What the BBC’s “Modi Question” reveals about India

28 January 2023
A still from part one of the BBC documentary, "India: The Modi Question."
A still from part one of the BBC documentary, "India: The Modi Question."

“Narendra Modi is directly responsible” for what happened in Gujarat in 2002. Those four words do more to acknowledge the grief inflicted on India’s Muslims, who have been at the receiving end of twenty years of gaslighting, than anything the government has done or said.  

In a documentary, the BBC—based on thoroughly reported documents and interviews— commits a crime only an outsider can: it spells out India’s worst kept secret, shattering a twenty-year etiquette to remain silent. Over two decades, as the Gujarat model was expanded, corpses piled up and bloated around us, while we, the people of India, kept our eyes fixed on our five trillion economy, our soft power and our new messiah, Narendra Modi.   

It is irrelevant to us that, on his watch, over a three-day period, an angry but meticulously organised mob killed 1,180 people, almost eighty percent of them Muslim, and injured another 2,500. That Modi’s career was catapulted into national politics, and eventually into the highest office in the land, not after but because of the riots, is the stuff of legend. Since then, he has held on to power by timely riots, border disputes with neighbouring nations and promising temple constructions at strategic locations, in sync with election cycles. At this point, the debate is not whether the system failed to maintain law and order. It is about whether people were left to the wolves or fed to them. And about the rest of us who have colluded with a lie we know to be false, like true love or happy endings.  

Vidya Krishnan is a global health reporter who works and lives in India. Her first book, Phantom Plague: How Tuberculosis Shaped History, was published in February 2022 by PublicAffairs.

Keywords: BBC Narendra Modi 2002 Gujarat Violence