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EDITORIAL: Surely, the Indian government knew that raids on BBC’s offices in New Delhi and Mumbai for alleged tax improprieties would not wash with anybody except its own vote bank. Yet the fact that it still ordered the raids, which went on for at least three days, shows that it was indeed a “clear-cut case of vendetta”, as the Press Club of India lamented in an official statement.

It was clearly not enough for the Modi administration to ban the documentary “India: The Modi Question”, which is critical of the Indian prime minister’s role in the Gujarat riots more than two decades ago.

It even used “emergency powers” to block clips of it from circulating on social media, with both Twitter and YouTube duly complying. Now it is using state machinery to harass the British broadcaster in what can only be described as an attempt to teach it a lesson.

Using the taxmen to muzzle the press is an old Modi administration tactic, after all, which is why it is surprising that so few voices have questioned this latest move. The opposition Congress Party has called it a “brazen attack” on India’s press freedom and the country’s largest press club has warned that it would “damage the reputation and image of India as the world’s largest democracy”.

But there’s been little condemnation from other quarters, especially media houses that learned long ago how to stay on the right side of the government and receive generous state advertisements. That’s why popular Indian media more or less takes the same line on issues that matter to the ruling party and its diehard followers – Hindu nationalism and anti-Muslim, particularly anti-Pakistan, sentiment.

All this also explains why India dropped eight places on Reporters Without Borders’ World Press Freedom Index last year, to 150 out of 180 countries, and is now ranked between Turkey and Sudan.

Yet it is conveniently able to get away with blatantly anti-democratic excesses, which are not limited to gagging the press but also include gross human rights violations in Occupied Kashmir, because its huge consumer market blinds powerful countries and international watchdogs. The BJP also commands a huge, fanatic pro-Hindutva following inside the country, which promptly hounds and silences any voice raised against it.

But such an approach is inherently self-defeating in the long term. Delhi cannot keep people outside India from watching content it does not approve of. And, since India is the world’s largest democracy, it would be much better if its leadership responds to issues like the BBC documentary with valid arguments instead of taking the axe to anything and everything it does not like.

Resorting to intimidatory tactics instead of taking a formal, legal position shows that the BJP leader might have something to hide. Either way, the international community must break from its habit of ignoring much of what happens in India and take very strong notice of Delhi’s treatment of BBC.

The leader of a country with almost one-and-a-half billion people should not be allowed to stretch the truth, unchecked, for so long. He must at least admit that his anger with BBC has nothing to do with its taxes or India’s laws, and he’s throwing a fit just because the documentary touched a raw nerve.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2023

Comments

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Dr.Salaria, Aamir Ahmed Feb 19, 2023 07:41am
I think we must introspect. Journos being killed in Pakistan for negative reporting. Buildings being blown up. Much lower than India press rating that you mentioned. I'm sure I'll be happier to be a journalist in India, subject to some tax raids for negative reporting, than being murdered or gone missing.
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KU Feb 19, 2023 12:06pm
What's surprising is not the raid at the BBC office, but the silence of international media and the UK government on this deliberate action to snub freedom of speech and facts.
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Adil Feb 19, 2023 01:45pm
There are wild animals running amok in the streets of the capital, power situation leading to darkness, people killing each other for atta but all BR needs to publish this non story on a neighbouring country to divert the prehistoric country that pakistan has become
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TimeToMovveOn Feb 19, 2023 07:03pm
It was by no doubt that it was clear cut case of vendatta. There is no excuse for the Modi govt to do this. However, he had just purchased 500 planes from the USA and France. So instead both France and USA came and talked about great partnership with India. While what Modi was 100% wrong, it also makes me wonder, why the BBC would not make a movie about the illegal war in Afghanistan, the illegal invasion of Iraq, the despicable acts of Jailanwala bag, the refusal of the brits to return colonial thefts, UK's support for apartheid. All ignored. But Modi seems to be fair game. BBC engaged in a true, but one-sided reporting of Modi, while ignoring all other white mans sins.
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TimeToMovveOn Feb 19, 2023 08:40pm
@KU, India just created more than a million jobs with a massive order of 500 planes. Most of them use Rolls Royce UK engines. If the UK govt speaks, Modi will be happy to give that order to GE USA. Money can shut up countries. Yes, it is Hiporacy. But unfortunately, that is the way the world works. Pakistan can also shut down BBC or any other international news organization without any interference from the international organizations, it is places orders for planes.
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HashBrown® Feb 20, 2023 06:28am
@Adil, "BR needs to publish this non story on a neighbouring country to divert the prehistoric country that pakistan has become" BR knows that Hindustanis like you will provide them with all the clicks they need thanks to your Pakistan obsession. What's really funny is that this only became a proper story because your government was so hysterical in trying to censor it!
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Tamizhan Tulukkar Feb 20, 2023 10:12pm
@HashBrown®, do I need to say who blocks Wikipedia, and who hunts and kills pakistani journalists in Africa for reporting the truth? If BBC has paid their taxes, no fear. India collects taxes effectively unlike others and that's why there are 600Bn forex reserves.
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HashBrown® Feb 21, 2023 06:09am
@Tamizhan Tulukkar, Are you aware that even as you're reading this your government is frantically begging international media outlets to not broadcast a documentary about your beloved Modi's murderous role in the Gujarat massacres of 2002? Are you aware that IOK has suffered more media blackouts than any other part of the world in the last year? Do you grasp the meaning of that, ie any number of journalists - along with othe defenceless citizens - have most likely been snuffed out in the occupied territory? So before you come here and offer half baked sermons on Pakistani journalism, maybe pick up a book and find out what kind of third world shambles your own country is.
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TimeToMovveOn Feb 21, 2023 06:07pm
@Tamizhan Tulukkar, That guy is a hater. Haters hate. Leave him alone.
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HashBrown® Feb 21, 2023 10:40pm
@TimeToMovveOn, Haha, of course. Let's all learn the value of love and go to a bulldozer rally instead, eh? You people are such easy targets.
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