Tax probe at BBC India offices continues for second day in wake of Modi film

Members of the media outside a building with BBC offices in New Delhi, where income tax officials were conducting a search, on Feb 15. PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW DELHI – A tax probe at the New Delhi and Mumbai offices of BBC India continued for a second day on Wednesday, weeks after the broadcaster aired a documentary about the 2002 Gujarat riots and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s alleged role in the violence in his home state.

An Indian government official with direct knowledge of the matter said tax department staff continued their investigation at both locations, but did not give any other information. The official asked not to be named, citing the private nature of the matter.

“The income tax authorities remain at the BBC offices in New Delhi and Mumbai,” a BBC spokesman in London said late on Tuesday, indicating the inquiry continued late into the night.

“Many staff have now left the building, but some have been asked to remain and are continuing to cooperate with the ongoing inquiries.”

The BBC had restricted broadcast of the two-part documentary, India: The Modi Question, in the South Asian nation. The country’s foreign ministry had dismissed the film, aired in January, as a “propaganda” piece. The government also ordered social media giants Twitter and YouTube to take down tweets and videos about the film.

“We are supporting our staff during this time and continue to hope to have this situation resolved as soon as possible,” the spokesman for the broadcaster added.

“Our output and journalism continues as normal, and we are committed to serving our audiences in India.”

The spokesman gave no other details.

The gates of the central Delhi building where the BBC office in the Indian capital is located were locked, and the elevators were not stopping at the level where the broadcaster’s office is located.

The Editors Guild of India and Press Club of India both voiced concerns about the government action.

The BBC documentary once again raised the charge, made by many human rights groups, that Mr Modi, who was chief minister of Gujarat at the time of the 2002 riots, did little to quell them. He denied the allegations, which were later dismissed by India’s Supreme Court.

More than 1,000 people – mostly Muslims – were killed in sectarian violence across the state after a train carrying Hindu pilgrims was burned, allegedly by a Muslim mob. 

The BBC is the “most corrupt corporation in the world”, Mr Gaurav Bhatia, a spokesman for Mr Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party told reporters in New Delhi on Tuesday, adding that the news organisation’s reporting against India was “venomous”.

The income tax office did not respond to an e-mail request for comment. 

India’s civil society and independent media groups have accused Mr Modi’s government of creating an atmosphere of fear for activists since it came to power in 2014.

In 2020, Amnesty International shut down its India operations after what it called “constant harassment” from government agencies, including the freezing of its bank accounts in the country. BLOOMBERG

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