FREMONT, California — A group of 70-80 people gathered at the Hindu Temple here Jan. 28 to protest the BBC’s airing of a new docuseries: “India - The Modi Question.”
The protest began after a celebration of India’s Republic Day. Dr. T.V. Nagendra Prasad, India’s Consul General for the West Coast region, attended the Republic Day celebration, but left before the protest erupted, an onlooker at the scene told New India Abroad.
“We are for freedom of speech, but this documentary is a diversion of facts designed to raise communal tension. The BBC is a propaganda machine,” Satish, one of the protesters, told New India Abroad. “This will create disharmony. It is very biased and inclined to making a villain out of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.”
The IT professional, who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, asked this publication to use only his first name as he was fearful of possible ramifications to himself and his family.
The protesters carried banners and signs proclaiming: "Indian Diaspora rejects BBC's Sinister and Biased Documentary against Prime Minister Narendra Modi," "BBC Documentary spreading fake propaganda," and "BBC is a fake news peddler." The crowd then marched through the streets of Fremont, which sits on the edge of the Silicon Valley and is home to one of the largest populations of Indian Americans.
As they marched, the group also shouted “Boycott BBC,” and accused the broadcasting corporation of being a “hate monger,” “Hindu phobic,” and “anti democracy.”
Satish told New India Abroad that the protest was not organized by any specific organization, but by the local Indian diaspora at large. Similar protests have broken out throughout the world, after the BBC aired the first part of the documentary.
The 26-minute long first episode alleges that there is a rise in calls for Muslim genocide, and accuses Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his administration of fomenting violence against Muslims. The episode also looks at Modi’s alleged involvement in the 2002 riots in Gujarat, a three-day period of violence which left dead 790 Muslims and 254 Hindus.
The first episode features interviews with journalist Alishan Jaffri, former member of the Rajya Sabha Swapan Dasgupta, and writer Arundhati Roy, among others.
“The riots occurred two decades ago. All courts since have given a clean chit to Modi,” said Satish, questioning the BBC’s decision to raise the issue afresh. “We have peace and prosperity in our country, with no discrimination based on caste, creed, or religion.”
“India is a prospering country,” he said, noting that the country has the fastest growth rate in the world, as noted by the World Bank earlier this month. “All Indians have the same shot at achieving prosperity. Everybody is treated equally, and given the same benefits.”
Asked about the 2019 Citizenship Amendment Act — which gives Indian citizenship to undocumented migrants who are Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, but excludes Muslims — Satish said the Act was designed to uplift people escaping Islamic Republic regimes. “We are giving a helping hand to people who have been persecuted,” he said.
Amitabh Bagchi, spokesman for the Ministry of External Affairs, released a statement Jan. 19, alleging that the documentary is the product of a continuing “colonial mindset.”
"We think this is a propaganda piece designed to push a particular discredited narrative. The bias and the lack of objectivity and frankly continuing colonial mindset are blatantly visible,” said Bagchi.
Prominent Member of Parliament Shashi Tharoor has drawn ire for his remarks on the controversy. “I believe the wounds of Gujarat have not fully healed, but that given that the Supreme Court has issued a final ruling, we gain little from debating this issue when so many urgent contemporary matters need to be addressed,” he said.
In response, Ashok Singh Garcha tweeted: “Shashi Tharoor demanded an apology from British Govt for Jallianwala Bagh massacre of 1919. Yesterday, he asked Indians to move on from the Gujarat massacre of 2002! Mr. Tharoor should know from his own experience and lobbying that people and nations have long memories.”