BBC documentary: Shashi Tharoor and I said the same thing, says Anil Antony

In conversation with South First, Anil Antony defended his tweet on the documentary, and said that people in Kerala overreacted to his views.

BySreerag PS

Published Jan 27, 2023 | 11:36 PM Updated Jan 28, 2023 | 12:51 PM

Anil K Antony

Any reference to Anil K Antony is not complete without a mention of his father AK Antony, a former defence minister and former chief minister of Kerala.

On Wednesday, 25 January, Anil resigned from all posts he had held in the Congress and stepped out of his father’s shadow.

A day ago, he had tweeted his displeasure over a controversial BBC documentary, India: The Modi Question. Anil decided to resign after he received “intolerant calls” to retract the tweet — which he didn’t.

Despite large differences with the BJP, Anil said, those who support and place the views of the British broadcaster and former UK foreign secretary Jack Straw, the “brain behind the Iraq war” (involving the US-lead coalition in 2003), above Indian institutions, are setting a dangerous precedent.

His thought was incongruent with the Congress “line”, which saw an opportunity to target Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP.

Congress leaders, including Thiruvananthapuram MP Shashi Tharoor and the Leader of the Opposition in Kerala, VD Satheesan, criticised Anil’s view. The Youth Congress, too, did not find merit in his tweet.

Claiming that the BBC had published a distorted map of India, Anil said the broadcaster could not be held as the epitome of truth.

In a telephonic conversation with South First, Anil said he questioned the “dubious origins” of the documentary and added that he never sought a ban on the short film in two parts. He felt the people of Kerala overreacted and many vested interests tried to misinterpret his statements.

Excerpts from the conversation:

Criticism understandable

Tharoor criticised Anil’s view, saying, “I feel that this is an immature stand… Because the sovereignty of our country cannot be affected so easily… will it be affected if a foreign documentary is screened?…whether our national security and sovereignty are so fragile to be affected by a documentary?” the MP asked.

Tharoor, however, said Anil, who handled the digital communications of the party, was a “good person” and he had not discussed the BBC documentary issue with him. Anil, considered close to Tharoor, had thanked the senior leader in his resignation letter.

When asked, Anil said Tharoor and he are on the same page.

“A lot of people like to take just one sentence out and make it a headline, but the big picture is, we both are saying the same thing. He (Tharoor) said a documentary is not going to dilute our sovereignty and I also don’t think one documentary can do that,” the young leader said.

“But let’s say, a scenario arrives in which some people start accepting the words or judgements of a foreign entity over our Indian entities. Such a trend would undermine the Indian entities. So I don’t think we are speaking two different things. I don’t disagree with Shashi Tharoor in any manner. He is someone I hold in highest regard.”

Nothing against party policies

Senior Congress leader and Rajya Sabha MP Jairam Ramesh drew parallels with Anil and Chandy Oommen, son of former chief minister Oommen Chandy. Anil responded to Ramesh’s tweet.

“I don’t want to personally attack anybody. Whatever I have written in the (resignation) letter is self-explanatory and one of the people it was addressed to, was Mr. Jairam Ramesh. As he is the head of the communication cell, I can understand why he is upset. But I certainly don’t believe I have said anything against the party’s policies or views or broader interest in any manner,” he said.

Anil expressed belief that the focus of the tweet shouldn’t have been made into any of these controversies. “Partisan politics should not come above national interest.”

He also clarified that he did not demand a ban on the documentary, but said it has “dubious origins”.

Kerala overreacted

On the strong dissent from the people of Kerala to Anil’s criticism of the documentary, he said, “Kerala people have overreacted”, and reiterated that he had never sought a ban on the documentary. “I stand by my words,” he said.

So, what next? “At this moment I don’t have any political plans. I am focusing on my professional activities and work on my entrepreneurship. I am not really thinking about anything in politics. I resigned from all active offices but I still remain a primary member. I am not having any other political plans.”

Anil said his statements were simple and straight. However, a lot of people, with vested interests, “misrepresented” his tweet, especially in Kerala, which forced him to resign from the positions in the Congress.

“At this moment I feel I could do other things in my life which are more satisfactory and can bring more happiness. So I decided to resign from the party posts,” he added.

Also read: Communists take on DMK over BBC documentary

On the documentary

Anil opined that the concerns shared by him should also be of concern to every Indian citizen. His major objection to the documentary was that it cited reports by Jack Straw.

“A lot of my friends and well-wishers were very excited about this documentary and I do understand them. But I had some concerns. The main one is, the documentary is from Jack Straw and he, as the British foreign secretary, was one of the master brains behind the Iraq war.  And that war, had resulted in deaths and displacement of millions of people,” he said.

Also read: After Hyderabad University, screenings held across Kerala; BJP protests

National interest

Antony said in the last few days a narrative has been created in the country about the documentary and his concerns were about the “national interest”, which is why despite political differences with the BJP, he objected to the documentary.

“I think every Indian citizen should have these concerns. In the tweet itself, although it was interpreted in many ways, I said I have many political differences with the BJP. However, as far as this documentary is concerned, in the last few days, some kind of narrative has been created in this country, and I thought that kind of narration, in the long run, would undermine our national interest.

He also said that two years ago, the BBC ‘misrepresented’ the Indian map. It presented a map in which a part of Kashmir was missing, which Anil underlined to point out as one of the reasons why he believes his criticism is valid.

“Many people here were saying that the BBC is the epitome of truth. Two years ago there was an incident in which the BBC published the Indian map, in which half of Kashmir was missing. There was a lot of protest by Indians across the world. Later, the BBC was forced to publish India’s real map. These were all actual incidents that had happened in the past.”