The first episode of the BBC documentary India: The Modi Question is keeping the BJP on its toes in South India.
Even as the saffron party attempted to prevent it from being shown, various organisations held screenings across Kerala on Tuesday, 24 January — and reports emerged that the first episode has already been screened in the University of Hyderabad.
This comes after the Central government cracked down on the video, barring it from being shared on all social-media platforms in India.
The two-part BBC documentary, which investigated certain aspects relating to the 2002 Gujarat riots when Prime Minister Narendra Modi was the chief minister of that state, has been trashed by the Ministry of External Affairs as a “propaganda piece” that lacked objectivity and reflected a “colonial mindset”.
The directions on blocking access were understood to have been issued by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting using emergency powers under the IT Act of 2021.
The Central government’s ban on the documentary and the scrubbing of all hyperlinks to the first episode of the series received sharp criticism from Opposition parties like the Congress and the Trinamool Congress for imposing “censorship”.
One of the most vocal of the lot has been Trinamool Congress MP Mohua Moitra, who has been posting links to the video as it keeps getting taken down. Here is her latest effort:
This link works in Telegram with audiohttps://t.co/HFmbdUl0JN
— Mahua Moitra (@MahuaMoitra) January 24, 2023
The Kerala situation
Meanwhile, political and other groups across India have been protesting against the ban by screening or trying to screen the documentary.
The CPI(M)’s youth wing the Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI) on Tuesday, 24 January, kicked off a political storm in the state by announcing on its Facebook page that it would screen the controversial documentary.
Soon after the announcement, various political groups in the state followed the move and announced the screening of the documentary at various locations across Kerala.
These included the Students’ Federation of India (SFI), a left-wing student organisation allied with CPI(M), and various wings of the Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC), including the Youth Congress and Kerala Students Union (KSU).
“Criticism is not treason, freedom of speech is not generosity,” read the Facebook post by KSU.
“The BBC documentary exposing Narendra Modi’s role in the 2002 Gujarat riots was banned by the government using fascist laws!… KSU will lead the screening of ‘India: The Modi Question’ on college campuses, [sic]” added the KSU Facebook post.
The KPCC’s Minority Cell also said that the documentary would be screened in all district headquarters of the state on Republic Day.
Minority Cell chairman Advocate Shihabuddin Karyat said in a statement that the documentary would be screened in the district headquarters of the party on Republic Day in view of the undeclared ban on it in the country.
SFI, in its Facebook post, said the documentary would be screened on various college campuses in the state.
Kerala Youth Congress president Shafi Parambil, in a Facebook post, said that reminders of betrayal and genocide cannot be hidden by power, and that the BBC documentary would be screened in Kerala.
BJP urges Pinarayi Vijayan to intervene
The decision by various political groups in Kerala irked the BJP and prompted its state leadership to urge Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan to intervene and put a stop to such endeavours.
The BJP termed the move “treasonous” and asked Vijayan to urgently intervene and nip such endeavours in the bud.
Kerala BJP president K Surendran filed a complaint with Vijayan demanding that permission to screen the documentary in the state not be given.
In his complaint, Surendran said that the documentary screening would be tantamount to condoning foreign moves to endanger the country’s unity and integrity.
He also said that reliving the unfortunate events from two decades ago was aimed at “fuelling religious tensions”.
Union Minister of State for External Affairs and Parliamentary Affairs V Muraleedharan also urged the chief minister not to allow the screening of the documentary and sought his urgent intervention in the matter.
In a Facebook post, Muraleedharan said that the re-introduction of allegations rejected by the Supreme Court would question the credibility of the highest court of the country.
Hyderabad students screen documentary
Meanwhile, a section of students at the University of Hyderabad (UoH) has already screened the BBC documentary on its campus, prompting the varsity authorities to seek a report.
The documentary was screened on Sunday by a group of students under the banner of Fraternity Movement: HCU Unit, on the campus of the UoH, also known as Hyderabad Central University.
However, no permission was sought by the students’ group from the authorities before screening the documentary.
The university got know about it only after the members of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) — the student wing of the RSS — complained to its registrar in this regard, official sources at UoH said on Tuesday.
The university has asked for a report from its security wing over the matter, they said. A police official said they have so far not received any complaint over the matter.
Meanwhile, in a Twitter post on 21 January the organisation said the BBC Documentary was screened on by the “Fraternity Movement – HCU unit”.
About the documentary
The first episode of India: The Modi Question, released on 17 January, alleged that a team sent by the British government to Gujarat in the wake of the post-Godhra riots of 2002 had held that then chief minister Modi was “directly responsible for a climate of impunity” that led to the violence against Muslims.
The Centre, on Friday, 20 January, invoked emergency powers and directed YouTube and Twitter to remove links to the documentary.
Free speech activists have since been played a cat and mouse game with the Centre by forwarding links to the documentary on various other platforms.
Meanwhile, The Caravan magazine obtained a copy of an inquiry conducted by the British government, which was cited in the BBC documentary. According to the report, the violence was “planned, possibly months in advance” by the right-wing Hindu group Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP).
The report said: “The attack on the train at Godhra on 27 February provided the pretext. If it had not occurred, another one would have been found.”
(With inputs from PTI)