Pakistan FM Bilawal Bhutto Zardari Lashes Out At Indian EAM Subramanyam Jaishankar
“If the FM (foreign minister) of India (Jaishankar) was being honest, then he knows as well as I, that the RSS (India's militant Hindu organization) does not believe in Gandhi, in his ideology. They do not see this individual as the founder of India, they hero-worship the terrorist that assassinated Gandhi", said Pakistan's Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari at a press conference at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City. "Osama Bin Laden is dead but the butcher of Gujarat lives and he is the prime minister of India", he added. Mr. Bhutto Zardari was responding to a question from the media asked at the behest of the Indian Foreign Minister Subramanyam Jaishankar. Earlier at the UNSC, Indian External Affairs Minister Subramanyam Jaishankar had unveiled a statue of Mohandas K. Gandhi at the UN and accused Pakistan of "hosting Osama Bin Laden". Gandhi was assassinated by Nathuram Godse, a member of the militant Hindu organization RSS. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is a member of the RSS.
|Pakistan Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari at the United Nations Headquarters in New York|
Here are some excerpts of what Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said at the media briefing at the UN:
“He [Narendra Modi] was banned from entering this country [the United States]....these are the prime minister and foreign minister of the RSS (India's right-wing Hindu nationalist organization)....The RSS draws its inspiration from Hitler’s SS (the German Nazi Party’s militant wing Schutzstaffel)...(According to the RSS) we (Muslims) are terrorists whether we are Muslims in Pakistan and we’re terrorists whether we’re Muslims in India.....They (Modi and BJP) are not even attempting to wash the blood of the people of Gujarat off their hand..."Butcher of Gujarat” was now the “Butcher of Kashmir”".
Last month, the US State Department bracketed Indian Prime Minister Modi with murderous dictators like Congo's Laurent Kabila and Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe. Speaking about the US decision to grant immunity to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman, State Department spokesperson Vedant Patel said that it was “not the first time” that the US government has designated immunity to foreign leaders and listed four cases. “Some examples: President Aristide in Haiti in 1993; President Mugabe in Zimbabwe in 2001; Prime Minister Modi in India in 2014; and President Kabila in the DRC in 2018. This is a consistent practice that we have afforded to heads of state, heads of government, and foreign ministers,” he said.
|BJP HIndutva Leaders Modi, Yogi and Shah|
Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India was barred from entering the United States from 2005 to 2014 for his involvement in the massacre of thousands of Muslims in Gujarat in 2002. In 2015, a US judge dismissed a lawsuit against Modi after the US government argued that he is immune to accusations as a sitting head of government. While Modi has denied any involvement in the Gujarat anti-Muslim pogrom, he has never even expressed any regret over the killings in Gujarat when he was the Chief Minister of the Indian state.
While Modi has refused to accept any responsibility for the massacre of over 2,000 Muslims in Gujarat in 2002, his party BJP's leaders have not shied away from claiming "credit" for it. Just yesterday, Modi's right-hand man and current Home Minister Amit Shah said Muslims were "taught a lesson" in 2002. He said that "after they were taught a lesson in 2002, these elements left that path (of violence). They refrained from indulging in violence from 2002 till 2022. BJP has established permanent peace in Gujarat by taking strict action against those who used to indulge in communal violence".
In 2002 when Narendra Modi was chief minister of the Indian state of Gujarat, hundreds of young Muslim girls were sexually assaulted, tortured and killed. These rapes were condoned by the ruling BJP, whose refusal to intervene lead to the rape and killing of thousands and displacement of 200,000 Muslims.
In 2012, a former Chief Minister of Gujarat Mr. Shankersinh Vaghela accused Modi's state government of having blood on its hand: "2002 me jo katl-e-aam hua uspe wo sarkar bani hai. Iske baad encounter hui, uske upar ye sarkar bani thi. Sarkar banti hai, lekin ye jo conspiracy karke sarkar banana hai, ye Gujarat aur desh ki janata jaanti hai aur aaj wo repeat nah o, iske liye hum janata ko request karte hain (The foundation of this (Modi) government rests on the 2002 carnage. Governments are made, but not on conspiracies. And the people of Gujarat know this, and that's why we are requesting the people for a change)," Mr Vaghela said.
Since his election to India's top elected office, Modi has elevated fellow right-wing Hindu extremists to positions of power in India. Yogi Adiyanath, known for his highly inflammatory anti-Muslim rhetoric, was hand-picked in 2016 by Modi to head India's most populous state of Uttar Pradesh.
Adiyanath's supporters brag about digging up Muslim women from their graves and raping them. In a video uploaded in 2014, he said, “If [Muslims] take one Hindu girl, we’ll take 100 Muslim girls. If they kill one Hindu, we’ll kill 100 Muslims.”
Yogi wants to "install statues of Goddess Gauri, Ganesh and Nandi in every mosque”. Before his election, he said, “If one Hindu is killed, we won’t go to the police, we’ll kill 10 Muslims”. He endorsed the beef lynching of Indian Muslim Mohammad Akhlaque and demanded that the victim's family be charged with cow slaughter.
Madhav S. Golwalkar, considered among the founders of the Hindu Nationalist movement in India, saw Islam and Muslims as enemies. He said: “Ever since that evil day, when Moslems first landed in Hindusthan, right up to the present moment, the Hindu Nation has been gallantly fighting to shake off the despoilers".
In his book We, MS Golwalkar wrote the following in praise of what Nazi leader Adolf Hitler did to Jews as a model for what Hindus should do to Muslims in India: "To keep up the purity of the Race and its culture, Germany shocked the world by her purging the country of the Semitic races -- the Jews. Race pride at its highest has been manifested here. Germany has also shown how well-nigh impossible it is for races and cultures, having differences going to the root, to be assimilated into one united whole, a good lesson for us in Hindusthan to learn and profit by."
Paul Richard Brass, professor emeritus of political science and international relations at the Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies, University of Washington, has spent many years researching communal riots in India. He has debunked all the action-reaction theories promoted by Hindu Nationalists like Modi. He believes these are not spontaneous but planned and staged as "a grisly form of dramatic production" by well-known perpetrators from the Sangh Parivar of which Prime Minister Modi has been a member since his youth.
Here's an excerpt of Professor Brass's work:
"Events labelled “Hindu-Muslim riots” have been recurring features in India for three-quarters of a century or more. In northern and western India, especially, there are numerous cities and town in which riots have become endemic. In such places, riots have, in effect, become a grisly form of dramatic production in which there are three phases: preparation/rehearsal, activation/enactment, and explanation/interpretation. In these sites of endemic riot production, preparation and rehearsal are continuous activities. Activation or enactment of a large-scale riot takes place under particular circumstances, most notably in a context of intense political mobilization or electoral competition in which riots are precipitated as a device to consolidate the support of ethnic, religious, or other culturally marked groups by emphasizing the need for solidarity in face of the rival communal group. The third phase follows after the violence in a broader struggle to control the explanation or interpretation of the causes of the violence. In this phase, many other elements in society become involved, including journalists, politicians, social scientists, and public opinion generally. At first, multiple narratives vie for primacy in controlling the explanation of violence. On the one hand, the predominant social forces attempt to insert an explanatory narrative into the prevailing discourse of order, while others seek to establish a new consensual hegemony that upsets existing power relations, that is, those which accept the violence as spontaneous, religious, mass-based, unpredictable, and impossible to prevent or control fully. This third phase is also marked by a process of blame displacement in which social scientists themselves become implicated, a process that fails to isolate effectively those most responsible for the production of violence, and instead diffuses blame widely, blurring responsibility, and thereby contributing to the perpetuation of violent productions in future, as well as the order that sustains them."
"In India, all this takes place within a discourse of Hindu-Muslim hostility that denies the deliberate and purposive character of the violence by attributing it to the spontaneous reactions of ordinary Hindus and Muslims, locked in a web of mutual antagonisms said to have a long history. In the meantime, in post-Independence India, what are labelled Hindu-Muslim riots have more often than not been turned into pogroms and massacres of Muslims, in which few Hindus are killed. In fact, in sites of endemic rioting, there exist what I have called “institutionalized riot systems,” in which the organizations of militant Hindu nationalism are deeply implicated. Further, in these sites, persons can be identified, who play specific roles in the preparation, enactment, and explanation of riots after the fact. Especially important are what I call the “fire tenders,” who keep Hindu-Muslim tensions alive through various inflammatory and inciting acts; “conversion specialists,” who lead and address mobs of potential rioters and give a signal to indicate if and when violence should commence; criminals and the poorest elements in society, recruited and rewarded for enacting the violence; and politicians and the vernacular media who, during the violence, and in its aftermath, draw attention away from the perpetrators of the violence by attributing it to the actions."
