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The memory of Gujarat can't be erased

 September 17, 2009

Unanswered questions about the Gujarat riots mean Narendra Modi has to be regarded with suspicion

by Savitri Hensman

(, 16 September 2009)

Earlier this year, fDi (Foreign Direct Investment) Magazine, a financial publication which is part of the Financial Times group, declared Narendra Modi Asian Personality of the Year. Gujarat, of which he is chief minister, had attracted considerable foreign investment in the past year.


It had also been the focus of scrutiny because of the state government's role in brutal attacks on Muslims. Official investigators have been delving into the murky goings-on in Gujarat under the leadership of the extreme-right Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), a political party linked with Hindu supremacists who have a long history of organised violence. At times, Hindu moderates and other Indians have struggled to counter the influence of these hardliners. But now they are in political disarray, and the activities of state officials and Narendra Modi in particular are under intense public scrutiny.


In India in 2002, in an atmosphere of tension stirred up by the far-right movement which had torn down a mosque at Ayodhya and were seeking to build a temple in its place, a train caught fire at Godhra in Gujarat and 59 Hindu passengers were killed. It later emerged that the fire was accidental, originating inside one of the carriages, but at the time it was widely believed that Muslim attackers had set the train ablaze. State officials in Gujarat seized on this opportunity to organise anti-Muslim violence on a major scale. Many Indians of all faiths and none were outraged, though some were in denial about the scale and brutality of the attacks. There was condemnation from around the world, though at the time the BJP was in a strong position nationally and Narendra Modi managed to stay in power in Gujarat.


RB Sreekumar, a senior police officer in Gujarat, was one of those who publicly testified to the state government's role in blocking the police from carrying out their duties in 2002. A Hindu himself, he later described the demolition of the mosque and the Gujarat violence as "sacrilegious crimes, which would make any self respecting and committed Hindu to bury his head in shame … Both these Satanic acts were the handiwork of miscreants, owing allegiance to BJP".


It is perhaps not surprising that, in late August 2009, when readers of fDi Magazine in India discovered that Narendra Modi was the winner of the award for Asian Personality of the Year, some were scandalised into action. They alerted friends and acquaintances, and letters began to pour into the offices of the fDi editor and Financial Times group. "It was shocking to hear that a publication associated with the Financial Times Group has chosen to confer an award on Narendra Modi, when it is widely known that he was complicit in and personally responsible for the communal carnage that occurred in Gujarat in 2002, when some two thousand people were butchered," read one letter. There was an online petition against the honouring of Modi in this way, and Indians overseas joined in making their objections known.


The magazine backtracked, announcing that "Following a review prompted by the ongoing investigation into the 2002 Gujarat riots, fDi has decided to present its award to Gujarat state, rather than Mr Narendra Modi, the state's chief minister… Mr Modi was chief minister of Gujarat at the time of the riots. Mr Modi's alleged role in connection to the riots is under investigation but he denies any responsibility."


Extremists are often skilled at manipulating religious and nationalist sentiments, and exploiting people's fears and frustrations, to gain power for themselves. They may portray themselves as respectable and business-friendly, though in time the destructive consequences of their ambitions become apparent. In India, increasing numbers of people have seen through the facade of those Gujarat leaders who have been involved in human rights violations, though there is no room for complacency. Abuses continue to occur. It is time for the international community to strengthen its support for those in India who have been campaigning against bigotry and injustice.

Posted by c-info at Thursday, September 17, 2009  

Labels: Citizens for Justice and Peace, Gujarat 2002 riots, Human Rights, Narendra Modi

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