• Sunday, March 26, 2023


Did mega Air India deal help Modi avoid west’s backlash over BBC tax searches

Indian prime minister Narendra Modi (ANI Photo)

By: Shubham Ghosh

A lot has been said and written in the media, both in India and abroad, after the government of Narendra Modi carried out searches at the offices of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) in New Delhi and Mumbai recently for more than two days. The move came weeks after the BBC released a documentary series on Modi’s role in the riots in Gujarat in 2002, when he was the chief minister of the state.

While there have been reactions in the west, including the UK, over the income-tax department searches in the BBC’s premises in the two major Indian cities, they have not been too big to trigger a diplomatic backlash.

According to analysts, the Modi government succeeded in averting an unfavourable situation as the prime minister made use of his political acumen — leveraging the south Asian nation’s importance as both an economic and security partner and its importance as an emerging market. They feel that these factors neutralised criticism over the alleged crackdown on dissenting voices, something Modi’s opposition at home are protesting over.

It might be mentioned here that the inspection of the BBC’s offices in India coincided with Modi’s announcement that a mega order of 470 aircraft had been placed by Air India from two of the world’s biggest plane manufacturers — Airbus and Boeing.

Top western democracies such as the US, UK and France welcomed the mega deal for employment and economic reasons while there any support for the BBC in the form of a public statement made by either the US or the UK was lacking.

The British foreign office, however, has issued a statement saying it was “monitoring” the situation but prime minister Rishi Sunak and the rest of his government maintained a silence on the matter. Sunak even went on the defend his Indian counterpart when the controversy over the BBC documentary first started.

Sunak and US president Joe Biden, however, were ecstatic in lauding the aircraft deal, saying it would help their economies grow. US state department spokesperson Ned Price did not issue any categorical condemnation of the actions carried out at the BBC’s premises in India and just reiterated as a “general” point the Biden administration’s faith in the significance of free press around the globe.

Gary Crichlow, aviation lead at London-based analytics group VV Aviation, told The Independent that the economic impact of the mega order would be felt across the world.

“The commercial aircraft supply chain is global. Airbus operates final assembly lines in five countries,” including France, Germany, China, Canada and the US, he told the news outlet.

“Boeing operates three facilities, in Renton, Washington; Everett, Washington; and Charleston, South Carolina. Both manufacturers have a supply base of more than 12,000 suppliers worldwide. For example, the main wing for the Boeing 787 is manufactured in Japan; Airbus’s A350 wing is assembled in the UK.”

Given the massive significance of the aircraft deal, experts are of the opinion that the order placed by the Indian airline has played a key role in shaping the western countries’ response to the tax searches on the BBC by the Indian authorities.

“The fact [is] that while the raid was going on, the statements came in from both prime minister Rishi Sunak as well as president [Joe] Biden, hailing the deals, while the French president Emmanuel Macron appeared along with Mr Modi at the same time,” Sushant Singh, a senior fellow at the Centre for Policy Research think tank in New Delhi, was quoted as saying by The Independent.

“Reactions have been very mild, clearly, because it’s a very big deal and it matters to these countries.”

Singh said the fact that the western governments are hesitant to speak out on the BBC raids issue helped Modi’s cause and amplified his image as a leader. He said that the progressive liberals in India would also be disappointed with the way the west has responded to the matter since they frame the global debate as one between democracy and human rights.

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