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Stop a marriage, demolish a bus stop, frighten minorities. As the rule of law collapses in India, the whims of Hindu extremists become de facto State policy. Excellent piece by @samar11
Even in Karnataka, very few people know of the Hindu Jagruti Sene – their Facebook page has no more than 1,000 followers. In normal circumstances, no one would have bothered if a group on the fringes of the Hindu right demanded that the main train station in the dusty, poor northern city of Kalaburgi painted in green be repainted because “it looks like a mosque”.
But this is the new India with every old vice resurrected and magnified, with fundamentalist demands, however nutty and bigoted, taken into serious consideration. So, it was no surprise that a few days later, the Indian railways – known for a notoriously slow bureaucracy, which takes years to even clear footbridges connecting metro and mainline stations – repainted Kalaburgi station white.
Meanwhile, in the state capital of Bengaluru, a more well-known Hindu group called the Hindu Jangruti Samiti – its previous successes include a stop to the shows of “anti-Hindu” stand-up comics – successfully began lobbying legislators of the state and India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party for a ban on the certification of halal food and the establishment of an “anti-love-jihad police force”, both favourite tropes of Hindu fundamentalists. On cue, a BJP legislator said he would introduce a private member’s bill to ban certification of food by any “private organisation”.
Only last month, as I wrote in my last column, a BJP MP demanded that two domes of a bus stop in Mysuru be demolished because, of course, it looked like a mosque. Fifteen days later, the domes were gone. Concerted assaults have been made, with considerable success, on Muslim customs, food and livelihoods. We have now reached the point where Christians in Bengaluru seek police protection to sing carols.
In neighbouring Maharashtra, this week, came news that the coalition government in which the BJP is a partner was setting up a committee headed by BJP MLA Mangal Prabhat Lodha to track inter-faith and inter-caste marriage, ostensibly to enable rapprochement between women and their “estranged” families. The decision was apparently a reaction to viral social-media messages that demonised all Muslim men after a Muslim man murdered and chopped up his Hindu girlfriend, the kind of gruesome murder that is all too common in India but mostly ignored, until this one.
Quite apart from the fact that the Maharashtra government move disregarded the agency of women and was dangerously intrusive and menacing – the committee will gather details of such marriages and contact such couples – it appeared illegal and unconstitutional.
Meanwhile, in BJP-run Madhya Pradesh this week, home minister Narottam Mishra, a conscientious objector of films or television series he deems anti-Hindu, took offence with the saffron-coloured attire of a movie star, who he said in any case supported the “tukde-tukde” gang, another trope that claims liberals and minorities want to splinter India.
Far from being indications of a strong and resurgent India – as the government claims is unfolding under Narendra Modi – a list of knee-jerk decisions and declarations made without regard to the law, indicate how easily the whims of Hindu fundamentalists are becoming State policy. When the mob dictates State policy, the State echoes the demands and concerns of the mob. That is what is happening in the Modi era.
The Indian mob has always had an impact on the State. Once the State gives in, a new normal is established and recovery to the old can take a generation or more. Recent Indian history is replete with examples. By encouraging non-State actors to radicalise society – and increasingly blurring the line between them and the state – Modi is repeating the follies of the past on a grander, more ominous scale.
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US shares multifaceted relationships with India and Pakistan and does not want to see a "war of words" but a constructive dialogue between the two nations for the betterment of their people, a top US official has said.
Relations between India and Pakistan have often been strained over the Kashmir issue and cross-border terrorism emanating from Pakistan.
"We have a global strategic partnership with India. I have also spoken about the deep partnership we have with Pakistan. These relationships in our mind are not zero-sum. We do not view them in relation to one another," US State Department spokesperson Ned Price told reporters at his daily news conference on Monday when asked about the recent outburst against Prime Minister Narendra Modi by Pakistani Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari in New York.
Price said each of these relationships is indispensable to the US and to the promotion and pursuit of the shared goals that the US has with India and Pakistan.
"The fact that we have partnerships with both countries leaves us not wanting to see a war of words between India and Pakistan. We would like to see a constructive dialogue between India and Pakistan. We think that is for the betterment of the Pakistani and Indian people. There is much work that we can do together bilaterally," Price said in response to the question.
"There are differences that, of course, need to be addressed between India and Pakistan. The United States stands ready to assist as a partner to both," he asserted.
The ties between India and Pakistan nosedived after India abrogated Article 370 of the Constitution, revoking the special status of Jammu and Kashmir and bifurcating the State into two Union Territories on August 5, 2019.
Pakistan foreign minister Bhutto-Zardari last week resorted to a personal attack on Prime Minister Modi and slammed the RSS after External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar told the UN Security Council that the "contemporary epicentre of terrorism" remains very much active and called for collective action to tackle them.
Though Jaishankar did not name any countries, it was apparent that he was making a veiled reference to Pakistan.
Later, he told reporters in New York that the world sees Pakistan as the epicentre of terrorism and recalled US leader Hillary Clinton's blunt message to Islamabad in 2011 that snakes in one's backyard will eventually bite those who keep them.
"The US has a global strategic partnership with India. These relationships stand on their own; it is not zero-sum.
"We see the importance - the indispensability really - of maintaining valuable partnerships with both our Indian and Pakistani friends. Each of these relationships also happens to be multifaceted," Price said.
"So even as we deepen our global strategic partnership with India, we also have a relationship in which we can be candid and frank with one another. Where we have disagreements or concerns, we voice those just as we would with our Pakistani friends as well," he said.
It is a bipartisan legacy of the last several administrations, perhaps starting most notably with the administration of former US President George W Bush that the US is now a partner of "first resort" for India, he said.
"There is a lot of good that we can do together, not only for our two countries, but around the world, and I think we will see a good example of that in the coming year when India hosts the G20," he said.
"I know we will have an opportunity to travel to India, to be in close touch with India in the context of the G20, and we will be able to see what cooperation between our two countries and a broader set of countries can provide," Price added.
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PARTICIPATING in a United Nations Security Council (UNSC) discussion on terrorism, organised at India’s initiative on December 15, US Under Secretary for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland said, ‘Last year, the world faced more than 8,000 terrorist incidents, across 65 countries, killing more than 23,000 people….’ These chilling statistics show that terrorism is a contemporary scourge, and India has been a victim of cross-border terrorism for at least three decades. It was therefore appropriate for India to make counter-terrorism a significant theme of its membership of the UNSC for its two-year term that concludes at this month’s end.
To profile the importance India attaches to counter-terrorism, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar travelled to New York to preside over the December 15 UNSC meeting on ‘Threats to international peace and security caused by terrorist acts’. He invited ‘high level’ representatives from the UNSC member states — normally he would have sent invitations to his counterparts — to the meeting. Ireland was represented by its foreign minister while some others, including Britain, sent junior ministers or senior officials. The lukewarm response to Jaishankar’s invitation was an indication that while all major powers assert the importance of eliminating terrorism, they have really moved on to other issues concerning international peace and security. Consequently, for these powers, the salience and profile of the terrorist threat in their security calculus has diminished.
At a conceptual level, India has never wanted to go into the ‘root causes’ of terrorism. It has believed that idea to be a slippery slope which could lead to the justification of terrorism. However, it is clear that more and more countries are showing sympathy with the need to address ‘root causes’. This was reflected in Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney’s statement. ‘The most effective way to tackle terrorism is to prevent it in the first place… we know that communities affected by conflict, poverty, inequality, poor governance and human rights violations are more vulnerable to radicalisation and recruitment’.
Congress Party Leader #RahulGandhi: "China has taken our land. They are beating out soldiers. The threat of China Is clear. And the government is hiding it, ignoring it" #BharatJodoYatra #Modi #BJP #Ladakh https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/pitai-shouldnt-be-used-for-jawans-s-jaishankar-on-rahul-gandhis-remark-3619910
"Pitai" Shouldn't Be Used For Jawans: S Jaishankar On Rahul Gandhi Remark
"China has taken our land. They are beating out soldiers. The threat of China Is clear. And the government is hiding it, ignoring it," Rahul Gandhi had said.
Foreign minister S Jaishankar today in the Parliament objected to the Congress MP Rahul Gandhi's use of the word "pitai (beating)" in the context of clashes between Indian and Chinese troops in Arunachal Pradesh's Tawang sector. Mr Gandhi had, while criticising Prime Minister Modi on alleged Chinese advances in Arunachal Pradesh, said "hamare jawanon ki pitai ho rahi hai (our troops are being beaten up)".
"We have no problems if there are political differences, even if there is political criticism. I have heard sometimes that my own understanding needs to be deepened. When I see who is giving the advice, I can only bow and respect, but I think we shouldn't directly or indirectly criticise our jawans. Our jawans are standing in Yangtse at 13,000 feet, defending our border, they do not deserve to have the word 'pitai'. The word 'pitai' shouldn't be used for our jawans," Mr Jaishankar said.
