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BBC Modi film: Tory peer's racially charged attack on British Pakistanis must be challenged

The Conservative party's silence over Lord Ranger's remarks risks allowing it to become a haven for bigotry and racism
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi adjusts his hair during a rally in Mumbai on 19 January 2023 (AP)

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, still licking his wounds from the Nadhim Zahawi affair, is being drawn into a fresh crisis following inflammatory and apparently racist remarks made by senior Tory peer Rami Ranger about British Pakistanis.

Lord Ranger, who has given more than £1m to the Conservatives, is patron of the Conservative Friends of India group. Fellow patrons include former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith, former Prime Minister Theresa May - and Sunak. Significantly, Security Minister Tom Tugendhat is another patron.

Lord Ranger wrote a letter to the BBC’s Director General Tim Davie, condemning the corporation's 'insensitive, one-sided documentary'

Lord Ranger’s remarks came in the wake of this month’s BBC documentary series on Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s relationship with India’s Muslims.

After the first episode, which featured a UK government report that criticised Modi’s conduct during the 2002 anti-Muslim pogrom in Gujarat, the Indian government invoked emergency laws to ban the documentary.

On 20 January, Lord Ranger wrote a letter to the BBC’s director general, Tim Davie, condemning the corporation's “insensitive, one-sided documentary”.

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In the letter, which closely reflected the Modi government official line, he added: "The BBC documentary has opened old wounds by creating hatred between British Hindus and Muslims by attempting to paint India as an intolerant nation where Muslims are persecuted. If this had been the case, the Muslims would have left India by now.” 

In a loaded comment, he asked Davie to "kindly confirm if your Pakistani-origin staff were behind this nonsense". 

'Unacceptable and racist'

Lord Ranger then broadened his criticism in a series of interviews on Indian TV.

"We know what Pakistanis are capable of doing and how they kept Osama bin Laden hidden for 10 years while they were getting paid from America," he said in an interview on the Indian television channel NewsX.

"So therefore I do not have any faith in the country which only wants to export terrorism. So therefore I just wanted to make sure that there is no Pakistani connection in that documentary.”

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Middle East Eye understands that Sunak’s Conservative Party has been briefed about at least some of Lord Ranger’s comments - but has so far done nothing. 

Last night, Downing Street brushed aside questions from MEE on whether Sunak would investigate and potentially suspend Lord Ranger’s membership, saying that “since he’s not an MP this is for Conservative Campaign Headquarters”.

In fact, in common with all peers, Lord Ranger is indeed a member of Parliament. MEE also left a question at Conservative Party headquarters but there had been no reply as this article was published. Theresa May and Iain Duncan Smith, patrons alongside Lord Ranger of the Conservative Friends of India, did not respond to questions from MEE.

MEE also approached Lord Ranger, suggesting that the remarks were “unacceptable and racist” - and asking for a response. Lord Ranger replied by WhatsApp that the “BBC has succeeded in dividing British citizens of India and Pakistani communities with dire consequences for our social integration”. He added: “I hope that you will not stoke more hatred. Thank you. The cause is the United Kingdom and not Rami Ranger.” 

A 'Pakistani hand'

In the XNews interview, the anchor referred to remarks made by a British MP of Pakistani origin and asked whether Lord Ranger saw “Pakistan’s hand in the documentary?”

Lord Ranger responded by saying that “Pakistanis should know that their country is bankrupt. They have no money, they should not be talking big.” 

A group of students shout anti-government slogans as they are not allowed to screen a BBC documentary at Delhi University campus in New Delhi, India, Friday, Jan. 27, 2023
A group of students shout anti-government slogans following the banning of a BBC documentary at Delhi University campus on 27 January 2023 (AP)

Lord Ranger went on: “Indian Muslims are much more smarter, better and cleverer than the Pakistanis.” He added that they are “quite capable of looking after themselves”. 

Later in the interview, he asked: “Which community commits the maximum crime in [the] United Kingdom?” Before adding: “These Pakistanis have no right to speak.”

These remarks were made over the weekend. However, 10 days have passed since Lord Ranger’s letter to the BBC, and there has been no response from Sunak. The situation may be complicated by the unspoken electoral alliance that appears to exist between the Conservative Party and groups in Britain affiliated with Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). 

Deafening silence

During the 2019 UK general election, the general secretary of the National Council of Hindu Temples, which has links with the BJP, was suspended after revelations that he had been advocating for the Conservative Party on social media. 

In the same year, the president of the Hindu Forum of Britain (of which Lord Ranger is a founding member) was videoed telling an audience that she would ban Labour politicians from Hindu functions. A group called Overseas Friends of BJP UK, meanwhile, invited 300 Indians to a meeting with Bob Blackman, Tory MP for Harrow East.

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Blackman has blamed “Islamist extremists” for the recent Leicester riots and lamented “appalling attacks on Hindus in Leicester, Birmingham and elsewhere in the UK”, failing to mention attacks on Muslims. In 2018, Blackman hosted in parliament the influential Hindu nationalist leader Tapan Ghosh, who before his death in 2o2o called on the UN to “control the Muslim birth rate world over”. 

Hate speech directed at religious minorities has become a routine feature of public life in India. From 2009 to 2014 there were 19 recorded instances of hostile rhetoric towards minorities by high-ranking politicians. But from 2014, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s BJP entered government, to the start of 2022, there were 348 such instances - a surge of 1,130 percent. Today, some experts speak of a possible genocide against India’s Muslims. 

Lord Ranger is still widely courted by senior Tories, despite facing an inquiry into an unrelated issue by the House of Lords standards commissioner. Earlier this month he hosted an event for Theresa May at the Carlton Club.

The silence is deafening. Rishi Sunak risks allowing his Conservative Party to become a safe haven for bigotry and racism.

The views expressed in this article belong to the authors and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Peter Oborne won best commentary/blogging in both 2022 and 2017, and was also named freelancer of the year in 2016 at the Drum Online Media Awards for articles he wrote for Middle East Eye. He was also named as British Press Awards Columnist of the Year in 2013. He resigned as chief political columnist of the Daily Telegraph in 2015. His latest book is The Fate of Abraham: Why the West is Wrong about Islam, published in May by Simon & Schuster. His previous books include The Triumph of the Political Class, The Rise of Political Lying, Why the West is Wrong about Nuclear Iran and The Assault on Truth: Boris Johnson, Donald Trump and the Emergence of a New Moral Barbarism.
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