Freshly Brewed

Raids on BBC: Intimidating Indian Democracy!

The raids are not about the BBC. It is about the freedom of expression, democracy in the country, and the Fascism it is moving towards

New Delhi: When the news of the Income Tax raids on New Delhi and Mumbai offices on the BBC was broken on the television channels, many people were surprised, some of them were utterly shocked.

It came suddenly. But it is just a continuation of the government’s intimidation process, where media outlets critical of the government and the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, are being threatened, silenced, or bought.

The raids came weeks after the BBC screened its documentary ‘India: The Modi Question’. The two-part documentary traces the rise of Narendra Modi and analyses his politics after the 2002 anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat when he was the chief minister of the state.

More than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed in the riots.

The riots erupted after a compartment of Sabarmati Express was set on fire, killing dozens of Hindu pilgrims.

The documentary was aired in the UK, not in India. The government called it a ‘bundle of lies’, and ‘propaganda’ and rejected it as a ‘colonial mindset’.

It also ordered Youtube and Twitter to block the links to the documentary.

The police swung into action and thrashed the students gathered to watch the documentary in the central university of Jamia Millia Islamia and other places. The screening was banned at iconic Jawaharlal Nehru University and many other universities. Nevertheless, the documentary was screened in many places.

Earlier too, the government raided many media outlets, though nothing much came out afterwards.

Raghav Behl’s Quint was raided, and Behal himself was questioned for hours by the Enforcement Directorate sleuths in Mumbai.

Later, he sold the Quint.

NDTV head Pranoy Roy, considered by many the father of television journalism in India, was also grilled. He was accused of bank fraud and money laundering. All charges were dropped later as the agencies failed to prove these in court.

Gautam Adani, considered close to Modi, bought NDTV recently.

Premises of the Hindi daily Bhaskar were raided in Madhya Pradesh.

Before the raids, Bhaskar had published stories on the floating corpses on the Ganges and the makeshift graves on its banks in the wake of Corona. Its Editor also wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times, titled ‘The Ganges is returning the dead, it does not lie’.

Bharat Samachar, a small television channel in Uttar Pradesh was not spared either. It said that it was punished for its coverage of bodies on the holy river.

Exactly two years ago, NewsClick, an independent digital-only media organization was raided too.

Whereas, most of the media houses in India, now are completely biased and carry out propaganda on behalf of the government and the ruling party. Many of these media outlets also indulge in Islamophobia and air stories and programmes demonizing Muslims and Islam.

The raids on the BBC have sent a strong signal to the media to fall in line or face government wrath.

But many people believe that the government has exposed itself to these raids. It has made it clear that none will be spared if it goes against the government, ruling party and the Hindutva brigade.

Press bodies, Editors Guild of India, Press Council of India, DigiPub News India Foundation and Press Club of Bangalore have issued statements and condemned the IT Survey on BBC in the strongest terms. They all mentioned that it is an attempt to stifle the media.

Shivkant, a retired Editor of BBC Hindi writes on his Facebook page, “The Modi government has proved the proverb a guilty conscience accuses itself right as the Income Tax department has raided the offices of the BBC. Questioning the bias of the BBC and losing its balance is a strategy difficult to comprehend. The raids have provided firm background to the questions raised by the BBC documentary and the Adani controversy that has enraged the government.”

The BBC is not a local newspaper or a regional television channel with a limited impact. It is the most reputed and trustworthy media outlet, with tremendous impact and far-reaching consequences. The BBC is watched and listened to in almost all countries in the world with its operations in about 150 countries and 42 languages.

One can recall the BBC story exposing the false claims of the British government on the Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq.

People still remember the Princess Diana interview taken by Martin Basheer of the BBC. Diana accused then-Prince Charles of adultery and also accepted her relationship with Hasnat Khan, a Pakistani-origin doctor. It shook the monarchy and the two soon separated.

And the Modi government has raided this media behemoth!

The image of India is already in tatters for its Islamophobia and treatment of Muslims.  It will be further damaged. The MEA mandarins will find it more difficult to justify this kind of high-handedness.

But the raids are not about the BBC. It is about the freedom of expression, democracy in the country, and the Fascism it is moving towards.

Pramode Mallik

is former BBC Producer and a commentator on international affairs.

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