Soon after Mr Gandhi's remarks in Jaipur during his pan-India foot march -- the Bharat Jodo Yatra -- where he accused the government of downplaying the threat posed by China, saying Beijing was preparing for war but Prime Minister Narendra Modi's administration was "sleeping", the BJP had launched a fierce attack, taking issue with his comment that Chinese soldiers are beating up Indian Army personnel in Arunachal Pradesh. BJP leaders demanded that Congress should immediately expel him from the party.
"China has taken our land. They are beating out soldiers. The threat of China Is clear. And the government is hiding it, ignoring it. China is preparing for an offensive in Ladakh and Arunachal. And the government of India is sleeping," Mr Gandhi had said, further attacking S Jaishankar, saying his statements showed he needed to expand his knowledge on China.
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) spokesperson Gaurav Bhatia had said if Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge is not "remote-controlled" and if the opposition party stands with the country, then Rahul Gandhi should be expelled for his comments, which "belittle" India and break the morale of its armed forces.
The cross-country march enters the capital where Congress leader Rahul Gandhi attacks Modi’s BJP for ‘spreading Hindu-Muslim hatred’.
A cross-country march led by Indian opposition leader Rahul Gandhi has reached the capital New Delhi after passing through eight states, hoping to regain some of the popularity it lost to the ruling Hindu nationalist party.
Tens of thousands of people have joined Gandhi’s “Unite India March” against “hate and division”, which aims to turn the Congress party’s fortunes around after its drubbing by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in two successive national elections.
“Hindu-Muslim hatred is being spread twenty-four-seven to divert your attention from real issues,” Gandhi said in his speech at the Mughal-era Red Fort in the Indian capital.
“They will spread hate. We will spread love,” he said, referring to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s BJP.
Hindu nationalism has surged under Modi and his party, which have been criticised over rising hate speech and violence against Muslims in recent years. Opponents say Modi’s silence emboldens right-wing groups and threatens national unity, but his party has denied this.
“There are concerns about the plight of minorities, the shrinking space for dissent, as well as the government’s handling of the pandemic and the economy,” said Al Jazeera’s Pavni Mittal, reporting from New Delhi.
“Analysts say the Congress’s inability to be an effective opposition and hold the government accountable has contributed to the BJP’s unprecedented success,” she added.
The Nehru-Gandhi family has controlled the Congress party for decades but has also overseen its recent decline. The party currently governs just three of India’s 28 states.
Rahul Gandhi resigned as Congress president after the last general election. The next national polls are due by 2024.
Plagued by a leadership crisis and series of electoral routs, the Congress in October elected Mallikarjun Kharge, its first non-Gandhi president in 24 years, in an attempt to shed the image of being run by a single family.
Kharge on Saturday wrote on Twitter the march is “against the politics of inflation, unemployment, inequality, and hatred”.
“[This] national mass movement has gathered the hopes of crores [millions] of people by reaching the throne of power,” he posted.
The march will take a nine-day break in New Delhi before starting its final leg on January 3 towards Srinagar, the main city in Indian-administered Kashmir in the north.
Congress leader Jairam Ramesh told journalists on Saturday the march – which is broadcast live on a website – has completed nearly 3,200km (1,988 miles) so far in nine states.
Gandhi’s mother and former Congress president Sonia Gandhi, his sister and party leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and her husband Robert Vadra joined Saturday’s march in the capital.
Sharing a picture of himself hugging his mother during the rally, Gandhi tweeted: “The love I have received from her is what I am sharing with the country.”
Actor-turned-politician Kamal Haasan also joined the march on Saturday.
Passing through hundreds of villages and towns, the march has attracted farmers worried about rising debt, students complaining about increasing unemployment, civil society members and rights activists who say India’s democratic health is in decline.
In multiple impassioned speeches during the march, Gandhi often targeted Modi and his government for doing very little to address the growing economic inequality in India, the rising religious polarisation, and the threat posed by China.
The armies of India and China are locked in a bitter standoff in the mountainous Ladakh region since 2020. Despite over a dozen rounds of talks at military, political and diplomatic levels, the standoff has protracted.
On Jan. 19, Indian foreign ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said: “Do note that this has not been screened in India. So, I am only going to comment in the context of what I have heard about it and what my colleagues have seen. Let me just make it very clear that we think this is a propaganda piece designed to push a particular discredited narrative. The bias, the lack of objectivity, and frankly a continuing colonial mindset, is blatantly visible.”
“If anything, this film or documentary is a reflection on the agency and individuals that are peddling this narrative again. It makes us wonder about the purpose of this exercise and the agenda behind it and frankly we do not wish to dignify such efforts,” Bagchi added.
A BBC spokesperson told Variety: “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 [India’s ruling party]. We offered the Indian Government a right to reply to the matters raised in the series – it declined to respond,” the spokesperson added.
The documentary addresses the 2002 communal riots in the western Indian state of Gujarat, of which Modi was Chief Minister at the time, that left 790 Muslims and 254 Hindus dead, per official numbers. A decade later, a Special Investigation Team appointed by India’s Supreme Court exonerated Modi, saying that the leader had taken steps to control the situation.
On Jan. 18, U.K. member of parliament Imran Hussain, quoted the documentary during Prime Minister’s Questions, saying senior diplomats reported that the massacre could not have taken place without the “climate of impunity” created by Modi and that he was, in the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office words, “directly responsible” for the violence.
Hussain asked U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak: “Given that hundreds were brutally killed and that families across India and the world, including here in the U.K., are still without justice, does the Prime Minister agree with his Foreign Office diplomats that Modi was directly responsible? What more does the Foreign Office know about Modi’s involvement in that grave act of ethnic cleansing?”
Sunak replied: “The U.K. 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 characterization that the hon. gentleman has put forward.”
The second part of the documentary, which is due to broadcast on Jan. 24, could potentially be even more inflammatory. It “examines the track record of Narendra Modi’s government following his re-election in 2019. A series of controversial policies – the removal of Kashmir’s special status guaranteed under Article 370 of the Indian constitution and a citizenship law that many said treated Muslims unfairly – has been accompanied by reports of violent attacks on Muslims by Hindus,” according to the BBC episode description.
The Gujarat riots of 2002 are a “stain” on Narendra Modi, former British foreign secretary Jack Straw has told a two-part documentary, India: The Modi Question, that is being shown on BBC2.
The first part was transmitted on Tuesday, January 17, and the second part will go out next Tuesday, January 24.
Introducing the programme, the BBC told viewers: “The programme contains scenes you may find upsetting.”
It summed up: “This series tells the story of Narendra Modi’s troubled relationship with India’s Muslims.”
During Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday, Imran Hussain, the Labour MP for Bradford East, confronted Rishi Sunak: “Last night, the BBC revealed that the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office knew the extent of Narendra Modi’s involvement in the Gujarat massacre that paved the way for the persecution of Muslims and other minorities that we see in India today.”
Hussain went on: “Senior diplomats reported that the massacre could not have taken place without the ‘climate of impunity’ created by Modi and that he was, in the FCDO’s words, ‘directly responsible’ for the violence. Given that hundreds were brutally killed and that families across India and the world, including here in the UK, are still without justice, does the Prime Minister agree with his Foreign Office diplomats that Modi was directly responsible? What more does the Foreign Office know about Modi’s involvement in that grave act of ethnic cleansing?”
Rishi brushed the question away: “The UK government’s position on that is clear and longstanding, 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 Hon. Gentleman has put forward.”
Straw, who was the British foreign secretary under Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair from 2001 to 2006, was asked about the riots by the programme and replied: “I was very worried about it. I was taking a great deal of personal interest, because India is a really important country with whom we have relations. We had to handle it very carefully.” Straw was the Labour MP from 1979 to 2015 for Blackburn, which has a large Pakistani-origin population.
He said: “What we did was to establish an inquiry and have a team go to Gujarat and find out for themselves what had happened. And they produced a very thorough report.”
Straw added: “It was very shocking. These were very serious claims that chief minister Modi had played a pretty active part in pulling back the police and in tacitly encouraging the Hindu extremists.
“That was a particularly egregious example of political involvement, really to prevent the police from doing their job, which was to protect both communities, the Hindu and the Muslims. The options open to us were fairly limited. We were never going to break diplomatic relations with India. But it is obviously a stain on his reputation. There’s no way out of that.”
The BBC said: “The report, sent as a diplomatic cable and marked ‘restricted’, has never been published before.”
The programme highlighted lines from the report: “Extent of violence much greater than reported… widespread and systematic rape of Muslim women…. Violence, politically motivated.... Aim was to purge Muslims from Hindu areas. The systematic campaign of violence has all the hallmarks of ethnic cleansing.”
The BBC said: “The report contained an extraordinary claim.”
