Income tax authorities raided BBC’s offices after broadcast of Modi documentary
NEW DELHI : The income tax (I-T) RAID came weeks after the British broadcaster released a controversial documentary, ‘India: The Modi Question’, the access to which on social media platforms was barred by the government.
The searches in New Delhi and Mumbai come weeks after the broadcaster aired a documentary in the UK critical of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The BBC said that it was “fully co-operating” with authorities.”We hope to have this situation resolved as soon as possible,” a short statement added.
The BBC said last month that the Indian government was offered a right to reply to the documentary but it declined.The broadcaster said the film was “rigorously researched” and “a wide range of voices, witnesses and experts were approached, and we have featured a range of opinions, including responses from people in the BJP”. The group’s World Press Freedom Index ranks India 150th of 180 countries, down 10 places since 2014.
The Income Tax department’s Raided at the BBC’s Delhi and Mumbai offices on Tuesday drew strong reactions from the Opposition, which branded the move as “heights of dictatorship” of the government. The BJP, in its turn, accused the British broadcaster of unleashing “venomous” propaganda against India and the I&B Minister said “no one was above the law”.
The Editors Guild of India has condemned the raids as yet another assault on the freedom of the media. But this doesn’t perturb the government. It has enacted this spectacle to tell its people that no one, not even the BBC, should dare cross the line drawn by it. They will have to suffer for criticising the government.
The income tax raids on the offices of the BBC India in New Delhi and Mumbai politely called as ‘surveys’ have not come as a surprise to those who know this government says a former editor of Hindustan Times. The raids obviously have nothing to do with any suspected money deal involving the BBC. It is hard to imagine that a public broadcaster like it would indulge in any financial misdeeds too in India which would warrant the attention of the income tax sleuths.
When income tax officers raided news organisations recently (eg. NewsClick, Dainik Bhaskar) it was motivated primarily by the regime’s desire to punish them for their audacity to scrutinise the acts of this government and to critique it when necessary. The official claim being made that the IT department is investigating persistent ‘transfer pricing’ and misreporting of profits by the BBC has been rubbished by tax experts.
According to senior Journalists the raid on the BBC is an act of revenge by the government for the documentary on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s relations with Muslims in India. The documentary was not only about the 2002 riots, it was about the journey of India from 2002 to 2023, and especially since 2014.
The documentary focused on the prime minister’s role in anti-Muslim violence in Gujarat in 2002, when he was chief minister of the state. The documentary highlights a previously unpublished report, obtained by the BBC from the British Foreign Office, which raises questions about Mr Modi’s actions during the religious riots that had broken out after a train carrying Hindu pilgrims the day before was set on fire, killing dozens. More than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, died in the outbreak of violence, one of the worst since Independence.
Although the documentary was broadcast on television only in the UK, India’s government has attempted to block people sharing India: The Modi Question online, calling it “hostile propaganda and anti-India garbage” with a “colonial mind-set”.Last month, police in Delhi detained students as they gathered to watch the film.
In 2005, the US denied Mr Modi a visa under a law that bars the entry of foreign officials seen to be responsible for “severe violations of religious freedom”.Mr Modi has long rejected accusations against him, and has not apologised for the riots. In 2013, a Supreme Court panel also said there was insufficient evidence to prosecute him.
But Gaurav Bhatia, a spokesman from Mr Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), described the BBC as the “most corrupt organisation in the world. He added the searches were lawful and the timing had nothing to do with the government. The targeting of organisations seen as critical of the government is not uncommon in India.In 2020, Amnesty International was forced to halt its India operations, with the group accusing the government of pursuing a “witch-hunt” against human rights organisations. Oxfam was also searched last year along with other local non-government organisations.
Opposition parties linked the I-T action to the BBC documentary, which was on the 2002 Gujarat riots. The BJP said the “timing of the I-T action was not decided by any government or outside power” and the department should be allowed to do its work.”Time and again, there has been an assault on freedom of the Press under the Modi government. This is done with brazen and unapologetic vengeance to strangulate remotely critical voices,” said Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge.
The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) alleged that the I-T action showed that the BJP-led central government had reached the “heights of dictatorship”. “First, imposed a ban on the BBC documentary. Now raids at their offices. Don’t forget Modi ji, Hitler’s dictatorship also came to an end. Your dictatorship will also end,” tweeted AAP’s Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Singh. “Modi ji, you have reached the heights of dictatorship,” Singh, added.
“First ban BBC documentaries. No JPC/inquiry into Adani exposures. Now IT raids on BBC offices! India: ‘Mother of democracy’?” said CPM’s Sitaram Yechury taking a dig at PM Modi, who often uses the phrase “mother of democracy”. TMC MP Mahua Moitra too asked if the “raids” on the BBC offices would be followed by one on “Mr A” in an apparent dig at Adani Group chief Gautam Adani.