Income Tax raid on BBC


Not just a political vendetta but a fascistic design to curb freedom of press and elicit loyalty at gunpoint

BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) has produced a two-part documentary named ‘‘India—the Modi Question’’ based on anti-minority pogrom in Gujarat during 2002 when present BJP PM Modi was the state chief minister and subsequent events of communal killing and hatred in Modi-ruled India. The Part one documentary thoroughly uncovered the crimes committed by the arch communal Hindutva brigade in barbarically killing over 1000 innocent citizens belonging to the religious minority community. The documentary packed with various pieces of evidence held Modi personally responsible for instigating the carnage. The Part two starts with the lynchings in India – Akhlaq’s in Dadri, Uttar Pradesh in 2015 and that of Alimuddin Ansari in Jharkhand in 2017. It then draws links between Modi’s silence on these hate crimes against Muslims to the disabling and dismemberment of Muslim majority Kashmir in 2019, to the drawing up of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) excluding Muslims, to the violent action of putting down anti-NRC anti-CAA protests.

Imposition of ban on the documentary

With the global reputation of BBC as a broadcasting house of repute, the Hindutva camp of RSS-BJP-Sangh Parivar has been visibly in utter discomfort, if not panicked from within. So, a ban was imposed on screening of the documentary in India. This documentary was immediately banned on YouTube and Twitter by his government in India, using the IT Act. While the BBC claimed that the documentary is ‘‘rigorously researched’’ and ‘‘a wide range of voices, witnesses and experts were approached, and we have featured a range of opinions, including responses from people in the BJP’’, but the BJP government held the documentary to be ‘‘a propaganda piece designed to push a particular discredited narrative…The bias, the lack of objectivity, and a continuing colonial mindset, is blatantly visible’’. ‘‘…the extent of violence was much greater than reported’’ and ‘‘the aim of the riots was to purge Muslims from Hindu areas…Mr. Modi had played a proactive part in pulling back police and in tacitly encouraging the Hindu extremists. That was a particularly egregious example of political involvement to prevent police from doing their job to protect the Hindus and the Muslims’’, observed an interviewer in the documentary.
In fact, BBC has not compiled any evidence or footage which has not been in public domain earlier. Only it has stitched the facts regurgitated many times in a sequential way. BBC in a statement held that the Indian government was offered a right to reply, but they declined. When the Supreme Court allowed a petition challenging the ban, The RSS, in ‘Panchjyana’ its mouthpiece, lambasted that ‘‘The Supreme Court is of India, which runs from the taxpayers of India is being used as a tool in the efforts of the opponents of India to clear their way and all anti-national forces try to take advantage of the facilities of our democracy, our generosity, and our civilizational standards in their campaign against us’’ and termed BBC’s ‘‘as a propaganda documentary, which tries to defame India based on untruths and fictions’’ and ‘‘anti-national forces cannot have rights to spread bad propaganda against India, to continue weakening the nation by proselytizing it’’. But neither the BJP nor the RSS did take up the challenge to prove with facts and footages that the documentary, as per their claim, is ill-motivated to malign the PM and India.

Raid by Income Tax authorities on BBC offices

On the contrary, the government moved the Income Tax authority to retaliate with sudden raids on the offices of BBC in both Delhi and Mumbai on the pretext of surveying alleged tax evasion. This raid has been condemned by one to all, both inside and outside the country, as not only a revengeful act but a direct attack on ‘Freedom of Media’. The World Rating Agency has already downgraded India’s democracy as ‘‘autocracy’’. As per World Press Freedom Index 2022, India’s ranking dropped to 150th position from last year’s 142nd rank out of 180 countries. There has been a 28% increase in sedition cases under Modi’s regime. It means that Democratic norms and freedom of the Press has been deteriorating under the Modi Government. Most of India’s newspapers and media channels have already submitted to the dictates of his government. But for being visibly cornered following the Hindenburg report, Adani might have tried to overpower BBC, a public-funded organization, as well by wielding money power and taking recourse to this or that illegal means.
What is worth mentioning is that in 2013, while addressing a public meeting, Modi had said that people earlier did not rely on the news coverage of the Doordarshan and looked to the BBC for ‘‘true and accurate’’ information. But now he turns his gun against that very BBC. The BBC has certainly not been a pliable media under Modi rule. Nor is it so in Britain. There have been plenty of occasions when it exposed the wrongdoings of the British government. If the BJP satraps were dead sure that BBC documentary has damaged the reputation of Modi, it is nothing but as a ‘‘propaganda piece designed to push a particular discredited narrative’’, their government could have well filed a legal complaint against BBC. But they did not. Because they know they are not on the right side. It is also to be mentioned in this connection that a criticism of Modi or the BJP government is not tantamount to an affront of the country or the nation. No elected government ipso facto can be equated with the nation or the country. It is only the self-arrogated guardians of the country who make such weird claims.

