India’s top court to consider cases against block on BBC documentary

Published January 30, 2023
A television journalist sets his camera inside the premises of the Supreme Court in New Delhi. — Reuters
A television journalist sets his camera inside the premises of the Supreme Court in New Delhi. — Reuters

India’s Supreme Court will consider petitions next week against a government order blocking the sharing of clips of a BBC documentary that questioned Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s leadership during riots in 2002 in the western state of Gujarat.

The government has dismissed as a biased “propaganda piece” the film released last week, titled ‘India: The Modi Question’, and blocked the sharing of any clips from it on social media.

The Supreme Court will take up the petitions next week, Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud said in court on Monday.

A New Delhi-based lawyer, M L Sharma, opposed the government’s move in one of the petitions to the Supreme Court.

A separate petition by lawyer Prashant Bhushan, journalist N. Ram and opposition politician Mahua Moitra focused on the order to take down social media links to the documentary.

In a Twitter comment on the second petition, Law Minister Kiren Rijiju said, “This is how they waste the precious time of the Honourable Supreme Court, where thousands of common citizens are waiting and seeking dates for justice.”

Modi, who aims for a third term in elections next year, was chief minister of Gujarat in February 2002, when a suspected Muslim mob set fire to a train carrying Hindu pilgrims.

The incident sparked one of the worst outbreaks of religious bloodshed in independent India.

In reprisal attacks across the state at least 1,000 people were killed, most of them Muslim, as crowds roamed the streets for days, targeting the religious minority. But activists put the toll at more than twice that, at about 2,500.

Modi has denied accusations that he did not do enough to stop the riots. He was exonerated in 2012 following an inquiry overseen by the Supreme Court and a petition questioning his exoneration was dismissed last year.

The BBC has said the documentary was “rigorously researched” and involved a wide range of voices and opinions, including responses from people in Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party.

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