Panel probing Gujarat riots slams Narendra Modi

February 04, 2011

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Narendra Modi
Modi has long been accused by human rights groups of turning a blind eye to the violence, with some suggesting he actively encouraged it. — Photo by Reuters

NEW DELHI: A panel probing anti-Muslim riots in India's Gujarat state in 2002 has strongly criticised the “partisan” handling of the unrest by the state's Hindu nationalist chief minister, Narendra Modi.

The panel, set up by India's Supreme Court, concluded that Modi — a senior Hindu nationalist leader touted as a future prime minister — had sought to play down the seriousness of the violence that claimed 2,000 lives.

However, according to its report, seen by AFP Friday, the panel felt it had not uncovered enough material to justify criminal prosecution.

The Gujarat riots were one of the bloodiest incidents of sectarian violence in India since independence.

Mainly Hindu mobs rampaged through Muslim neighbourhoods for three days, hacking, burning, shooting and beating at least 2,000 Muslims to death.

The unrest was triggered by the death of 59 Hindu pilgrims in a train fire.

The cause of the blaze was never clearly established, but Hindu groups blamed Muslim protesters.

Modi has long been accused by human rights groups of turning a blind eye to the violence, with some suggesting he actively encouraged it.

The findings of the panel appear to substantiate some of the lesser allegations made against Modi and his government, while stopping short of confirming criminal negligence.

“In spite of the fact that ghastly and violent attacks had taken place on Muslims...the reaction of the government was not the type that would have been expected by anyone,” it said.

“The chief minister had tried to water down the seriousness of the situation,” it said, while describing as “sweeping and offensive” Modi's identification of a criminal tendency within Gujarat's Muslim community.

“His implied justification of the killings of innocent members of the minority community, read together with an absence of a strong condemnation of the violence...suggest a partisan stance at a critical juncture,” the panel said.

It also noted Modi's “discriminatory attitude” in not visiting the riot-affected areas in Gujarat's largest city, Ahmedabad.