This was: “Reliable contacts have told us Narendra Modi met senior police officers on the 27th of February and ordered them not to intervene in the rioting. Police contacts deny this meeting happened.
“There were pretty credible reports he had specifically instructed the police not to intervene. The police contact who we talked to consistently denied that. So we did have conflicting reports on what his direct role had been. But we did feel it was clear there was a culture of impunity that created the environment for the violence to take place. That undoubtedly came from Modi.”
The BBC then interviewed a former senior British diplomat who was “one of the investigators. He is speaking publicly for the first time about what the British inquiry found. He’s asked to remain anonymous.”
He told the programme: “At least 2,000 people were murdered during the violence, the vast majority were Muslim. We described it as a pogrom, a deliberate and politically driven effort targeted at the Muslim community. The violence was widely reported to have been organised by an extremist Hindu nationalist group, the VHP, who have a relationship with the RSS.
“The VHP and its allies could not have inflicted so much damage without the climate of impunity created by the state government. Narendra Modi is directly responsible.” Modi has been given a clean chit by the Supreme Court of India.
The Telegraph asked the UK foreign office to see the full report.
Its existence was not denied but in response, the foreign office sent this newspaper a statement: “The violence in Gujarat in 2002 was tragic. It is a reminder of the need to continually work for respect and harmony between religious communities.
It is right that we remember the victims of the violence in Gujarat in 2002, and their families, and that we reaffirm our commitment to do all we can to foster inter-communal understanding and respect around the world.
“Where events involve British nationals, we naturally have an interest both in the provision of consular assistance and in trying to ascertain what happened through police and diplomacy.”
Three British nationals from Yorkshire — Imran and Shakil Dawood, and Mohammed Aswat — were killed by rioters when they crossed into Gujarat from a trip to the Taj. A survivor, who was 18 at the time, was interviewed for the programme.
The BBC set out what was covered in part one: “Narendra Modi is the leader of the world’s largest democracy, a man who has been elected twice as India’s Prime Minister and is widely seen as the most powerful politician of his generation. Seen by the West as an important bulwark against Chinese domination of Asia, he has been courted as a key ally by both the US and the UK.
“Yet Narendra Modi’s premiership has been dogged by persistent allegations about the attitude of his government towards India’s Muslim population. This series investigates the truth behind these allegations and examines Modi’s backstory to explore other questions about his politics when it comes to India’s largest religious minority.
“This episode tracks Narendra Modi’s first steps into politics, including and his association with the Right-wing Hindu organisation Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, his rise through the ranks of the Bharatiya Janata Party, and his appointment as chief minister of the state of Gujarat, where his response to a series of riots in 2002 remains a source of controversy.”
It said of the sequel: “The second episode examines the track record of Narendra Modi’s government following his re-election in 2019.
“A series of controversial policies — the removal of Kashmir’s special status guaranteed under Article 370 of the Indian Constitution and a citizenship law that many said treated Muslims unfairly — has been accompanied by reports of violent attacks on Muslims by Hindus.
“Modi and his government reject any suggestion that their policies reflect any prejudice towards Muslims, but these policies have been repeatedly criticised by human rights organisations such as Amnesty International.
Jack Straw, who was Britain’s foreign secretary in 2002 when the Gujarat killings happened, has confirmed that the British high commissioner in India sent a report to the Foreign Office in London which said “Narendra Modi is directly responsible” for the killings in 2002 in Gujarat. “That was the feeling of those on the ground,” he said.
BBC places Modi at heart of Gujarat riots, drawing ire of Indian government | Middle East Eye
Documentary reveals shocking details of British fact-finding mission after anti-Muslim pogrom in Gujarat 20 years ago
Rasheed, from the IAMC, said it was unsurprising that Modi's PR machine was out in full force to deny and distract from his role in the pogroms.
"They will do everything in their power to suppress its screening. But this important piece of journalism has already brought Mr Modi again under the international community's scanner for his role in 2002 and renewed calls to prosecute him," Rasheed added.
Excerpts of Frontline story on the BBC Modi Documentary:
"Even though R.B. Sreekumar, head of police intelligence in Gujarat, and Sanjiv Bhatt, another police officer, had maintained that Modi indeed imposed the diktat, witnesses for the Chief Minister countered that neither Sreekumar nor Bhatt was present at the concerned meeting. In 2022, both were accused of fabrication. Bhatt is in any case serving a life sentence on another matter.
"The documentary has also recorded that Haren Pandya, a minister in the Gujarat government, testified to a Jesuit priest that Modi did issue the aforementioned orders. But his attendance at the meeting was also contradicted. The programme has BJP MP Subramanian Swamy giving his opinion on Pandya’s death to the BBC, calling it “tragic and suspicious”.
"My son's death was a planned, political murder...it must be reinvestigated."
—Vithal Pandya, father of the late Haren Pandya, former Gujarat revenue minister, to Outlook on November 7, 2007
The Special Investigation Team (SIT) probing the case of forgery and fabrication of evidence in connection with the 2002 riots has arrested dismissed IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt, making the third arrest after social activist Teesta Setalvad and former IPS officer R.B. Sreekumar.
Newsmaker | RB Sreekumar, a decorated cop on the wrong side of Modi govt
Sreekumar, who became Gujarat DGP after retirement, wrote affidavits to the Nanavati Commission alleging govt agencies’ complicity in the 2002 riots. On Friday, the Supreme Court called into question his role in the accusations.
Topic: BBC's Modi Documentary
“I have long been very familiar with the history of India and independence in 1947 and communal violence that ensued. I was there when there were demonstrations against Ayodhya mosque”
“There are thousands of Gujaratis in my constituency (in England), mainly Muslims”
After Godhra incident or accident (in Gujarat in 2002) there was a need for effective policing that did not happen”
“There’s a colonial history of the East India Company and the British government playing one community against the other (Hindu vs Muslim) during the Raj”
“The United Kingdom was a colonial master of India until 1947. So we felt a moral responsibility and a long term bond. …the constituency of Lancashire I represented is 40% non white… I had a concern for our Gujarati Muslim constituents”
This is compounded by the fact that banning a documentary that was not otherwise popular in India has only invited more viewers, says Hartosh Singh Bal, the political editor of Indian magazine The Caravan, who also appears in the documentary as a commentator. “Frankly, the ban has been pretty stupid because it’s attracted far more attention to the documentary than would have been otherwise possible,” says Bal. He adds that it is now being screened across school campuses as “an act of resistance” among teenagers who previously viewed these events as a dated chapter in history.
The cause of that fire was known and not in doubt: it had begun in the centre of the carriage, possibly when someone knocked over a lighted cooking stove on which food was being warmed or tea made.
The flames had remained restricted to that area but the smoke the fire created had spread to the rest of the carriage, through the gaps between the upper and lower berths, and along the underside of the ceiling. As in S-6, the majority of deaths had resulted from asphyxiation. This explanation gained credibility because the railways were not using flame-retardant materials in second-class compartments then. So even a lighted match could start a fire and create large volumes of toxic smoke. What is more, cooking or warming one’s own food on long train journeys was, and may still be, a common practice among orthodox Hindus.
“There are numerous cases of torture by the armed forces. In some instances, the tortures are made audible through loudspeakers so that other people can hear the victim’s screams. There have also been deaths due to tear gas shelling at protesters. What remains a big question in this situation is, when the armed forces and other bodies of the state are indulging in such violations, where is the innocent victim supposed to go for redressal?” states the report.
The second episode looks at the BJP government’s relationship with the rise in lynchings, reading down of Article 370, CAA and communal violence in Delhi.
The report, which aired a few hours ago in the UK, looks at the sudden reading down of Article 370 and the contentious Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 (considered discriminatory and unconstitutional amongst a sizeable section and still to be heard by the Supreme Court) as well as the North-East Delhi communal violence in 2020. The final episode in this BBC series looks at independent reports, testimonies and comments from affected parties, academics, members of the press and civil society, and cites the government and police’s defence on each issue. It also includes detailed comments by three persons representing the BJP’s point of view, most prominently journalist and former BJP MP Swapan Dasgupta.
The documentary claims that despite Modi promising a “new age of prosperity” and a “New India”, the country, under his rule, has been “marred by religious turmoil”. Though all the charges against him regarding the Gujarat riots were cleared by the highest court of India, it is inevitable that the “concerns will not go away”, the new episode claims.
Three years after coming to power in 2014, there were widespread cases of lynchings against Muslims. Under the name of the Pink Revolution, transporting beef had become “increasingly controversial” following which beef was made illegal in many Indian states, as cows are considered sacred by Hindus. The documentary, focusing on the issue of cow vigilantism, narrates the story of Alimuddin Ansari, who was killed by cow vigilantes in 2017, the same day when Modi spoke out after his long silence. Soon after that, there was a ‘surprising development’, avers the film.
