If a country is asked to choose between values and material benefits, it generally opts for the latter. That is the impression one gets looking at the latest turn of events. It is obvious from the attitude of the US, UK and France leaders who expressed happiness at doing business with India and are, in the process, prepared to overlook the brazen intimidation of none other than the well regarded BBC. The so called ‘survey’ by the Income Tax department that has been going on for three days now is aimed at producing a chilling effect on not only the British Broadcasting Corporation but also other media houses, domestic as well as foreign, which dare to question the government headed by Narendra Modi. That the BBC has always been anti-India and it has been acting at the behest of China which funded the broadcaster is hogwash. As Ram, director of The Hindu Media House, has rightly said the reputation of the media house is more than that of the government in question. The allegation that the western media is unable to digest the fact that India has been growing at a pace unimagined by them does not hold water for the simple reason that the growth is not as fast as made out to be and the western media has no reason to be unhappy when poverty in India is reduced if not eliminated.
Journalists are a category that is not wealthy. This is perhaps for the first time in the world that the journalists are being surveyed for their incomes. The fact of the matter is the survey was undertaken after a two-episode documentary on 2002 Gujarat riots and Narendra Modi’s role in them was released by the BBC. The video was banned in India. It has come too late and after Modi was absolved by the highest court in the country. Modi’s government is not bothered about the reaction of the world and the fact that it has sent the IT sleuths within weeks after the documentary was aired. It has now become predictable on the part of the union government to send IT, ED or CBI teams to ‘survey’ on the critics.
When India wants to lead by example, it has to bear with criticism and protect democratic institutions. Modi government harassed NTDV management till it gave in to Adani. There were searches at digital news organizations Newslaundry, Newsclick and IT searches were carried out at Dainik Bhaskar group in 2021. Centre for Policy Research, a think tank, was also not spared. Spirited Media Foundation also was ‘surveyed.’
With this kind of track record of retaliation and vengeance, India’s claim to be a flourishing democracy would sound hollow. Its rank in the freedom of media was 150 out of 180 countries according to Reporters Without Borders (RSF). We are only a few steps better than Pakistan. The best thing the government could have done about the BBC documentary was to ignore it. By banning it, the authorities made it popular raising curiosity. The bad thing was to ban the documentary and worse is getting ‘survey’ done at Mumbai and Delhi offices of the BBC. The attitude of government creates a sense of insecurity among the media professionals and it harms the global image the country is supposed to enjoy. Blatant use of ‘agencies’ is simply done by mature democracies. Biden and Sunak may not criticize Modi government for their own reasons, but people across the world are watching us. More importantly, Indians have been feeling more threatened. It is not good for the government which may be feared but not loved or respected.