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News BJP government tries to suppress BBC documentary on Modi

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NEW DELHI — The film has been banned and social media posts censored. Now, with no light or electricity, students huddle around glowing smartphones to watch what their governments deem subversive foreign propaganda.

China? No, they are in India, ostensibly the largest democracy in the world, watching the BBC.

Over the past week, India’s government has waged an extraordinary campaign to prevent its citizens from viewing a new BBC documentary exploring Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s actions during deadly 2002 riots played a role in the unrest that killed more than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims.

Indian officials invoked emergency powers to order the censorship of documentary footage on social media platforms including YouTube and Twitter. A foreign ministry spokesman criticized the BBC’s production as a “propaganda film” made with a “colonial mindset”. A junior minister in Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) declared that watching the film amounted to “treason”.

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Authorities cut power to the halls of the student union at the prestigious Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi on Tuesday night in an attempt to stop the film screening – a move that only fueled revolts across the country by students trying to hold more Screenings.

On Wednesday, when students at another university in the Indian capital, the Jamia Miriah Islamic University, announced their own plans to see the film, Delhi police raided and arrested the organizers. A swarm of riot police armed with tear gas was also dispatched to the campus, according to witnesses and smartphone photos they shared.

All in all, the extraordinary steps taken by the government appear to reinforce a central point of the BBC series: that the world’s largest democracy is slipping towards authoritarianism under Modi, who came to power in 2014 and in 2019 the Hindu nation. won re-election on the platform of communism.

Raman Jit Singh Chima, Asia-Pacific policy director at digital rights group Access Now, said the episode should have “focused more on the dangerous situation” in which civil liberties are being eroded in India. He said the government had become “much more effective and proactive” in blocking content at a time of national political controversy.

“As a democratic country, how does India accept ordering such a large amount of internet censorship at home?” Chima said. “You have to look at this incident as part of a cumulative wave of censorship.”

The controversy began on January 17, when the BBC aired the first part of its two-part documentary, “India: The Modi Question.”

In the hour-long first part, the BBC focuses on the Indian leader’s early career and his rise through the influential Hindu nationalist group Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. It highlighted his tenure as leader of Gujarat state, which erupted in violence after a train fire killed 59 Hindu pilgrims in 2002. Muslim perpetrators were blamed for the killings, while Hindu mobs retaliated by rampaging through Muslim neighborhoods.

In its documentary, the BBC uncovered British diplomatic cables from 2002 that compared the outbreak of murder, rape and house destruction to “ethnic cleansing” of Muslims in Gujarat. British officials also concluded that the mob violence was pre-orchestrated by Hindu nationalist groups “under the umbrella of the state government,” according to the documentary, and further suggested that Modi was responsible for the “climate of impunity” that led to its outbreak. direct responsibility”.

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While the film is the first to reveal the existence of diplomatic cables, it does not make any groundbreaking allegations against Indian leaders. Modi has been criticized for two decades for allowing unrest to rage, and in 2013 a panel of India’s top court ruled there was not enough evidence to prosecute him.

In 2005, the U.S. State Department denied Modi a U.S. visa on the grounds of his alleged involvement in riots — though he has since been embraced by successive U.S. administrations who see him as the lynchpin of U.S. foreign policy in Asia.

Modi has consistently denied any wrongdoing related to his handling of the 2002 events.

The documentary aired only in the UK last week, not in India, but the response from Modi’s government was swift and violent.

Arindam Bagchi, a spokesman for India’s foreign ministry, slammed the BBC for producing “a propaganda film designed to promote a particular discredited narrative”. He accused the broadcaster of maintaining a political agenda and a “persistent colonial mentality”.

Kanchan Gupta, adviser to India’s Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, also announced that the ministry had issued a directive under a 2021 law to censor all social media posts sharing the documentary.

Gupta said in a tweet: “Sharing videos of BBC World hostile propaganda and anti-India trash on YouTube, tweeting on YouTube masquerading as ‘documentaries’, and sharing links to BBC documentaries has been done under India’s sovereign laws and rules Blocked.” YouTube and Twitter, recently acquired by Elon Musk, complied with the orders, he added.

The BBC said in a statement that its documentary had been “rigorously researched” and that the Indian government declined to comment on the film.

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Over the weekend, Indians could only share the film on the encrypted messaging app Telegram and watch copies stored on cloud services or physical thumb drives.

Students gathered at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi on Tuesday night for a much-publicized 9 p.m. screening, ignoring warnings from university administrators to cancel the event or face disciplinary action. Anagha Pradeep, a doctoral student in political science, said hundreds of students flocked to the student union but were stopped 30 minutes before the scheduled blackout time, leaving the hall in darkness.

Instead of watching the documentary on a projector, they shared a link to download the film to their phones for group viewing, she said.

Shortly thereafter, the students were attacked by members of the RSS Hindu nationalist group Al-Shabaab, Pradeep said. University administrators blamed faulty power lines for the outage, according to local media reports.

By Wednesday, student groups from the southern Indian state of Kerala to the eastern state of West Bengal had announced plans to hold viewing events. At Delhi’s Jamia Miriah Islamic University, administrators stopped all unauthorized gatherings after police detained several students who planned to screen the documentary, local media reported.

Aishe Ghosh, leader of the JNU student union, said the backlash at the campus showed that India was “still breathing”. [as] democracy. “

“If a lot of Indians see it, what’s the problem?” Ghosh said by phone Wednesday from inside a subway station where she is hiding to avoid arrest.

“If there’s propaganda, they’ll see through it,” she said. “What we’re getting is more and more censorship.”

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