04/28/2009, 00.00
INDIA

Chief Minister of Gujarat under investigation for massacre of more than a thousand Muslims

by Nirmala Carvalho
The Supreme Court sets up a commission to verify the responsibility of Narendra Modi in the violence against the Islamic minority in 2002. A polemical reaction from the Bharatiya Janata Party, which considers the governor of Gujarat a candidate for Indian prime minister. The Chief Minister, a leading figure of the new party, accuses: "it is a conspiracy of the Congress party to put me behind bars."

Mumbai (AsiaNews) - A special commission of investigation to verify the responsibility of Narendra Modi (in the photo), Chief Minister of Gujarat, in the massacres that rocked the state in 2002, causing the death of more than a thousand people, most of them Muslim.

On April 27, the Supreme Court made public the names of the members of the commission, which will be headed by R.K. Raghavan, former head of the Central Bureau of Investigation, who will be assisted by the lawyers Arijit Pasayat and Asok Kumar Ganguly. Their task is that of clarifying the involvement of Modi and 50 other people, local politicians and government officials, in the clashes seven years ago.

In 2002, a conflict of an ethnic religious nature caused an undetermined number of deaths in Gujarat - some sources say there were 2,000 victims - and 150,000 refugees. The violence broke out after the death of 60 Hindus, during an attack on a train in the city of Godhra, presumed to have been carried out by an Islamic group.

Modi, leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Chief Minister of the state at the time, is accused in particular of being involved in the killing of a member of parliament, but for much of public opinion the leading exponent of the nationalist Hindu party should also respond for the tacit approval of the rioters, and the inertia of the authorities in helping the victims of the massacres.

Jesuit Fr. Cedrick Prakash, director of the Prashant center for human rights, justice, and peace, interprets the decision of the Supreme Court as "a triumph of justice" putting an end to seven years of waiting. "Obviously, there are many in Gujarat society who would best want the horrors of 2002 to be forgotten," says Fr. Prakash. However, one has to realize and accept that when a whole section of one's population is brutalized and decimated, things will never be the same again."

For the Jesuit priest, the coincidence of the institution of the commission and the 60th anniversary of India's constitution is a good sign, because it indicates that "we can proudly live in a land where 'Satyameva Jayate' [editor's note: India's motto, meaning 'Only the truth prevails'] are not only words that come out from our lips."

The decision of the Supreme Court did not fail to cause controversy among the parties in the grip of an election that should decide who will lead the country over the next five years.

Modi is a star of the BJP, and before the elections underway many pointed to him as a Hindu alternative to prime minister Manmohan Singh, leader of India's governing National Congress Party. Modi himself has commented on the news of the institution of the commission as "a conspiracy of the Congress party to put me behind bars."

Lenin Raghuvanshi, director of the popular committee for the protection of human rights, tells AsiaNews that "Hindu fundamentalists will flourish with this type of verdict of the Supreme Court against Narendra Modi during the election time." But the institution of the commission "proves that the genocide of Muslim minority happened in Gujarat with the nexus of state government."

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