The documentary speaks of how BJP spokesperson Nityanand Mahato was found guilty of Alimuddin’s murder, and sentenced to life in prison. But one of Modi’s ministers helped him and the other convicted men with their legal fees. And welcomed them with a garland of flowers.
“They are the rulers of the whole country and when rulers of the country support these people, we poor people can do nothing,” pleads Ansari’s wife in the film. Over four years later, the men are still free, concludes the film.
According to Human Rights Watch, cited in the film, over three and a half years between May 2015 and December 2018, cow vigilantes “killed 44 people and injured around 280 in cow-related violence, out of which most victims were Muslim.”
When Swapan Dasgupta was asked about the frequency of lynchings rising alarmingly as a generalised practice in India, he termed this an “unwarranted assumption.” Modi’s brand of Hindu nationalism was “backed by a record number of Indian voters”, Dasgupta asserts in the prime minister’s defence.
“The fundamental aim is to Hinduise the way that India functions and irrevocably change the political, social and cultural nature of India. Essentially, the gloves are off,” Chris Ogden, an expert on Indian politics and associate professor at the University of St Andrews, can be heard saying in the film.
On the controversial and drastic reading down of Article 370 in August, 2019 and the unprecedented conversion of a state into a union territory and its bifurcation by New Delhi, the film says that it was “nine weeks after Modi PM’s swearing in” that “troops were sent in to Kashmir”. The result was a “communications blackout” as “direct control” of the region was seized by New Delhi.
However, as per the film, the government claims that its policies “are bringing peace and development” to the region.
With these developments, a new policy of “Indianisation” is taking place, according to scholar, author and longtime India-watcher Christophe Jaffrelot. The film claims that “nearly 4,000 people were detained in the first month alone” (after control over the union territory of Jammu & Kashmir was established) following the reading down of Article 370.
On the large-scale protests that broke out against the CAA, meant to link religion with India’s citizenship, which rang alarm bells amongst significant sections, and then the communal violence in Delhi in February 2020 which claimed at least 53 lives, the film says, “Hardline Hindu clerics made threats against the Muslim protestors.”
Faizan, a 23-year-old Muslim man, was “beaten to death by the police”, claims the documentary, citing a viral video. Faizan’s mother can be heard saying in the film, “I want justice for my son. He was innocent and was killed for no reason.”
The film states that “two thirds of the dead [in the 2020 Delhi violence] were reportedly Muslims”.
The film cites an investigation by Amnesty International which concluded that “the police committed serious human rights violations, including torture and ill treatment, excessive and arbitrary use of force on protestors, and active participation in the violence.”
Aakar Patel, chair, Amnesty International India is heard saying that “the Amnesty report on the violence in Delhi showed that the police did not act as it should have acted. Where it did act, it often named the wrong people. Often the victims were named as the perpetrators of the violence. And we called for a proper investigation into these acts which has not happened so far.”
The Delhi police is quoted in the film as maintaining that the Amnesty report was “lopsided and biassed against the police” and “maliciously made a case of human rights violations”.
During the course of the rioting, police arrested over 2,000 people, both Hindus and Muslims.
“Muslims have got the message that they should not expect the state to protect them,” journalist Alisan Jafri is heard saying in the film.
Arundhati Roy says, “We are talking to each other saying, ‘Do you think it will happen?’ ‘Do you think it is really going to be like Rwanda?’ Why do I speak to you in this film? Only so that there is a record somewhere that all of us did not agree with this. But it is not a call for help, because no help will come.”
Today in India, the BBC film concludes, “reporters face violence, intimidation and arrest for doing their jobs. Campaigners say press freedom has declined since Narendra Modi came to power, and is now in crisis. Human rights campaigners say they are also under attack.”
Amnesty in India says it was forced to suspend operations by the government. The government said the group had broken the law by “circumventing rules around foreign donations.”
Thousands of NGOs have shut in India after 2015, claims the film. In concluding moments of the film, Dasgupta can be heard saying, “Our democracy may not be perfect, but it keeps on improving.”
When Modi came to power in 2014, India was considered to be a free country by the US think-tank Freedom House. Now it is only “partly free”, the film says.
Why has there not been more international outcry? According to Jaffrelot, “[The] West is looking at India as the best way to balance China. And that is the reason why they will not criticise, they will not condemn most of the decisions which have been made. Human Rights are not very high on the list anymore because there is a bigger challenge (China).”
Modi Documentary Part 2 features Modi, Rajnath Singh, Trump, several BJP spokespersons, Christophe Jafferlot, Akar Patel, Arundhati Roy, Safoora Zargar, Alishan Jafri, Siddhartha Vardharajan,
It discusses lynchings of Muslims across India, oppression in Kashmir after revocation of Article 370, Modi government's violent response to protests against new citizenship laws meant to strip Muslims' citizemship, police arrests, beatings and killings of Muslims like 21-year-old Faizan (500 injured, 50 killed in Delhi, no police officers charged), Modi supporters also threatened protesters, Trump speaking in Ahmadabad in support of Modi, Muslim student Safoora Zargar's arrest as "ring leaders" as a "terrorist" under UAPA, charges included hate speech, then came coronavirus,
Modi remains enormously popular and hugely divisive
Jaffrelot: West sees India as a counterweight to China, they do not criticize Modi, human rights not important to them,
by Ramachandra Guha
Gandhi is the major hate figure (in Modi's India). He is blamed for emasculating Indians by preaching non-violence; blamed for choosing the modernising Jawaharlal Nehru as his political heir instead of a more authentically “Hindu” figure; blamed for not stopping the creation of Pakistan; blamed for insisting that Muslims who stayed behind in India be given the rights of equal citizenship. BJP members of parliament hail Gandhi’s assassin Godse as a true “deshbhakt” (patriot); praise for him trends on Twitter every January 30; there are periodic plans to erect statues to him and temples in his memory. YouTube videos mocking Gandhi and charging him with betraying Hindus garner millions of views.
Seventy-five years after his assassination, the ‘father of the nation’ is a problem for Narendra Modi — but the country still needs his ideas
Born in 1958, a decade after Gandhi’s death, I grew up in an atmosphere of veneration towards the Mahatma. One of my great-uncles helped to edit Gandhi’s Collected Works; another founded a pioneering initiative in community health inspired by Gandhi. These familial influences were consolidated and deepened by the public culture of the time. Gandhi was the father of the nation, the leader of the struggle for freedom against British rule, whose techniques of non-violent resistance had won admirers and imitators across the world. It was largely because of him that we were free and proudly independent, and it was largely because of him that — unlike neighbouring Pakistan — we gloried in the religious and linguistic diversity of our land. In our school assembly we sang a 17th-century hymn that Gandhi was particularly fond of, which he had rewritten to reflect his vision of the India he wished to leave behind. Hindus saw God as Ishwar; Gandhi’s adaptation asked us to see him as Allah too. And it was to these lines that our teachers drew our particular attention. The first criticisms of Gandhi that I remember encountering were in a book I read as a student at Delhi University. This was the autobiography of Verrier Elwin, an Oxford scholar who became a leading ethnographer of the tribes of central India. Elwin knew Gandhi well, and at one time considered himself a disciple. In later years, while he retained his admiration for the Mahatma’s moral courage and religious pluralism, Elwin became sharply critical of Gandhi’s advocacy of prohibition, which he thought damaging to tribal culture (where home-brewed alcohol was both a source of nutrition and an aid to dance and music), and of his exaltation of celibacy, which Elwin thought damaging to everyone.
India's rising tide of Hindu nationalism is an affront to the legacy of Mahatma Gandhi, his great-grandson says, ahead of the 75th anniversary of the revered independence hero's assassination.
Gandhi was shot dead at a multi-faith prayer meeting on January 30, 1948, by Nathuram Godse, a religious zealot angered by his victim's conciliatory gestures to the country's minority Muslim community.
Godse was executed the following year and remains widely reviled, but author and social activist Tushar Gandhi, one of the global peace symbol's most prominent descendants, says his views now have a worrying resonance in India.
"That whole philosophy has now captured India and Indian hearts, the ideology of hate, the ideology of polarisation, the ideology of divisions," he told AFP at his Mumbai home.
"For them, it's very natural that Godse would be their iconic patriot, their idol."
Tushar, 63, attributes this tectonic shift to the rise of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Modi took office in 2014 and Tushar says his government is to blame for undermining the secular and multicultural traditions that his namesake sought to protect.
"His success has been built on hate, we must accept that," Tushar added.
"There is no denying that in his heart, he also knows what he is doing is lighting a fire that will one day consume India itself."
Today, Gandhi's assassin is revered by many Hindu nationalists who have pushed for a re-evaluation of his decision to murder a man synonymous with non-violence.
