Refurbished image stained once again with ‘the Modi question’

Damning BBC documentary revives Modi’s airbrushed past

By Sushil Kutty

How is it that the United States President Joe Biden’s Department of Justice (DoJ) can search Biden’s private residence and confiscate classified documents, and start an investigation? Ditto for the United Kingdom Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who gets hauled up by a British ‘Bobby’ for not wearing seat-belt and is fined for the ‘crime’? Contrast this with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He gets hit by a BBC documentary on his “role in the 2002 Gujarat riots” and Modi blocks ‘The Modi Question’ from Twitter, and YouTube.
While Biden and Sunak are treated more or less the same as any citizen in their respective countries, Prime Minister Narendra Modi gets preferential treatment and behaves like a despot.
In fact, if you are a Modi critic, your request to stage a dance performance at an UNESCO heritage site on its anniversary will be refused point blank. Ask Kathak dancer Mallika Sarabhai, who had to dance outside a Warangal heritage temple after being denied permission by Modi’s Culture Minister G. Kishan Reddy.
The 68-year-old Sarabhai hails from Modi’s home-state Gujarat, and she says Gujarat has been mauled and left bleeding during his rule and in his avatar as Gujarat Chief Minister.
Sarabhai is not alone. There are others, inside and outside India, who consider Narendra Modi an incurable authoritarian, and a communal hardliner to boot. In fact, many countries refused to give Modi visas after Gujarat 2002. The international media has no love lost for Modi. Among them the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), which is not in awe of Modi.
To the Modi-bhakt, however, the BBC is an incorrigible ‘Biased (against India) British Corporation’. After the airing of part one of the two-part documentary, ‘The Modi Question’, this feeling has only peaked.
Clearly, the Modi government taking down ‘The Modi Question’ from Twitter and YouTube has to do with Modi’s refurbished image on the global stage.
The whole quest for attaining ‘Vishwaguru’ immortality is not a figment of imagination of some fanatic Modi-bhakt. It is for real. ‘BBC Get Out’ has been trending, and so has been ‘BBC documentary’.
The BBC finds Modi’s democracy unpalatable, and ‘The Modi Question’ has raised many questions that question the alleged questionable role of Chief Minister Narendra Modi in the 2002 Gujarat riots.
Of course, ‘The Modi Question’ was not music to the ears of the Modi Government. In knee-jerk reactions, the Modi Government used its powers over Twitter and YouTube to scupper ‘The Modi Question’.
India’s privately-owned so-called ‘national TV channels’, entirely in Modi’s pocket if not on the BJP’s payrolls, have rejected ‘The Modi Question’ with perfunctory negative nods even as right wing Modi-bhakt YouTube channels fought it out with left wing outlets.
Yes, ‘The Modi Question’ has unleashed a war of wings, right and left. As ‘The Modi Question’ came the day after Modi held out a bunch of olive leaves to the Pasmanda Muslims, ‘The Modi Question’ is seen as the Opposition reigniting Gujarat 2002 in cahoots with the BBC to remind Muslims, both Pasmanda and Ashrafi, of Modi’s role in Gujarat 2002.
‘The Modi Question’ has definitely put the spotlight back on Modi’s exact role in the 2002 Gujarat riots, and while it comes in the wake of Modi’s outreach to Muslims, the documentary has also led to further communal polarization, the impact of which will be seen in the nine state elections due this year.
The BBC documentary is like tonic to the Opposition, but also counterproductive. Hindutva, which had been blunted by Modi for his international audience, is back in full force and Modi-bhakts are talking of a 2024 sweep.
The Modi Government and ‘Modi media’ are doing damage control. Modi’s popularity rating is back to a high 60-plus. And this, even as Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra completes its course. The fact is, Modi and his cohorts manning the BJP’s election juggernaut know how to convert negativity to positivity. After the initial jolt, the cohorts are on a mission to turn the tables.
It remains to be seen how the Opposition retaliates, and with what? Rahul Gandhi might have to do a ‘Bharat Re-Jodo Yatra’. The BBC documentary has rejuvenated Modi’s popularity among the ‘Sanatanis’, and the BJP wants to reap the dividends of his notoriety!
And Modi is picking up admirers. UK MP Lord Karan Bilimoria has come out in support, calling Modi “one of the most powerful persons on the planet.” Earlier, on January 19, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said he “doesn’t agree with the characterization” of his Indian counterpart.
Another Lord, Rami Ranger, voiced similar sentiments.
‘The Modi Question’ had the former British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw casting serious allegations on Modi’s role in the 2002 Gujarat riots. Questions regarding India’s democracy and how Modi sat unmoved.
‘The Modi Question’ is rife with anti-Modi narratives. While it places Chief Minister Modi in the electric chair, it is also seen as a ‘hit job’ against Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The timing was wrong. The BBC’s own dislike for Modi, juxtaposed with Jack Straw’s electoral compulsions related to his parliamentary constituency, a Pakistani-origin British MP’s diatribe against Modi in the UK Parliament, all these have offered a fig leaf to the BJP to cast aspersions on the BBC, question its motives.Also, ‘The Modi Question’ comes when Modi has been Prime Minister for two straight terms, and can win a third term. There was no need for another documentary. Being in the glare of a harsh searchlight isn’t new to the pugnacious politician.
‘The Modi Question’ has a Part-2 coming up. The only thing going for Modi is that the tallest court of the land, the Supreme Court of India monitored Special Investigation Team (SIT), had ‘exonerated’ the Gujarat Chief Minister in 2013.Ten years on, the spotlight of renewed scrutiny has once again caught up with Modi, piercing through to the depths of Gujarat 2002. Even attaining the ‘Vishwaguru’ status will not stop the ghosts of Gujarat 2002 from haunting Modi. Joe Biden and Rishi Sunak do not face such odds. (IPA Service)

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