The Indian government has used emergency powers to block the broadcast of a BBC documentary that claimed prime minister Narendra Modi was “directly responsible” for the Gujarat riots in 2002 as the state’s then-chief minister.
The government had issued orders to both YouTube and Twitter to block content related to the BBC’s two-part series, India: The Modi Question, using emergency powers under the country’s information and technology law, Kanchan Gupta, an adviser to the government, said on his Twitter handle on Saturday.
“Ministry of Information & Broadcasting has issued directions for blocking multiple @YouTube videos of first episode of @BBCWorld ’s hateful propaganda ‘India: The Modi Question’. Orders were also issued to @Twitter for blocking over 50 tweets with links to these YT videos,” he said in a Twitter thread.
The BBC aired the first episode of the documentary in the UK on Tuesday. The 59-minute documentary was not aired in India, though it was widely shared on Twitter and YouTube, sparking fresh questions over Mr Modi’s role in some of the country’s most deadly religious riots.
India’s foreign ministry spokesperson lashed out at the BBC, calling the documentary a “propaganda piece” that shows a “colonial mindset”.
Mr Gupta said both Twitter and YouTube complied with the government of India’s directions which were given under the country’s controversial IT Rules, 2021.
He said orders were given to block over 50 tweets linked to the documentary and YouTube was ordered to block its uploads.
He added multiple ministries “examined @BBCWorld ’s malicious ‘documentary’ and found it casting aspersions on the authority and credibility of Supreme Court of India, sowing divisions among various Indian communities, and making unsubstantiated allegations”.
The BBC documentary included a previously unpublished report from the UK Foreign Office that held Mr Modi “directly responsible” for the “climate of impunity” that enabled the Gujarat violence to take place.
The riots in February 2002 killed over 1,000 people – most of them Muslims – while he was chief minister of the state.
The violence erupted a day after 59 people, many of them volunteers for Hindu organisations, died on the Sabarmati Express train when their coach was set on fire at Gujarat’s Godhra station.
Human rights activists and eyewitnesses of the massacre that followed say the death toll is an underestimate and at least double that number died in the rioting.
The Foreign Office report was part of an inquiry ordered by the then-foreign secretary Jack Straw.
Mr Modi has denied accusations of any wrongdoing.
Opposition party members have criticised the Modi government’s attempt to censor content on social media.
Mahua Moitra, member of the opposition Trinamool Congress Party (TMC), said: “Govt on war footing to ensure no one in India can watch a mere @BBC show. Shame that the emperor & courtiers of the world’s largest democracy are so insecure. (sic)”.
Last year, a special investigation team appointed by the Supreme Court to investigate the role Mr Modi and other members of his party played in the violence said they found no evidence to prosecute him.
In 2005, the US denied a visa to Mr Modi, then chief minister of Gujarat, for his failure to stop anti-Muslim violence in his state. His visa request was rejected under the terms of a 1998 US law which bars entry to foreigners who have committed “particularly severe violations of religious freedom”.
That changed in 2014 when the Barack Obama administration invited him for a two-day visit after he led his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party to power in the general elections the same year. He won a second term in 2019.
Last week, the issue was also discussed in the UK’s parliament when Imran Hussain, Labour MP for Bradford East, questioned Rishi Sunak about the documentary at Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs).
He asked Mr Sunak about the claims in the film that the Foreign Office “knew the extent of Mr Modi’s involvement in the Gujarat massacre”. He asked whether Mr Sunak believed that the Indian prime minister was “directly responsible” for the violence that ensued.
“The UK government’s position on that is clear and long standing, and it has not changed. Of course, we do not tolerate persecution anywhere, but I am not sure that I agree at all with the characterisation that the honourable gentleman has put forward,” Mr Sunak responded.