A temple dedicated to Godse was built near New Delhi in 2015, the year after Modi's election, and activists have campaigned to honour him by renaming an Indian city after him.
Godse was a member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a still-prominent Hindu far-right group whose members conduct paramilitary drills and prayer meetings.
The RSS has long distanced itself from Godse's actions but remains a potent force, founding Modi's party decades ago to battle for Hindu causes in the political realm.
Modi has regularly paid respect to Gandhi's legacy but has refrained from weighing in on the campaign to rehabilitate his killer.
Tushar remains a fierce protector of his world-famous ancestor's legacy of "honesty, equality, unity and inclusiveness".
He has written two books about Gandhi and his wife Kasturba, regularly talks at public events about the importance of democracy and has filed legal motions in India's top court as part of efforts to defend the country's secular constitution.
His Mumbai abode, a post-independence flat in a quiet neighbourhood compound, is dotted with portraits and small statues of his famous relative along with a miniature spinning wheel -- a reference to Gandhi's credo of self-reliance.
Tushar is anxious but resigned to the prospect of Modi winning another term in next year's elections, an outcome widely seen as an inevitability given the weakness of his potential challengers.
"The poison is so deep, and they're so successful, that I don't see my ideology triumphing over in India for a long time now," he says.
Sandeep Acharya is a popular musician. Millions of users stream his songs online, and thousands of fans attend his concerts. He belongs to India's Hindutva music scene — an Islamophobic scene that has been on the rise in India. Hindutva pop is often played when Hindu groups rally in India. Some songs have even sparked violence and riots.
NARAYANPUR, India — Over two decades of practicing and proselytizing Christianity, Badinath Salam had been kicked out of his home several times and often harassed. But in December, he recalled, the vitriol turned virulent.
Leaders in his Indigenous Indian village beat drums to summon all 100 households to a clearing, he said. There, gathered villagers pummeled their Christian neighbors, who made up one-fifth of their village, and left Salam hospitalized for three days.
When the drumbeats began again a week later, on Jan. 9, Salam ran for his life. In this part of central India, he wasn’t the only Christian forced to flee.
Since December, Hindu vigilantes in Chhattisgarh state in eastern India, enraged by the spread of Christianity and rallied by local political leaders, have assaulted and displaced hundreds of Christian converts in dozens of villages and left a trail of damaged churches, according to interviews with local Christians and activists and as seen during a recent trip to the area.
That visit to the remote region — a day’s drive from the nearest airport — revealed the extent of the chaos and its uneasy aftermath. In villages, bruised and beaten Christian converts picked through the rubble of churches destroyed by mobs wielding sledgehammers. In dusty townships, Hindu nationalist leaders led impassioned rallies promising more action against Christian conversions. In an empty government gym of the dusty township of Narayanpur, evicted families including Salam’s sought refuge, sleeping on mats next to a few sacks of spare clothes and grain.
The violence played out in one of the most culturally unique parts of India, a stretch of forested hills where missionaries from different religions and even Maoist guerrillas have long vied for the hearts and souls of Indigenous tribes. But the episode also illustrated a broader truth about India today: that antipathy toward the Abrahamic religions of Islam and Christianity — often portrayed as alien religions brought to India by its historical invaders — can be wielded as an effective mobilizing force for political ends.
Across India, reports of violence against Muslims often increase in the run-up to elections, a phenomenon that some political scientists have attributed to attempts by Hindu parties to energize their base. In the region of southern Chhattisgarh known as Bastar, the boogeyman has been the Christian.
The violence that roiled Bastar began in December and eventually affected about 100 villages, local activists said.
On Jan. 2, members of a local Hindu group known as the Janjati Suraksha Manch stormed a Catholic church in Narayanpur town, where they destroyed statues and threw rocks through stained-glass windows. On Jan. 12, more than 200 men in Chimmdi village climbed onto the roof of the small church built by Jai Singh Potai and tore it down. Around the corner, they smashed another church and wrote on a blackboard: “If you don’t leave Christianity then the same will happen again.”
A more muscular, chauvinistic India is casting aside the ‘father of the nation’ for other heroes
When Indian screenwriter Vijayendra Prasad set out five years ago to write an action film, he wanted to tell a fictional story but pay tribute to the “real warriors” of India’s freedom struggle.
The result was “RRR,” a three-hour, visual-effects spectacle that was released this spring and instantly broke records at the Indian box office. In the film’s climax, a muscle-bound protagonist retrieves a bow from a shrine to the Hindu god Ram and cuts down hapless British soldiers with a hail of arrows. Then he arms Indian villagers with guns to fight their colonial oppressors before launching into a lavish song-and-dance number that eulogizes a list of real-life revolutionaries from Indian history.
Absent from the names? Mahatma Gandhi, the Indian pacifist who has been celebrated by many — including the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. — as an inspiration and an icon of nonviolent resistance.
But not by Prasad.
“The time has come to let Indians know the truth, the real warriors who should be honored,” Prasad said recently in his office in Hyderabad, a hub of the fast-growing south Indian film industry. “The real reason why we got independence was not because of Mr. Gandhi. That’s the fact.”
As India celebrates 75 years of independence on Monday, the legacy of the “father of the nation” who advocated nonviolence and secularism is being debated, downplayed and derided as never before. Instead, Indians are embracing a pantheon of other 20th century heroes, particularly leaders who favored armed struggle or overtly championed Hindus, in a reflection of the nation’s mood and its shifting politics.
Today, at rallies of Hindu nationalist hard-liners, Gandhi is routinely vilified as feeble in his tactics against the British and overly conciliatory to India’s Muslims, who broke off and formed their own state, Pakistan, on Aug. 14, 1947. On social media and online forums, exaggerations and falsehoods abound about Gandhi’s alleged betrayal of Hindus. And in popular films and the political mainstream, Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru — the first prime minister — are sidelined, while nationalists who advocated the force of arms have been elevated.
India is fundamentally rethinking whether Gandhi could have delivered freedom out of colonialism without the specter of bloodshed — which so clearly contributed to the British loss of appetite for empire — and whether his ideals should be the country’s bedrock principles.
“The current government has been trying to project itself as a government that is macho, defiant, strong, and won’t take nonsense from anybody,” said Tushar A. Gandhi, an author and the independence leader’s great-grandson. “There is an ongoing campaign to eradicate Gandhi from the psyche of the Indian people, or at least reduce his qualities to the point it is trivial and meaningless.”
Personifying the cultural shift is Narendra Modi, the popular prime minister who is portrayed by his allies as a living counterpoint to Gandhi and Nehru: tough on Islamic separatists, steeped in Hindu nationalism, formidable on the world stage and — if his campaign speeches are to be taken literally — physically imposing, with a 56-inch chest.
As the historian Ram Guha writes in the FT that contentious attitude is born of the fact that the religious harmony that Gandhi preached is anathema to hardcore elements of the Hindu rite which seek to make India into a Hindu state.
Though Gandhi was himself an upper caste Hindu he celebrated the diversity of India both its many languages and its many faiths. But the nation's current leaders sometime seem to believe that Hindus deserve and ought to see supremacy in a land in which they are the overwhelming majority. Take one example of the antipathy of the ruling political class toward the icon. Gandhi's killer, Nathuram Godse, has become for many a national hero.
Numerous BJP lawmakers have publicly praised Godse, the party brass usually distance themselves from such comments. What the BJP has done is popularize competing figures in India's independent struggle. People who frontally challenge Gandhi's message. That includes men like Veer Savarkar, known as the father of Hindu nationalism.
As Guha notes he was a man who hated Gandhi and Muslims. He was also the ideological inspiration for Godse, Gandhi's killer. A previous BJP led government hung a portrait of Savarkar in the parliament building. Modi has bowed before it, saluting Savarkar for his undying love for India.
This moment represents a sea change for Indian politics which for most of its independent history has been heavily influenced by Gandhi and his ideas. But a militant Hindu rite has popularized a muscular nationalism that looks down on Gandhi's insistence on nonviolence. They also hold him responsible for the partition of India and Pakistan, and accused him of being too willing to appease Muslims.
Disinformation about Gandhi as an enemy of Indian Hindus circulates freely online. Posts accuse him of having urged Hindu women to cooperate with Muslim rapists, completely false of course. Others suggest bizarrely that he was secretly working for the British. And while the 1982 loving biopic "Gandhi" made by Britain incidentally was an international hit today Indian film-goers favor a more aggressive protagonist.
Take last year's blockbuster "RRR," one of India's highest grossing films ever. It's an action packed buddy movie about two freedom fighters who take on the British in 1920s India. As the "Washington Post" notes the closing song and dance number involves our protagonist singing about India's national heroes. Behind them the faces of real life freedom fighters appear. Missing from the montage is the father of the nation, Mahatma Gandhi.
