The Indian government has had a documentary film on the 2002 Gujarat riots dropped from a private exhibition in Beijing. The Ministry of External Affairs says it intervened after it received complaints from the Indian community in China.
The film had already screened at the exhibition for about a month before the ministry asked the organisers to remove it; they agreed to do so. The short film, by prominent filmmaker and artist Tejal Shah, has people talking about atrocities against Muslims in Gujarat during the riots; some criticise Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi. It was showing in Beijing as part of the Indian Highway Gallery, an exhibition of about 200 artists that is traveling around the world.
The exhibition reached China last month and was inaugurated by the Indian Ambassador to that country; that, ministry sources say, compounds the embarrassment. The external affairs ministry has said it did not know that Shah's film was part of the exhibition or that it had already been showing in Beijing for about four weeks. It is being seen as a particularly sensitive issue as it was being screened in China.
The BJP, which rules Gujarat, has sought an explanation on why the Indian ambassador inaugurated the film. "These are completely objectionable and BJP takes strong objections to this. We demand that the Ministry of External Affairs immediately call the Indian Ambassador to China and seek an explanation from him as to how he could inaugurate something where the image of India is being shown in such poor light," BJP spokesperson Nirmala Sitharaman said.
"I think the Ministry of External Affairs should be pro- active to show that it can act on its own officials which are there to spread goodwill about India and not such bad picture, she added.
Narendra Modi has spent the last decade fighting accusations that he played a partisan role during the post-Godhra Gujarat riots, in which about 1,200 people were killed, mostly Muslims. The riots of 2002 remain the one dark spot in the political career of Mr Modi, who is largely seen as the BJP's next big leader on the national stage.