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Why are Tory and Labour politicians silent on Indian cops raiding BBC offices?

The BBC World Service aired a documentary on Indian prime minister Narendra Modi
Issue 2844
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak shakes hand with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during G20 summit

Rishi Sunak meets Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during G20 summit last November (Picture: Number 10/Flickr)

Imagine the howls of outrage in parliament if state forces had smashed their way into BBC offices in Russia or Iran. 

Amid grainy footage of journalists being interrogated there would be no containing the rage of Tory MPs. Not to be outdone, Labour would too be demanding, “Something must be done”.

But last week, as the Indian state sent armed police and tax investigators to raid the BBC World Service offices in Delhi and Mumbai, there was silence.

The issue was finally raised in the House of Commons on Wednesday when a lowly shadow foreign minister said the issue was “deeply worrying”. The government replied, saying, “This issue has been raised and we continue to monitor the situation.” And that was the end of the matter.

Why are the establishment so keen to brush under the carpet this clampdown on freedom of speech? The answer lies in who the BBC has been offending. The raid was an act of reprisal after the broadcaster last week aired the second part of its documentary on Indian prime minister Narendra Modi.

The first in the series detailed the way Modi, when chief minister of the Gujarat in 2002, presided over some of the worst anti-Muslim rioting for a generation. Some 2,000 people died in the carnage. 

And the state was deeply connected to it, supplying electoral roles to the mobs so they could more easily identify Muslim households. Modi was so implicated in the crime that the US state for many years refused him a visa to travel there. The second episode deals with the way rising anti-Muslim hatred is directed from the top of Indian society, including by Modi himself.

But the Hindu chauvinist leader is now the head of a global economic superpower, with investments and multinational firms moored in most countries in the West. So, despite the Indian state delving ever deeper into the sewer of anti-Muslim politics, both Tories and Labour are scared that defending the BBC will “damage relations”.

There is also a domestic reason why politicians are hiding the issue—forthcoming elections in Britain. Politicians are competing for the votes of people whose origins are in India. Many of the most marginal seats in England have big South Asian communities. And neither party takes a principled stand to defend Muslims, fearing they would offend Hindu nationalist sentiment.

But some politicians go further than that. Tory MP Bob Blackman called the documentary a “hatchet job” while Rami Ranger, a member of the House of Lords, wrote to complain to the corporation. Ranger demanded to know “if your Pakistani-origin staff were behind this nonsense”.

Hindu chauvinist organisations in Britain threw their weight behind the Tories at the last election. They knew that then Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn had a track record of opposition to Modi. That’s why Keir Starmer now talks of “Hinduphobia”—an invented category designed to suggest that Hindu culture in India and abroad is under siege and must defend itself.

Starmer’s move is a deliberate message to British Hindus that Modi-inspired hatreds are safe with his party. That this dangerous stance risks importing the anti-Muslim feeling so prevalent in India seems not to bother him. 

Yet when these communal politics are fanned into riots in Britain—such as Leicester last year—you can surely expect Starmer to be among those “deploring violence”.Only by standing up to Islamophobia, in Britain and in India, can we hope to bring back the unity needed to defeat the racism that so many face here.

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