On the afternoon of 14 February, a large crowd had formed outside the British Broadcasting Corporation’s Kasturba Gandhi Marg office in Delhi. Late that morning, around fifty Income Tax and Delhi Police officials had entered the building, confiscated the phones of journalists, and begun a search of their computers. IT officials conducted a simultaneous search on the BBC’s Mumbai office. A handful of police officers in civilian attire also remained outside the BBC’s Delhi office. Several media organisations quoted anonymous “sources” to say that the IT department was conducting an income tax “survey.” The so-called survey comes barely weeks after the broadcaster aired a documentary titled India: The Modi Question, which investigated Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s role in the 2002 Gujarat violence, as well as the Indian government’s treatment of Muslims since 2014. In a statement, the BBC said it was “fully cooperating” with Income Tax authorities.
Despite the sudden actions of the IT department, it released no press statements explaining why it was conducting a survey into the BBC. Instead, several Indian media houses cited “sources” as saying that the BBC were being investigated over, “deliberate non-compliance with Indian laws including transfer pricing rules and diversion of profits illegally.” Outside the KG Marg office, journalists kept receiving messages on WhatsApp which they would quickly glance through, before going on air and claiming that the BBC had suspect financial dealings. The Hindi-language channel Times Now Navbharat, for example, later reported that the BBC had business ties with the Chinese government and Chinese government-linked organisations. The English-language channel Times Now reported that the BBC was suspected of tax evasion. Meanwhile, senior leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party released a slew of statements accusing the BBC of bias, with their spokesperson Gaurav Bhatia saying that the broadcaster is known for “hatred-fuelled work against India.”
A BBC employee in his late 30s, who wished to remain anonymous, told me that at around 11.30 am he had just entered his office when he saw several people entering from both sides of the building. “At first, we thought that they are some fringe elements whose sentiments have been hurt by the documentary and that’s why they are here,” he told me. “But then an officer in a suit announced that everyone should stop what they were doing, shut down their computers, write their names on their mobile phones and come to one side.” The employee said that the official initially refused to show either an identification card or a warrant. “The tone of the officials was really dictatorial,” an employee in his early 40s, who was also stuck in the building, told me. “They were trying to hound us. They were standing around us in a group, and told us just do your business as usual. Then one of our editors said, ‘These are not cattle, they are journalist for god’s sake. How can you expect them to not respond to such an unprecedented situation.’”