Columns | Game, Seth and Match
The Caravan and Barking Dogs
The best way to react to the anti-Modi documentary was to ignore it
03 Feb, 2023
THE RECENT FRACAS over the BBC documentary is an artful lesson in what not to do in the face of an unprincipled agenda-driven media offensive, no matter who the offender is and how seemingly virtuous.
It is clear that the BBC in its two-part documentary on Modi’s India has launched an attack which not only targets the sitting (and elected) prime minister of India but chooses to gloss over what was a trial by fire for the then chief minister of Gujarat: a trial which went through an arduous judicial process and finally landed in the Supreme Court of India. What is ironic is that this judicial trial took place under the auspices of a Congress government: which was keen to indict Narendra Modi and also ensured that he was persona non grata in many countries abroad: a sacrilege, if you ask me, since Modi was elected to the chief minister’s office thrice, and that too by significant majorities in each of the elections.
And this is not the first time that Modi has been targeted by the media and, quite frankly, no one should begrudge any kind of media launching an offensive of this nature. Especially when the media in question is a public broadcaster in a country other than India. The right to state what they wish is a right that we need to respect, even though we may have serious issues with the truth that they wish to amplify in their media outreach.
When this documentary was first aired in England, the spillover effect in India was only natural: Modi has enough detractors and this is not something he is unaware of.
The only difference this time round was many of India’s key institutions were also under attack and their integrity questioned: starting from the venerable Supreme Court of India itself.
The response from the Indian government was tardy and, at times, both unethical and not needed. In today’s digital world, it’s difficult to block and/or ban anything that has been aired. It remains in the public domain. What is needed is a response to that documentary through a similar medium. If not, studied silence is the best. No government today can be seen as blocking content: that is antithetical to both the principles of democracy as also the right to free speech enshrined within.
In today’s digital world, it’s difficult to block or ban anything that has been aired. What is needed is a response to the documentary through a similar medium. This BBC documentary will not be the last word on a longstanding issue. Dignified silence will always be more appealing than disgusting shrillness
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What the government should have done is issue a simple three-to-four-line statement to the effect that this issue was the subject of an intense and protracted investigative and judicial process: which included several special investigation teams as also the courts of law. And that, too, in a federal regime which was not only unfriendly but clearly steeped in vendetta.
And the whole issue should have been put to bed. No ban; no blocking digital handles or, for that matter, preventing any screenings. The fact that all of the above were done led the average Joe as well as the opposition to cry foul and beat the drum of “democracy under attack”, playing into the very narrative that the BBC propounded in both parts of its documentary.
I have never understood why this government (which has some brilliant individual communicators and strategists, starting with the prime minister himself) fail as a collective. What is it that converts them from sharp strategists to blunt bumblers, and that too, ever so often?
Someone needs to tell the powers that be that it is the prime minister himself who has ushered in a wave of unimaginable democracy and access to information through Digital India; to now use those very tools to either suppress or thwart things in the public domain is a boomerang not worth it.
This BBC documentary will not be the last word on a longstanding festering issue. Dignified silence will always be more appealing than disgusting shrillness. The sooner this government recognises this, the better off it will be. Or else, they will have to be in an eternal defensive mode to ward off unsubstantiated and targeted derision.
About The Author
Suhel Seth is Managing Partner of Counselage India and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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