Muffling voice of criticism by using penal machinery

Pertinent to mention that this raid on BBC has not been the first of its kind. Earlier also, whoever tried to expose various offences of the Modi government or even dared to criticize Modi or his government, was silenced by letting investigating agencies like ED, IT or Economic Offence Wing on them. Alt news, News Click, The Wire, The Hindu, Dainik Bhasker, none was spared. Ex-editor of Economic and Political Weekly was forced to resign just because he had published a few articles on Adani companies close to PM Modi and is now facing many court cases against him. Many prominent journalists and TV anchors have been forced to quit from the mainstream newspapers and TV channels, just because they dared to question or criticize the policies of Modi’s Government. It is believed that the Modi government also took action against Amnesty International, India, Greenpeace and Oxfam India and many others alleging misuse of foreign fundings to muffle their voice as they had guts to publish reports highlighting the wrong policies and their impact on the people’s rights and civil liberties. Amnesty International, the human rights organization, said that it had ceased its operations in India in September 2020 and laid off its entire staff in response to a series of government reprisals including the freezing of its bank accounts. Amnesty also added that the government of PM Modi had targeted the organization for years in response to its work exposing human rights violations in India. The group had published reports on the Delhi police’s role in fomenting anti-Muslim violence and on the use of torture in Kashmir. A year before that, in March 2019, an article published in ‘Economic Times’ was withdrawn after two days of its publication, under the pressure of the BJP government, because the contents of the article were not to the liking of the government. Now editors and sub editors are being asked not to highlight the failures or wrongdoings of the BJP government in their articles and instead uphold a rosy picture of how the country under the stewardship of PM Modi is making progress in all directions. Any TV anchor who shows courage to criticize the BJP government in any program is asked by the owner to resign obviously under the pressure of the government. This has become very common since 2014. Barring a very few online news channels, no other mainstream media run or cover any programme on real people’s issues. NDTV which was boldly pursuing the ethics of journalism was shrewdly overtaken by Gautam Adani, the burnt-face of monopolist tycoon close to PM Modi. Even Cable TV operators and DTH service providers are selectively blocking those TV channels, which expose the government’s wrong policies. So has emerged the name ‘Godi-media’.
The Editors Guild of India had stated earlier that it was ‘‘deeply disturbed’’ by the ‘‘IT surveys at the offices of selected news websites. …this was a clear intimidatory and blatant attack on their rights, and therefore press freedom. It is learnt that the IT team made clones of Sekhri’s mobile and laptop, as well as some other office machines, and no hash value was given to them. This is clearly beyond the mandate of surveys as defined under section 133A of the Income Tax Act, which only allows data pertaining to the investigation to be copied, and certainly not personal and professional data of journalists. It is also in violation of procedures laid out in the Information Technology Act, 2000, … we are deeply concerned that such indiscriminate seizure of journalists’ data, which could include sensitive information such as details of sources, stories under works and other journalistic data, is in violation of free speech and freedom of press…The dangerous trend of government agencies harassing and intimidating independent media must stop as it undermines our constitutional democracy’’ the Guild stated.