Unless you think that is a mere oversight the screenwriter, Vijayendra Prasad, who developed the story for the film told the "Post," "The time has come to let Indians know the truth, the real warriors who should be honored, the real reason why we got independence was not because of Mr. Gandhi. That's the fact."
Now, I'm all for subjecting hero worship to rigorous scrutiny and many worthy historians have taken a very critical eye to Gandhi in recent years. All the same we ought not to forget that Gandhi was genuinely a world historical figure. One who pioneered a strategy of nonviolence and transformed India's struggle for independence into a grassroots based mass movement that inspired people everywhere outside of India, from Martin Luther King and Muhammad Ali to Nelson Mandela and Barack Obama. This is a man who took on the greatest empire in the world nonviolently and defeated it.
In a country riven with divisions, he built a coalition that included and honored everyone. He was uncompromising about the need to reform inequities such as India's caste system, renaming the lowest caste often called untouchables as children of God. He was passionate about bridging the Hindu-Muslim divide. In fact he gave his life for it.
The Indian prime minister’s attempts to suppress a critical BBC documentary show how sensitive he is to his international reputation
he clue to the Indian government’s thin-skinned response to the BBC’s two-part documentary, India: The Modi Question, is in the name. The documentary lays out the evidence for the argument that the anti-Muslim bigotry that characterises India today is rooted in Narendra Modi’s alleged decision to rein in the police in Gujarat in 2002, giving anti-Muslim rioters a free hand, leading to the killing of hundreds of people.
The first part explores the 2002 pogrom as the ideological foundation of Modi’s power and political persona. The second part surveys the actions of Modi’s government after his re-election in 2019, and tries to show how both formal policy and informal violence have been deployed by the state to reduce Muslims to second-class citizens. It was the documentary’s unequivocal framing of India’s recent history as “Modi v India’s Muslims” that has infuriated Modi’s government.
Paradoxically, this is a characterisation that Modi and his allies have often embraced for domestic political advantage. Modi’s image as a Hindu strongman who had the nerve to put a malcontented minority in its place has helped him win two terms in office and remake the republic in his majoritarian image. Why then did the central government issue directions for blocking multiple YouTube videos and Twitter posts sharing links to the documentary? Why did it play whack-a-mole online and resort to desperate measures such as seizing laptops on university campuses where students were planning to screen the film?
One reason for this reaction was that the film was produced by the BBC. Post-colonial states will grudgingly acknowledge the credibility of the BBC even as they accuse it of condescension or, in the words of the Indian government’s spokesperson, “a colonial mindset”. This credibility is based on the BBC’s institutional memory, its ability to reach into its archive and produce evidence for its narratives.
In the first part, for example, we were shown a BBC reporter, a young woman called Jill McGivering, reporting on the riots and interviewing Modi in the aftermath. The Modi on show here is not the groomed and costumed persona that Indians have become accustomed to since he became prime minister in 2014. This is a rough-and-ready Modi, willing to be caught on camera laughing and taunting a young female reporter, and doing his best to intimidate her. McGivering reappears in the documentary, 20 years older, reflecting on Modi’s charisma and menace. This persona plays well with his base, but it isn’t how this famously image-conscious, multiply-made-over politician wants to be remembered.
Even less welcome is the documentary footage of the anguish of Muslim men and women who have been attacked, bereaved or imprisoned. The men who defend Modi in this documentary emphasise time and again the courts and tribunals that have cleared him of criminal conspiracy. They speak of the need for closure, the importance of moving on. But the testimony of Zakia Jafri, Mariam Ansari, Kismatun, Safoora Zargar and many others, backed up by video clips of Muslims being subjected to horrific violence, bring back ghosts that makes “closure” impossible.
The Indian prime minister’s attempts to suppress a critical BBC documentary show how sensitive he is to his international reputation
Individual stories of trauma and tragedy can be discredited by citing exculpatory verdicts won in court, but when these voices, ragged with pain, are brought together, as they have been here, they become a Greek chorus, a voiceover on an unfolding tragedy and Muslim suffering that becomes a spectre at the prime minister’s feast.
This year India hosts the G20 summit. Modi has used the moment, in this pre-election year, to announce India’s imminent leadership of the world. He has cast India (and by implication, himself) as a kind of universal mentor, a Vishwaguru. It’s not a claim that goes well with a recent past riven with bigotry. Modi has profited and continues to profit electorally from his reputation as an anti-Muslim strongman, but electoral dog-whistling is only for domestic consumption. He knows that a reputation for alleged ethnic cleansing puts India’s geopolitical standing at risk.
The Indian government trades on the fact that western countries will overlook a lot to ally with a democratic India as a counterweight to China. Britain’s former foreign secretary, Jack Straw, says as much in the documentary, and that role’s current incumbent has bent over backwards to distance himself from its narrative. James Cleverly cited the BBC’s independence as a way of disclaiming responsibility, and emphasised his government’s commitment to investing in India in every possible way.
Soon after both parts of the documentary were released, the prime minister, Rishi Sunak, was asked in the House of Commons if he agreed with the diplomats cited in the documentary, and with the charge of ethnic cleansing. It is unreasonable to expect Sunak to comment on a controversial documentary involving a major country and a potential ally. He made the appropriate boilerplate response about it being settled policy that the UK government did not tolerate political persecution anywhere.
He didn’t stop there, though. He went on to say: “I am not sure I agree at all with the characterisation that the honourable gentleman has put forward.” This went beyond diplomatic deflection. This suggested that Sunak disagreed emphatically with both the questioner and the documentary he was citing. Unlike Cleverly, he chose to offer an opinion. On Indian websites, this was accurately interpreted as the British prime minister coming to Modi’s defence. Sunak’s seeming deference to Modi’s narrative, is proof, if any was needed, of the value of the historical documentary and the indispensability of the BBC.
The Beginning,” from 2015, which inspired a new wave of Indian historic epics. But he has found a new level of global success with his latest film, the joyously over-the-top action-fantasy “RRR”—short for “Rise Roar Revolt”—which is among the highest-grossing Indian movies of all time.
“RRR” was first released last March but caught on with American viewers over the summer, after an unusual U.S.-wide theatrical rerelease organized by the distributor Variance Films and the film consultant Josh Hurtado. The movie hasn’t left U.S. theatres since. A Hindi-dubbed version on Netflix has furthered its word-of-mouth reputation. For many American viewers, “RRR” has provided an introduction not only to Indian cinema but to the Telugu-language film industry sometimes referred to as Tollywood, which operates separately from its more famous Hindi-language counterpart, Bollywood. In January, Rajamouli won Best Director at the New York Film Critics Circle Awards. His film is nominated for an Oscar in the category of Best Original Song, for the international viral hit “Naatu Naatu.”
Set in pre-independence Delhi during the nineteen-twenties, “RRR” follows two characters loosely based on the real-life Telugu revolutionary leaders Komaram Bheem (N. T. Rama Rao, Jr.) and Alluri Sitarama Raju (Ram Charan), as they team up to challenge a host of ruthless British officials. Bheem and Raju exhibit superhuman abilities in the realms of fighting, taming tigers, and conducting spontaneous dance-offs. For many American viewers, their story will come across as an exuberant anti-colonialist tall tale. But some Indian critics have identified a strain of Hindu nationalism in the film’s mythologized telling of Bheem and Raju’s historic freedom fight. They point to the fact that Raju, who belongs to a privileged caste, is ultimately elevated in the narrative above Bheem, a leader of the Gond tribe, who declares himself a humble student of Raju’s teachings. They point to how this story line replicates hierarchical relationships from the Hindu epics the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, which Rajamouli has cited as sources of inspiration, and especially to the film’s patriotic final number, “Etthara Jenda” (“Raise the Flag”), which celebrates certain historic figures favored by the Hindutva movement while leaving out founding fathers such as Mahatma Gandhi. In Vox, the critic Ritesh Babu called the movie a “casteist Hindu wash of history and the independence struggle.”
There are other reasons to wonder about the movie’s political intentions. Rajamouli’s father, who co-wrote “RRR,” has been at work on a film commissioned by the R.S.S., the Hindu-nationalist extremist group, which he has called a “great organization.” Rajamouli told me that his father’s script is “very emotional and extremely good.” But, during several recent interviews over Zoom, Rajamouli denied that “RRR” had any deliberate ideological implications and was persistently evasive on the subject of the country’s politics and his own. “Entertainment is what I provide,” he said. Rajamouli is forty-nine years old, with a swoop of salt-and-pepper curls and a thick beard in a matching shade. (You can spot him in a cameo during “RRR” ’s patriotic finale.) In our conversation, which has been edited for length and clarity, he also discussed atheism, what makes a good action sequence, and some of his creative influences, including Mel Gibson and Ayn Rand.
