A BBC documentary that revisits Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s role in the 2002 Gujarat riots was shown at the University of Hyderabad on Saturday, prompting the authorities to seek a report, The Indian Express reported.
The Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, which is the student wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, filed a complaint with the university administration about the screening of the documentary titled India: The Modi Question.
The first episode of the two-part documentary, which aired on January 17, alleges that a team sent by the British government had found that Modi, who was the chief minister of Gujarat when the riots took place, was “directly responsible for a climate of impunity” that led to the violence against Muslims.
The documentary also reveals a United Kingdom government report on the violence for the first time, stating that the riots had “all the hallmarks of an ethnic cleansing”.
While the documentary was not made available in India, it was uploaded on several YouTube channels and shared widely on Twitter.
On Friday, the Indian government had used emergency powers available under the Information Technology Rules, 2021, to issue directions to YouTube and Twitter to block clips of the documentary from being shared. The foreign ministry has described the documentary as “a propaganda piece designed to push a particular discredited narrative”.
Citing the Centre’s decision to block the documentary, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad asked the University of Hyderabad officials to take action against the screening event. It was reportedly attended by about 70 to 80 students.
“We would like to clarify that we have not gone to the police yet or staged a protest on this issue,” B Shravan Raj, a member of the ABVP’s central working committee, told The Indian Express. “We have only approached the university administration because they are the authority concerned.”
Another ABVP student leader named Manish told PTI the screening was done inside the campus without permission.
A spokesperson of the University of Hyderabad said the administration has asked for a detailed report from the campus security department.
However, University of Hyderabad Students Union General Secretary Gopi Swamy said those outside the campus are being misled and the matter is being blown out of proportion as the documentary screening was held peacefully.
University of Hyderabad Students Union President Abhishek Nandan accused the ABVP of behaving as an agent of the Bharatiya Janata Party.
“It is not a film made by any banned organisation but a media organisation with a worldwide network,” he added. “It is not banned by the government or any court. We believe the culture of discussion and debate on university campuses should be encouraged.”
Meanwhile, the Fraternity Movement, which organised the screening, said that it is a common practice to conduct screenings and discussions in public spaces in the university.
“The screening of the BBC documentary is not an anomaly, rather contributed to the academic environment of questioning of the fascist forces,” the group said in a statement. “We believe in the necessity to cultivate the culture of dissent in campus spaces”
The group said that it condemns the Central government’s decision to unilaterally block the documentary.
“It is not an entirely new revelation that BBC documentary has made, but an affirmation of the already existing narratives which question the claims of then [Gujarat] Chief Minister Narendra Modi and his government,” it said.
Amid this controversy, three political groups in Kerala on Tuesday announced they would screen the documentary in the state, PTI reported.
Democratic Youth Federation of India, the youth wing of the Communist Marxist Party, said on Facebook that it will show the documentary at 200 venues across the state. Similar announcements were also made by the Students’ Federation of India, a left-wing student organisation allied with the Communist Party of India (Marxist), and the Youth Congress.
Kerala Youth Congress President Shafi Parambil wrote on Facebook that reminders of genocide cannot be hidden by those in power and asserted that the BBC documentary will be screened in the state.
The BJP has asked Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan to urgently intervene and stop the screening.