus] for centuries and we should not be pushed to a limit where we begin to want to rule again. We were not subjects, we were rulers.”

    Aam Aadmi Party MLA Amanatullah Khan in 2021 called for beheading of a man for a “derogatory” statement against Islam’s founder.

    A prominent leader of the All India Majlis-E-Ittehadul Muslimeen, Akbaruddin Owaisi, who is younger brother of political party chief Asaduddin, was caught on camera insulting Hindu deities as “manhoos” and threatening Hindus with dire consequences if the police were removed for only 15 minutes.

    He was acquitted by the court in the resulting hate speech case for want of sufficient evidence with the judge orally telling Akbaruddin to not repeat “this type of provocative speech in future”.

    Claim 2. CAA was discriminatory to Muslims, and Muslims protested peacefully against it

    The documentary shows the 2019-20 anti-Citizenship Amendment Bill protests as a civilian agitation against an “anti-Muslim” law.

    This is blatantly false. The CAA bill only offered to expedite citizenship for persecuted minorities in India’s neighbouring Islamic countries while making no exception to Muslims for opportunities to live in India as refugees or legal immigrants.

    The bill amended the Indian Citizenship Law, 1955, which prohibited illegal migrants to India from becoming Indian citizens. Here, illegal migrants are those who enter India without valid travel documents or extend their stay beyond the permitted time.

    The bill offered to relieve persecuted Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh from this condition, as members of these communities routinely migrate to India after fleeing religious persecution.

    They usually come on a months-long tourist or pilgrim visa and stay beyond the stipulated time. Before the amendment, they were asked to stay in India for at least 11 years before they could apply for citizenship. The new Bill lowered the time period to six years.

    Muslim groups labelled the bill as “anti-Muslim” and “discriminatory to Muslims”. This was despite the glaring reality that the communities being offered relief formed tiny minorities in Islamist countries.

    In their recent coverage of the anti-CAA protests, the BBC completely left out the months-long blocking and encroachment of busy roads in the national capital by Muslim protesters, and anti-Hindu and anti-India speeches made in such gatherings.

    Sharjeel Imam, chief of Shaheen Bagh Coordination Committee and former Jawaharlal Nehru University student, gave a speech saying Muslims had enough demographic power to close down north India and have a chakka-jam in 500 cities of India.

    He also said that the Muslims who stayed in India after Partition did so for the “survival of Islam so that the hard work of hundreds of years don’t go waste in just one day”, in an apparent reference to Muslim leaders who did not want a separate country for Muslims as they wanted to convert the whole of India into Dar-ul-Islam.

    A chant, “Jinnah wali Azadi” was frequently raised during the protests in Delhi.

    These agitations led to communal violence in northeast Delhi in February 2020 where the first victims were Hindus including Vinod Kumar and Intelligence Bureau officer Ankit Sharma. This reality of the protests has been completely left out of BBC’s reportage.

    What has also been eliminated, is that since the protests, nearly all Hindus and Sikhs have migrated out of Afghanistan, with Sikh leaders who had protested the Bill such as Manjinder Singh Sirsa, urging the government to help them enter India and get citizenship. Sirsa has since joined the BJP.

    3. RSS propagates racial superiority of Hindus

    The documentary defines the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh as an organisation that “seeks to establish the superiority of Hindus over all other races in India”.

    This is a preposterous statement.

    The RSS does not define the current lot of Hindus as a race different than any other religious group in India. The RSS leaders define Hindu-ness as a civilisational identity rather than a racial one, and primarily work to fight aggressive proselytisation of Hindus by the two such biggest forces - Islamic and Christian groups.

    For this reason, the current RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat has routinely called all Indians as Hindus, while arguing that anybody born in India is a Hindu irrespective of the religion he or she follows.

    That the BBC’s understanding of the RSS leaders or its ground workers is highly flawed is evident from what Bhagwat recently said to Muslim organisations – Muslims must abandon their boisterous rhetoric of supremacy.

    The RSS rejects the Aryan race theory which propagates that Hindus are essentially Aryans who invaded the Indian subcontinent around 3,500 years ago and pushed Dravidians to the south while imposing the caste system in the society.

    The RSS, on the other hand, has said that all people in the north and south of India are one racial stock; RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat recently called it “same DNA”. Bhagwat was most likely referring to a research that found through genomic analyses that people in north India are no different from those in south India and have shared genetic lineage.

    Bhagwat and other Hindutva leaders have time and again made statement that proselyting Islamic groups brainwash Muslims into believing that they belong to a different ancestry such as Arabic.

    In the second part of this series, the author will examine more such claims made in the BBC documentary, which repeats all the tropes that global media typically pushes about India.

    Swati Goel Sharma is a senior editor at Swarajya. She tweets at @swati_gs.

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