‘Orwellian state being created’: Congress on ED case against BBC

BBC headquarters in London. [Photo: Wikimedia]

New Delhi: The Congress slammed the government of India after the Enforcement Directorate registered a case against news broadcaster BBC India, alleging that the government is determined to impose a “dictatorial government” where there is “tyranny of the executive.”

The ED has registered a FEMA case against BBC India with allegations of foreign exchange violations, official sources said on Thursday, two months after the Income-Tax department surveyed its office premises.

The ED has called for documents and the recording of statements of some company executives under provisions of the Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA), the officials said. The probe is essentially looking at purported foreign direct investment (FDI) violations by the company, they said.

Asked about the development at a press conference at AICC headquarters, Congress spokesperson Anshul Avijit said, “We know the atmosphere that is being created by the Orwellian sort of state here where the freedom of expression and press has completely been clamped down.”

“It is not new, it has been happening, there are changes in laws but far from that there are threats and intimidation so whoever dares criticise this government is actually thrown in jail,” Avijit said.

He also spoke about the incident where students of Delhi University were suspended for showing a recent BBC documentary on the 2002 Gujarat riots.

“This is the kind of state we live in. I really fear the freedom of the press as well. The new IT laws that have come out, they have come under much criticism but nothing deters this government.

“They are determined to impose a dictatorial government in which the executive rules, so you have the tyranny of the executive,” the Congress leader said.

On February 14 this year, the I-T department conducted survey operations at the London-headquartered broadcaster’s offices in Delhi and Mumbai as part of an investigation into alleged tax evasion. The survey went on for three days.

The Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT), the administrative body for the I-T department, had then said the income and profits shown by various BBC group entities were “not commensurate” with the scale of their operations in India and they failed to pay on certain remittances by its foreign entities.

The BBC, after the tax survey, had said they will “continue to cooperate with the authorities and hope matters are resolved as soon as possible.”

The action had led to a sharp political debate with the ruling BJP accusing the BBC of “venomous reporting” while the Opposition questioned the timing — weeks after the broadcaster aired a two-part documentary ‘India: The Modi Question.’

In a documentary released by the British Broadcasting Corporation, it was claimed that a team sent by the British government to investigate the 2002 violence in Gujarat found Narendra Modi, the then Chief Minister of the state, “directly responsible for a climate of impunity” that led to the violence.

The documentary titled “India: The Modi Question”, was; however, pulled down from YouTube, a day after its release.

The British inquiry team alleged that Modi had prevented the Gujarat Police from acting to stop violence targeted at Muslims, the BBC documentary claimed.

Speaking to the BBC, former foreign secretary, Jack Straw (2001-2006) said he was personally involved in the investigations as the data and results provided were alarming.

“I was very worried about it. I took a great deal of personal interest because India is an important country with whom we (the UK) have relations. And so, we had to handle it very carefully,” Straw told the BBC, adding, “What we did was establish an inquiry and have a team go to Gujarat and find out for themselves what had happened. And they produced a very thorough report.”

A former British diplomat, who remains anonymous described the whole event as a pogrom. To our readers, a pogrom is a term used when there is an organized massacre of a particular ethnic group. In this case, it was the Muslims, the former diplomat said.

“At least 2000 people were murdered during the violence where the vast majority were Muslims. We described it as a pogrom– a deliberate, and politically driven effort targeted at the Muslim community,” the former diplomat told the BBC.

Pertinently, on 28 February 2002, Hindu mobs who were part of the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP), Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), unleashed massive violence against Muslims in Gujarat that went on for weeks killing thousands of Muslims.

About 3,000 Muslims were killed. Some 20,000 Muslim homes and businesses and 360 places of worship were destroyed, and roughly 150,000 people displaced.

The massacre was unleashed after the burning of 59 Karsevaks on board the Sabarmati Express in Godhra which was probed and declared an accident.

Modi, the current Prime Minister of India, was accused of initiating and condoning the violence, instructing police to stand by and let Hindu mobs do acts of violence against Muslims.

Strong evidence links the Modi administration in Gujarat to the carefully orchestrated anti-Muslim attacks.

Hindu mobs had detailed lists of Muslim residents and businesses, and violence occurred within view of police stations.

An independent media, Tehelka, used hidden cameras to capture some of the accused speaking openly of how the attacks had Modi’s blessings.

In response to Indian authorities’ restricting access to the documentary, the Committee to Protect Journalists issued the following statement calling for access to the documentary to be restored.

“The Indian government’s order to social media platforms to block a BBC documentary about Prime Minister Narendra Modi is an attack on the free press that flagrantly contradicts the country’s stated commitment to democratic ideals,” Beh Lih Yi, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator, had said in a statement.

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