The Union government has directed YouTube and Twitter to remove links to the BBC’s documentary revisiting Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s role in the 2002 Gujarat riots.
The first part of the documentary, released on January 17, alleged that Modi – then the chief minister of Gujarat – prevented the police from acting to prevent the violence. The Indian government, however, alleged that the film pushed a discredited narrative.
The documentary, titled India: The Modi Question, has not been officially released in India. However, pirated versions of it have been circulating on social media platforms.
The Ministry has invoked emergency powers under the Information Technology Rules to direct social media platforms to take down the links. Twitter has been ordered to block over 50 posts containing YouTube videos of the documentary.
Both Twitter and YouTube have complied with the directive, Kanchan Gupta, senior advisor with the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting said.
Senior officials from the ministries of external affairs, home and information and broadcasting examined the documentary and concluded that it was an attempt to cast aspersions on the Supreme Court’s authority.
A closure report by a Special Investigation Team appointed by the Supreme Court to inquire into the violence said in February 2012 that there was no prosecutable evidence against Modi and 63 others.
On June 24 last year, the Supreme Court dismissed a petition by Zakia Jafri, the wife of Congress leader Ehsan Jafri, challenging the SIT report. Ehsan Jafri was among the 69 people who were killed when a mob went on a rampage in Ahmedabad’s Gulberg Society on February 28, 2002, pelting stones and setting fire to homes.
The officials from the Centre also concluded that the documentary was found to be “undermining sovereignty and integrity of India, and having the potential to adversely impact India’s friendly relations with foreign states”, Gupta said.
The senior advisor described the film as “hostile propaganda and anti-India garbage, disguised as documentary”.
Earlier in the day, Trinamool Congress MP Derek O’Brien said that Twitter deleted his post on the documentary, citing a legal demand from the Indian government.
O’Brien had on Thursday posted a tweet with a YouTube link to the documentary. He had described the film as chilling and deeply researched, and said that it showed Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s hatred for minorities.
Twitter, however, withheld the post for users in India, and said that it did so in response to a legal demand.
The TMC MP on Saturday posted a purported e-mail to him from Twitter, which said that it withheld the tweet in India in order to comply with its “obligations under India’s local laws”. The e-mail said that post remains available outside the country.
O’Brien said that this was an instance of censorship, and described the reason cited by Twitter as flimsy. “Opposition will continue to fight the good fight,” he said.
The first part of the documentary claimed that a team sent by the British government to inquire into the riots said that Modi, who was then the state’s chief minister, was “directly responsible for a climate of impunity” that led to the violence.
The documentary cited a report that the inquiry team had sent the United Kingdom government to say that “reliable contacts” stated that Modi met senior police officers on February 27, 2002, and “ordered them not to intervene” in the rioting.
In February and March 2002, large-scale communal violence erupted across Gujarat after the coach of the Sabarmati Express train returning from Ayodhya was allegedly burned by a mob in Godhra. Official records show that 790 Muslims and 254 Hindus were killed in the riots.
The second part of the documentary, which examines the Modi government’s track record following his re-election in 2019, will be released on January 24.
On Thursday, India’s ministry of external affairs alleged that the film showed a lack of objectivity and a continuing colonial mindset.