Some critics have noted that the movie’s concluding musical number highlights key historic figures like [the controversial anti-colonial freedom fighter] Subhas Chandra Bose and [the Indian-nationalist figurehead] Bhagat Singh but omits others, including Mahatma Gandhi and B. R. Ambedkar, which they interpret as a deliberate avoidance of nonviolent revolutionaries. What would you say to that?
By now, I’m tired of answering this question. There are numerous freedom fighters who laid down their lives to attain liberty for our country. I have heard many stories about these freedom fighters from childhood onward. Whichever stories touched me, made me cry, or made my heart swell with pride—those are the historic figures that I chose for that scene. I could also only highlight eight people in that musical number. I would need room for eighty in order to put all the figures that I respect in the movie. Still, I respect all of the revolutionaries that I chose, and, if I didn’t put Gandhiji’s portrait there, it doesn’t mean I disrespect him. I have huge respect for Gandhiji, no doubt about that.
My question is: If I were to replace Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose’s portrait with Gandhiji’s, would all these people ever question me, saying that I disrespected Subhas Chandra Bose by not portraying him there?
There has also been some criticism of the “Baahubali” films, and now “RRR,” for replicating what they feel is a Brahmanic view of India, particularly how the Kalakeyas are portrayed in “Baahubali 2: The Conclusion.” There’s been critique, as well, of stereotypes regarding Adivasis, particularly Bheem, who has been described as a “noble savage.” Is that just misattributed anxiety and projection?
Yes. [Laughs.] First of all, the Kalakeyas are a completely fictional people. There’s no such caste or tribe, and there are no real-world rituals like what they do in the movie. People are just projecting the Kalakeyas onto real people and then saying that I presented them in the wrong manner. It just makes me laugh. As for Bheem being a noble savage, I don’t really understand how or where I presented Bheem as savage. Noble, definitely, yes. Like when he fights a tiger, and then addresses the tiger as a brother, and even apologizes to the tiger for using him for his needs. I think Bheem is one of the noblest characters that I have written, but I don’t know where the savage part comes in. I really can’t understand that.
Does it feel like the recent rise of nationalism, as well as anti-Muslim sentiment, has affected the way that movies are made in India?
I don’t know. I don’t think in those terms. I always feel like films reflect the society that created them, whatever that society’s feelings are. Films reflect the pace of society because filmmakers have to cater to audiences. They’ll see what audiences like, what their present mood is, and make films for that. If there is a rise in that kind of sentiment in society, those kinds of films will come out. But I always stay away from that. I go a completely different route.
Right, but isn’t there a danger to freedom of expression when political groups try to affect the creative process you’re talking about?
Yeah, those things will happen and they will keep happening. But, if you are clear about what you are making, and if you are clear about who your audiences are, staying true to that will help you overcome those hurdles in communication. That might not be a proper solution to the problem that you are talking about, though. There is no clear-cut solution, but, if you are true to your filmmaking, you will have a better chance of overcoming these hurdles.
Is there pressure being put on you, whether anti-Muslim or pro-nationalist, from B.J.P. supporters or even the R.S.S.?
No, never directly, never. No one’s ever approached me to make an agenda film, whatever the agenda is. Still, for a long time, less prominent people sometimes found objections to my films. Sometimes Muslims have had objections, sometimes Hindus, sometimes different castes.
Your father has a story credit on “RRR.” Did he help to shape the movie’s characterizations of Bheem and the Adivasis?
The way we write, me and my father, is we write together. It is very difficult to differentiate who is the story writer and who is the screenplay writer. We split the credit as “Story by V. Vijayendra Prasad” and “Screenplay by S. S. Rajamouli,” but we essentially work together on both. It was my idea to write a fictional story about Komaram Bheem and Alluri Sitarama Raju. Once we settled on that, my father developed ideas on how to tell a story based on those characters.
Your father is working on a scripted drama about the R.S.S. He’s said that his opinion of the R.S.S. changed [favorably] once he started working on this project, after which he “understood for the first time what R.S.S. is.” Have you discussed this project with him?
I, myself, am not too aware of the R.S.S. I have obviously heard of the organization, but I don’t know how it was formed, what their exact beliefs are, how they’ve developed, all that. But I read my father’s script. It is extremely emotional. I cried many times while reading that script, many times. The script’s drama made me cry, but that reaction has got nothing to do with the history part of the story.
Is it hard for you to focus on a script like that as just a drama, and not think of its political implications or associations?
The script that I read is very emotional and extremely good, but I don’t know what it implies about society.
I’m assuming you’re asking me, Would I direct the script that is written by my father? First of all, I don’t know whether that would be possible, because I’m not sure if my father has written this script for some other organization, people, or producer. Still, as for the question, I don’t have a definite answer. I would be honored to direct that story, because it’s such a beautiful, human, emotional drama. But I’m not sure about the script’s implications. I’m not saying that it would cause either a negative or a positive impact. For the first time, I’m not sure.
It’s unusual for a Telugu filmmaker, let alone an Indian filmmaker, to have their name foregrounded. Your name is presented as a seal of quality in front of your movies. Where did that come from? Were you trying to distinguish yourself as a filmmaker in light of the star-driven nature of Telugu and Indian cinema?
[Laughs.] At first, it came from a sense of insecurity, a fear that someone would not give me credit for my films. So when I made my first film, “Student No. 1,” no one knew that I directed it. Credit went to the film’s producer, and rightfully so, because he made lots of decisions. He chose the story, the songs, and everything else. So he rightfully got the credit for my first film and I didn’t.
After that, I came up with the idea of putting a stamp on the posters—and on the film—to say, “Hey, guys, don’t ever think this film is made by someone else.” And at the end of my second film, “Simhadri,” I put a credit that says “A film by S. S. Rajamouli.” The film’s producer didn’t like that. He objected: “What does he mean by ‘A film by S. S. Rajamouli’? It should be a film by the whole unit. How can he take the entire credit for the film?”
Varanasi, INDIA - MARCH 04: India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi greets crowds of supporters during a roadshow in support of state elections on March 04, 2022 in Varanasi, India. India's most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, is holding state elections in seven phases, as the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of Modi looks to defend its majority in its "cow belt" heartlands. The election is expected to be a barometer for the national political mood amid deepening sectarian divisions
Narendra modi had a better 2022 than most world leaders. India’s prime minister was projected to end the year as leader of the world’s fastest-growing major economy, with growth close to 7%, in spite of multiple global crises.
Russia’s war in Ukraine plunged Europe into an energy crisis and strained relations among Western allies. In India, by contrast, it facilitated the purchase of cheap Russian oil and lifted Mr Modi’s international standing. As Western countries jostled to gain India’s support, the prime minister succeeded in styling himself as an ostensibly neutral advocate of resolving the conflict peacefully, managing to scold Vladimir Putin while simultaneously resisting Western entreaties to join the anti-Russia coalition for good.
The BBC says it will not be “put off” from reporting in India after the government prevented a documentary critical of Prime Minister Narendra Modi from airing in the country and raided the broadcaster’s offices.
Indian tax authorities spent three days searching BBC offices in Delhi and Mumbai last week. The raids came nearly a month after the Indian government used emergency powers to ban the two-part documentary “India: The Modi Question.”
In an email to staff in India, BBC director general Tim Davie applauded their courage in the face of what press groups and India’s main opposition Congress party have condemned as an attack on press freedom
“Nothing is more important than our ability to report without fear or favour,” Davie wrote in the email, a copy of which was shared with CNN.
“Our duty to our audiences around the world is to pursue the facts through independent and impartial journalism, and to produce and distribute the very best creative content. We won’t be put off from that task”
Davie added that the BBC “does not have an agenda.”
Indian authorities have accused the BBC of tax evasion. India’s Income Tax Department said it had found “several discrepancies and inconsistencies” in the records of “a prominent international media company.” The BBC said last week that it would “respond appropriately to any direct formal communication received from the Income Tax Department.”
Davie said in his email that the BBC continued to cooperate fully with the Indian tax authorities.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said that the searches had “all the hallmarks of a reprisal,” coming as they did weeks after the Indian government prevented the Modi documentary from airing and blocked clips of it circulating on social media.
The documentary, which broadcast in the United Kingdom in January, criticized the role played by Modi as chief minister of the western state of Gujarat when riots broke out between the state’s majority Hindus and minority Muslims in 2002.
Modi was accused of not doing enough to stop the violence, which killed more than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims. Modi has denied wrongdoing, and a special investigation team appointed by India’s Supreme Court in 2012 found no evidence to suggest he was to blame.
The prime minister has been accused of silencing his critics in recent months and on Thursday, a senior member of India’s Congress party was arrested for allegedly insulting Modi.
— Swati Gupta and Manveena Suri in New Delhi, Olesya Dmitracova and Martin Goillandeau in London, and Alex Stambaugh in Hong Kong contributed reporting.