The hashtags #BanBBC and #boycottBBC were among the top trends on Indian Twitter throughout the day after the segment – aired in the UK on Monday on BBC Asian Network – was recorded and posted online by a popular account called British Indians Voice.
The “Big Debate” show was discussing whether listeners felt pride at seeing the “turban being referred to as a crown” on Eastenders, the long-running BBC soap opera.
It was then that a Sikh caller named Simon joined the programme and diverted the discussion to talk about the ongoing farm protests in India, which include many Sikh participants from the northern agrarian state of Punjab.
“Before I end, I just want to say…” the caller said, before launching into a tirade against Mr Modi that included a common Punjabi insult involving his mother.
The show’s host Priya Rai tried to interrupt but was unable to do so before Simon’s insulting comments were aired live.
“Okay hang on, take a second here. Simon, thank you very much for calling…” said the host, as the guest’s connection was severed.
The BBC edited out the offending part of the exchange from a version of the programme that aired later on its website, and Rai also issued an on-air apology.
“We would like to apologise for the language used by a guest earlier. It’s a live show and we discuss controversial issues but there was no reason for the type of language that was used and I’d like to say sorry again for any offence that was caused,” she said.
But for many reacting with outrage to the full clip shared online, the damage was already done.
British Indians Voice tweeted at Ofcom, the UK regulator, “to review the broadcaster’s licence”, saying the slur used in the segment “is used to degrade women with the sole purpose to offend”.
A Delhi politician from Mr Modi’s ruling BJP party, Tajinder Pal Singh Bagga, said that a boycott was not enough and that India should ban the broadcaster – though it isn’t the first time he has made such calls.
Amit Thaker, another BJP politician, called the aired comments “very derogatory and shameful”.
The comments against Mr Modi come as protests continue outside Delhi against farm laws that unions say would open up their members to exploitation by big corporations. The Indian government says agricultural reforms are long overdue and will benefit farmers in the long run.