07/17/2004, 00.00
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Godhra case reopened

by Nirmala Carvalho


New Delhi (AsiaNews) – The Indian parliament was the scene of a lively debate over the railway minister's proposal to open a fresh investigation into the Godhra train blaze. Minister Bihar Lalu Prasad announced on Thursday a departmental inquiry into the 2002 Sabarmati Express blaze that killed 59 people triggering widespread communal violence in Gujarat in which more than 2000 people belonging to the minority Muslim community lost their lives.

Tensions between Hindus and Muslims have increased since Hindu fundamentalists destroyed the Babri Mosque (Babri Masjid) in Ayodhya (Uttar Pradesh) in December 1992. Many believed that the Mosque stood on the site where the God Ram was born. Muslim reaction led to an attack on February 27, 2002, in the town of Godhra (Gujarat) against the Sabarmati Express carrying Hindus who were on their way home after visiting Ayodhya. The attack left 59 Hindus dead.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Gujarat State authorities, and the local police were directly involved in the massacres that followed.

The announcement of a new probe into the Godhra carnage rocked Parliament with the Opposition charging the Singh government of creating fresh communal tension. BJP leaders warned that the minister's proposal could lead to unrest in the entire country, especially in volatile Gujarat. They called Prasad's move a way of "backing terrorists and Pakistan."

Gujarat's Chief Minister Narendra Modi announced that his government would oppose "both constitutionally and politically" New Delhi's decision.

A senior BJP leader warned that "if this continues, we cannot say what might happen.  It's a provocation for the people of Gujarat.   It is a well-planned move to cause instability and unrest in Gujarat where there has been normalcy for the last two years."

The party's spin-doctors intend to exploit the situation in the upcoming election to the Maharashtra Assembly. By showing that Prasad's move is "anti-Hindu" and a "brazen effort to appease the minority community," they hope to make the Godhra train blaze a key election issue.

Another BJP leader called the investigation a "well planned conspiracy of the Congress-led UPA government to free the heinous sinners of Godhra. The evidence is clear enough to prove that someone entered the train compartment to spill inflammable material and burn innocent people alive".  He warned that the people of Gujarat would not tolerate the Congress move to save the perpetrators of the dastardly act.

The Opposition went further accusing the railway minister of "carrying out a policy whose consequences are dangerous."

Meanwhile, members of the right-wing fundamentalist group, Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), staged noisy demonstrations in Ahmedabad against minister Prasad.


A different blaze struck India today. The final death toll in a fire that swept through a school in Kumbakonam, in the southern State of Tamil Nadu, is uncertain, but it is known that the victims were all children. According to television reports, the preliminary tally stands at 75 children dead with dozens more hurt and burnt, but the final count could top one hundred. The circumstances of the tragedy are still unclear.

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