India blocks BBC documentary on Narendra Modi from airing in the country

Narendra Modi delivers his speech during a rally in Mumbai, India. Credit: AP

India says it has blocked the airing of a BBC documentary about Narendra Modi, the country's prime minister, with the sharing of any clips on social media prohibited.

The two-part programme - India: The Modi Question - included questions about Modi's leadership during the 2002 Gujarat riots, in which more than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed.

According to Kanchan Gupta, a government adviser, orders to block the clips from being shared were done using emergency powers under India's information technology rules.

While the BBC has not broadcast the documentary in India, it has been uploaded on some YouTube channels, Mr Gupta said.

The first episode was broadcast in the UK on Tuesday and the second part will go out next Tuesday.

The advisor said the government asked Twitter to block more than 50 tweets linking to the video of the documentary, while YouTube was asked to block uploads of the video. Both sites were said to have complied with the instructions.

Last week, a spokesperson for India's foreign ministry described the documentary as a "propaganda piece" that was echoing a "discredited narrative".

"It makes us wonder about the purpose of this exercise and the agenda behind it," Foreign ministry spokesman Arindam Bagchi was quoted by the BBC as saying. "This is a propaganda piece designed to push a particular discredited narrative. The bias, the lack of objectivity, and a continuing colonial mindset, is blatantly visible," he added.

The Gujarat riots have long hounded Modi because of allegations that authorities under his watch allowed the bloodshed. The violence broke out after a train carrying Hindu pilgrims caught fire, killing 59 people.

A candle light vigil in 2012 to mark the 10th anniversary of the Gujarat riots as a photograph of riot victims stand in the background. Credit: AP Photo/Ajit Solanki

Modi, who was the state’s top elected official at the time before becoming prime minister in 2014, has denied the accusations, and the Supreme Court has said it found no evidence to prosecute him.

He leads the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has remained popular in his home state of Gujarat despite rising inflation, unemployment and religious polarisation.

The ruling party has faced fierce criticism over rising attacks against Muslims in recent years, from the Muslim community and other religious minorities as well as some Hindus who say Modi’s silence emboldens right-wing groups.

A BBC Spokesperson said: “The BBC is committed to highlighting important issues from around the world.

"The documentary series examines the tensions between India’s Hindu majority and Muslim minority and explores the politics of India’s PM Narendra Modi in relation to those tensions.

"This has been the source of considerable reporting and interest both in India and across the world in recent years. “The documentary was rigorously researched according to highest editorial standards. A wide range of voices, witnesses and experts were approached, and we have featured a range of opinions – this includes responses from people in the BJP.

"We offered the Indian Government a right to reply to the matters raised in the series – it declined to respond.”

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