Indian court summons BBC and Wikipedia over Modi documentary

File. People watch the BBC documentary ‘India: The Modi Question', on a screen installed at the Marine Drive junction under the direction of the district Congress committee, in Kochi on 24 January 2023 (AFP via Getty Images)

A court in India’s capital New Delhi has issued summons to the BBC, Wikimedia Foundation, and the Internet Archive, restraining them from publishing the British broadcaster’s documentary on prime minister Narendra Modi.

The court order came while hearing a petition filed by Binay Kumar Singh, a member of Mr Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), reported legal news portal LiveLaw.

“The plaintiff has worked assiduously over decades to build his career and reputation, and if this matter is left unchecked, it will permanently demolish the plaintiffs hard-earned reputation and career. Therefore, even though the plaintiff is a champion of free speech, he is compelled to seek an immediate injunction to safeguard his reputation and livelihood,” Mr Singh’s suit is quoted as saying.

Mr Singh has also sought an order of unconditional apology to him as well as to RSS and VHP.

The court also asked the organisations to not publish any other content related to the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), the ideological parent organisation of the BJP and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), an umbrella group of Hindu outfits and is an ally of the BJP.

The suit relates to the British broadcaster’s documentary titled “India: The Modi Question”.

The two-part documentary, which only aired in the UK, attempts to examine the prime minister’s relationship with Muslims, the country’s largest minority group.

The first installment aired on 17 January and showed a previously unpublished report from the UK Foreign Office that holds Mr Modi “directly responsible” for the “climate of impunity” that enabled the Gujarat violence in 2002 to take place.

The violence, when Mr Modi was chief minister of the western state, killed nearly 1,000 people-mostly Muslims.

The documentary also holds the VHP responsible for the violence.

Last year India’s Supreme Court cleared Mr Modi of wrongdoing over the riots, with previous investigations finding there was insufficient evidence to prosecute him over allegations that he ordered police to step aside and let the riots play out.

In his suit, Mr Singh stated that the allegations made against the RSS and VHP in the documentary are motivated by malicious intent to defame the groups and its members.

Versions of the film were briefly available on YouTube and clips were widely shared on Twitter.

Mr Singh, who claims himself to be an active volunteer of RSS and VHP, has stated that the already banned documentary is still readily available in public domain on Wikimedia and Internet Archive.

On 22 January the documentary was blocked after the government issued orders to both YouTube and Twitter to block content related to it using emergency powers under the country’s information and technology laws.

BBC, Wikimedia and Internet Archive have been directed by the court to file their reply within 30 days.

The case is scheduled for a hearing again on 11 May.

In a statement a BBC spokesperson said to The Independent: “We are aware of the court proceeding. It would be inappropriate to comment further at this stage.”

The Independent has also reached out to Wikimedia, and Internet Archive for a response.

Earlier, India’s federal government had called the documentary a “propaganda piece” that showed a “continued colonial mindset.”

The BBC has defended itself and said that its production abided by the “highest editorial standards.”

Weeks after the release of the documentary India’s tax authorities conducted raids on the BBC’s offices in New Delhi and Mumbai.

Last month authorities in India registered a case of alleged foreign exchange violations by the BBC.