Purchased and pliant media

We know that the role of press and mass media are supposed to be the fourth pillar of bourgeois democracy. Its role is to maintain an independent stand, criticize the rulers and its wrong policies from time to time. It is to act as check and balance, showing the mirror to the government to be critical to the government’s policies and expose them in the larger interest of the public. The media as a watchdog of democracy needs to uphold people’s opinion, help create right public opinions in an unbiased manner and place the correct picture before the public. The role of the press and mass media cannot be to act as the parrot of the government.
But the fact is that the majority of the National Dailies and TV channels in India are controlled and run directly or indirectly by big corporate houses, whose main revenue comes from the DAVP advertisements, the subsidized procurement of newsprint paper. Moreover, they also need to curry favour with the ruling dispensation to carry out their businesses and remain insulated from the fear of ED, CBI, Income-Tax and Custom Departments. It is also an unwritten norm that the ruling bourgeois parties allure them with money for writing in their favour particularly before election.
So, the mainstream or ‘Godi-media’ align with the ruling party or parties whom the monopoly houses and big business back during election as well as after election. So, tailor-made programmes and extensive coverage of the ruling parties and their leaders fill up most of the pages of newspapers as well as maximum number of hours on electronic media. Paid news, paid columns and paid articles have become a new trend in our daily newspapers. TV talk shows have been turned into displays of the worst type of scurrilousness and mutual bickering. Hence, whatever little press freedom and honest journalism are still prevailing in many western countries, such is not the case in India. There is only one code here, ‘‘Fall in line or perish’’. Rolling out the process of creating a committed media gained much momentum after the Modi-led BJP government took the reins. When this is the fascist design that the ruling bourgeois parties foster and operationalize with elan, any dissenting voice or unravelling of truth by anyone including media houses invites wrath of the bourgeois government and ‘‘face the music’’, so to say and when logic ceases to weigh, one has to choose the other way. So, the fascist autocratic government, who is well aware that none of the facts unfolded is unfounded, uses its coercive power to ‘‘tame the shrew’’. And it is equally ruthless with both individuals, individual journalists as well as media houses in gagging their voice.

Should we accept all such tyrannies by lying low?

We know their hands are tied to the media houses they work in. So, they are compelled to publish doctored stories and blackout truth as well as the forces valiantly fighting for truth. If any power-monger political party organizes a rally of 100 odd people, they are tutored to show that as an ‘impressive gathering’. Many times, journalists risk their lives to cover any important news or incident. But while penning their experience, they face censor from their high ups and are forced to either twist the facts or simply suppress the reality. At the same time, those who look at the media for authentic news are not only deceived but are dishing out falsehood or distorted facts as truth. That is why we find most of the newspapers and TV channels confining themselves to mundane news, exaggerated trash and crude propagation of the line of the ruling dispensation.
This is not just encroachment on the freedom of the press and obfuscation of truth but a sinister ploy to inculcate regimentation in the minds of the people at large as well as elicit loyalty of the media at gun point. The government wants everybody to have one-track mind and not sharpening the power of reasoning through meaningful debates, discussions and exchange of opinions. Danger inheres here.
Should we accept all such tyrannies by lying low and allow our country to drift towards doom? If not, we must muster courage to protest. Combined strength of awakened masses is much more than the official power of the oppressive rulers so that strength must be asserted in the right earnest and in the right manner. Sparkle in the pervading darkness is that democratic-minded conscious people from all walks of life are aloud against such reprehensible acts of stifling the voice of the media and bonhomie of the PM with tainted industrialists like Gautam Adani. Secondly, following unfolding of the Adani scam, even PM Modi and his associates are on the backfoot. The inching towards clamping all-out fascism by the BJP at the behest of the ruling monopolists has received a jolt. If more scandals and offences are exposed, the BJP would be in further distress. The full-throttle effort to create a ‘larger than life’ image of Modi would receive more blows. So, the PM and his cabinet colleagues have desperately ordered an income tax raid on BBC so that other media houses who have not turned into an appendage to the ruling machinery do not dare exposing other acts of corruption and wrongdoings of the ruling party and its government. So, this raid is not so much of despotism as is indicative of shivers going down the spine of the ruling clique.

This is the right time to strike back.
The first task is to impart the desired awareness among the masses as well as the journalist fraternity. Surely, the conscientious journalists, many of whom have obtained professional degrees, are seething because they are unable to practice honest journalism. They need to come out of the shackles and use their pen as sword. Next, the people must be roused to stand firm against evils and injustice disdaining the red eyes of the forces of reaction. It is, therefore, incumbent on all democratic-minded people and the right-thinking journalist fraternity to join hands and rise in protest against such a fascistic move of the power that be. Only a united organized powerful movement of all concerned can stem the rot. Our fervent appeal to every thinking person is to build up this desired movement in right earnest.

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