Jack Straw is the canary in the coal mine that indicates the hand of the Sino-Wahabi lobby in the BBC documentary

LONDON: The two-part BBC series on Prime Minister Narendra Modi, “India: The Modi Question” was most likely intended to be a hatchet job against the BJP and PM Modi’s 2024 election campaign. Although polite people do not like to mention coincidences, there seem to be too many for these to be just serendipitous.

The timing brought the second episode of the BBC series to a couple of days from Republic Day and the 2024 campaign has already begun. Coming so soon after the problems in Leicester, UK, last year, it is not impossible to suspect the aim was to open old wounds in India and in the UK, and to foment social unrest.

The so-called Jack Straw inquiry/report into the Gujarat riots in 2002 is not new news. On 16 April 2002, the BBC published an article titled “India’s opposition turns up the heat”. The BBC article refers to a Hindustan Times claim on Monday, 15 April 2002: “The Hindustan Times newspaper on Monday said the UK High Commission in Delhi had sent a report on the riots to the British Foreign Office.” Thus this report had two mentions at the time in the mainstream media and was not a “secret”.

The British High Commissioner in Delhi in 2002 was Sir John Robertson (Rob) Young, whose career had previously unfurled in Lebanon, Cairo, Rhodesia, Paris and Damascus, Sir Rob is described as an “Arabist”. In an interview given in 2019, Sir Rob discusses his time in India at length. The Labour Party’s constituency influence was already evident, as Sir Rob says, “Half a dozen Cabinet ministers came every year when I was there. They just loved going to India and, from John Prescott downwards, were very good at working there. Ministers like Patricia Hewitt and Jack Straw had a feel for India, because they had large numbers of Indians (Muslims) in their constituencies and that made for very easy contact and interaction.” The former High Commissioner continued giving his insights into Robin Cook’s clumsy comments on Kashmir in 1997, trade, education, visas, British policy, aid, the Purulia arms case, arms sales, Kargil and the Indo-Pak nuclear standoff; at this point Sir Rob comments, “Vajpayee was a very shrewd, experienced and basically pacific man and the acceptable face of the BJP, in comparison with the current regime.” Sir Rob ends with “It’s interesting that the current Indian Prime Minister, Modi, after the recent terrorist incident, retaliated by attacking Pakistani positions, which Vajpayee never did. It was the first time since the 1971 war that the Indians attacked over the border and it was very, very risky. I think Imran Khan deserves huge plaudits for defusing that.” It is also interesting that Sir Rob was British High Commissioner and by most accounts initiated the inquiry following the events in Gujarat in 2002, and yet these events are totally absent from this interview.

The then Foreign Minister Jack Straw had a well-known affinity with his Blackburn constituents exemplified in his “Engagement with the Islamic World” lecture given at the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies on 25 January 2002. He spoke of the complex relationship between Islam and the West, and the need for greater understanding of different faiths and cultures. Straw argued that in many ways Islam has often been an egalitarian and progressive force. Straw supports going beyond mere tolerance of differences to an active celebration of diversity and that there is nothing to fear from allowing Islam to exercise a positive, civilizing influence in Britain (in 2002); with regard to practices which are unacceptable such as forced marriage, discrimination in the workplace, or blindness in the face of overwhelming evidence of serious terrorist culpability, Straw says “The better we understand each other, the more we have the right to comment and to criticise”.

The two-part documentary was made by Mike Radford, the Executive Producer for BBC Current Affairs, and Richard Cookson, producer and director of The Modi Question. This duo have worked together before on a series called, China: A New World Order, shown in 2019. Radford has been responsible for developing and executive-producing numerous documentaries on BBC2 and BBC3 including One Day In Gaza; House of Saud; and The Conspiracy Files, a series investigating conspiracy theories about contemporary events (Lockerbie, Osama Bin Laden, How the Middle Class Ruined Britain, 9/11 and MH17, amongst others). Cookson has been a producer for Panorama and Dispatches, after his program, Syria: The World’s War, was aired, the BBC admitted the Douma report contained serious flaws after a complaint by Peter Hitchens said the documentary had inaccuracies. Cookson approached various folk in India for comment, describing The Modi Question as a series that “is looking at several aspects of Mr Modi’s rise as a politician—including the development of his political thought, his rising electoral success, his pro-Hindu political philosophy and how he is governing India now, including what he’s done on Kashmir and the CAA. It also looks at his early years in politics as Chief Minister of Gujarat, including the controversy over the riots in Gujarat in 2002. We have been talking to people from across the political spectrum in India and wish to feature a wide variety of perspectives regarding Mr Modi’s politics.”

Dr Chris Ogden, the consultant in the series, was an informed choice but how much consulting went on is hard to determine, as his publishings have a more balanced position. Ogden is a genuine expert, a Senior Lecturer/Associate Professor in Asian Security, his research analyses the relationship between national identity, security and domestic politics in South Asia (primarily India) and East Asia (primarily China), as well as the rise of great powers, authoritarianism in global politics, and China’s coming world order. Several other universities have benefited from his expertise including the Chinese University of Hong Kong, which aims to bring together China and the West. He has published many informative and insightful articles on India and China. His recent books include Global India: The Pursuit of Influence published in January 2023 and The Authoritarian Century: China’s Rise and the Demise of the Liberal International Order, published in 2022.

The two producers of the documentary are named as Lovejit Dhaliwal and Sadhana Subramaniam. Both have in the past worked for Al Jazeera. Sadhana Subramaniam made a documentary called India’s Forbidden Love: An Honour Killing on Trial for Al Jazeera’s Witness. Lovejit Dhaliwal is former news presenter for the Al-Jazeera English and media consultant for Islamic Relief.

Surabhi Tandon, the lead interviewer, has also worked for Al Jazeera. She claims experience in Indian national elections and the rise of extremism, riots and protests and the conflict in Kashmir. The reporter in the series, Alishan Jafri is a BBC Hindi/Al Jazeera journalist writing on politics, majoritarianism and communal violence against minorities in India. He seems to be a specialist in polarisation.

The BBC is well known for its left wing views, demonstrated when broadcaster Martine Croxhall was “gleeful” on air and was found to have broken impartiality rules, when Boris Johnson ducked out of the leadership race in 2022. The sadness is that in foreign parts the BBC is perceived as the British government’s mouthpiece channel and yet it is funded by the viewers, and not all viewers’ points of view are represented.

The BBC is considered sympathetic to the Labour Party. And the current Labour Party does not appear to be a friend of India. The shadow foreign secretary David Lammy gave Indian officials insights into his divisive intentions when he co-signed Faisal Rashid’s letter of 8 August 2019 to UN General Secretary Antonio Guterres about the revocation of Article 370. Rashid made toxic allegations about the Indian leadership’s actions in Kashmir and begged for international intervention.

It seems the BBC pool of so-called liberals is vast and there are few right of centre voices to support “a wide variety of perspectives”.