Fact-Check: Jaishankar Says BBC Hasn't Made a Documentary on the 1984 Killings. Is That True?
Attacking the BBC's Modi documentary, the external affairs minister said, 'Many things happened in Delhi in 1984. Why didn't we see a documentary on that?'. Here's what the BBC published on the anti-Sikh killings of that year. In escalating official criticism of the BBC’s recent coverage of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the 2002 Gujarat riots, external affairs minister. S. Jaishankar has accused the British public broadcaster of playing politics and asked why it had not made a documentary on the 1984 anti-Sikh massacres. Unlike the 2002 violence, which happened when the Bharatiya Janata Party was in power, the 1984 killings had taken place during Congress rule. In raising this accusation, the minister was presumably making the case that the BBC was biased in favour of the Congress. However, a quick search of video and text records on the internet makes it clear that the BBC not only covered the 1984 violence as it unfolded and immediately after but kept returning to the subject repeatedly. In 2010, the channel actually broadcast a documentary-length programme, ‘1984: A Sikh Story‘, which focused on the storming of the Golden Temple in June 1984 and the genocidal violence against ordinary Sikh families in Delhi and elsewhere in November 1984. Based on the personal journey of an Indian-origin journalist, Sonia Deol, it investigated the storming of the Amritsar shrine and the killing of over 2000 Sikhs in Delhi following the assassination of Indira Gandhi. Coincidentally, the BBC’s documentary on 1984 came some 26 years after the Delhi massacres – roughly the same gap between the 2002 violence and its Modi documentary – though the MEA at the time does not seem to have accused the channel of raking up the past. Jaishankar’s charge is especially ironic, media watchers say, because a large reason for the BBC’s avid following in India from the mid-1980s onwards was precisely its reporting on Indira Gandhi’s assassination and its bloody aftermath. In 2013, the BBC’s reliability drew praise from Modi himself, who contrasted the channel’s popularity with that of Indian public broadcasters, widely seen as official mouthpieces. Last month, the BBC released a two-part documentary on the Gujarat riots titled India: The Modi Question, which looked at the role of Modi as chief minister during the 2002 riots as the backstory to accusations that his government today is biased against Muslim Indians. The BBC drew on footage and interviews from 2002, including of Modi himself, as well as a leaked UK foreign office diplomatic report on the violence that year which held Modi directly responsible. The documentary was ‘banned’ on Indian social media, with the government asking YouTube and Twitter to take down any links or uploads of the video. A Bharatiya Janata Party spokesperson subsequently termed the public broadcaster the “most corrupt organisation in the world”. This month, the BBC’s offices in India were ‘surveyed’ by Income Tax Department authorities for three days in what was widely seen as retaliatory action. The government claimed that the British media organisation had understated its profits. In an interview with news agency ANI on Tuesday, Jaishankar claimed that the timing of the documentary on the Gujarat riots was “not accidental” and was related to politics. “If you say I am a humanist and must get justice for people who have been done wrong, this is politics at play by people who don’t have courage to come into political field,” he said. The former career diplomat-turned-politician noted that the BBC documentary was not about freedom of speech but politics. “There is a phrase called ‘war by other means’. This is politics by other means”. He stated that BBC had not focused on the 1984 anti-Sikh violence which followed Indira Gandhi’s assassination. “You want to make a documentary, many things happened in Delhi in 1984. Why didn’t we see a documentary on that?”. Jaishankar also insinuated that BBC had not covered the Gujarat riots critically in 2002, while they were unfolding but was doing so only now as a means of influencing the forthcoming elections in India. This was a strange charge as the 2023 documentary contained a lot of footage that the BBC shot and broadcast in 2002 itself. “You do a hatchet job and say this is just a quest for truth which we decided to put out 20 years later. Do you think timing is accidental? I don’t know if election season has started in India, but for sure, it has started in London and New York,” Jaishankar said.