Vajpayee promises justice over riots

Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee has pledged to punish the perpetrators of anti-Muslim riots that killed around 2000 people last year in the western state of Gujarat.

    Vajpayee denies his government has turned a blind eye

    His promises come after harsh criticism from human rights groups that his administration has turned a blind eye to violence in the region, which is ruled by Vajpayee's Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

    "There is no doubt that those perpetrating such violence should be punished," Vajpayee told the Financial Times of London in an interview published on Friday.

    "Our public, media and judiciary are following it closely. Justice will not only seen to be done; it will be done," Vajpayee said.

    'Tragic aberration'

    He claimed that the sectarian attacks were not representative of India's largely secular society.

    "The violence in Gujarat was a tragic aberration and we have condemned it unequivocally. It is important to remember that these tragic incidents remain localised - the secular fabric of India remains intact," he said 

    Some 2000 people, most of them Muslims, were killed in February and March 2002 in Gujarat.

    The riots came after a mob made up of Muslims, allegedly torched a train carrying Hindu activists in the Gujarat town of Godhra, killing 59 people.


    Vajpayee himself came under strong attack for not sacking Gujarat's leader, Chief Minister Narendra Modi, who has since become a prominent campaigner for the BJP.

    Human rights groups have accused the state administration, headed by the BJP, of ignoring the vigilante violence and at times abetting the perpetrators.

    Vajpayee himself came under strong attack for not sacking Gujarat's leader, Chief Minister Narendra Modi, who has since become a prominent campaigner for the BJP.

    The state leader has been repeatedly defended by senior BJP leaders including Vajpayee's deputy Lal Krishna Advani and Hindu hardliners.

    Court rebuke

    In September, India's Supreme Court said Modi's administration had denied justice to victims of the communal riots. No one has been convicted over the violence.

    The court is monitoring the state of Gujarat's handling of court cases related to the riots, and has demanded federal approval for special public prosecutors appointed by the state administration to try those charged with the killings.

    The order was seen as a stern rebuke to the state's BJP government.
    The court has also appointed India's former solicitor general Harish Salve as amicus curiae (friend of the court) in the western state, to guarantee impartiality.

    The appointment demonstrates the Supreme Court's lack of faith in the provincial judiciary after 21 Hindus were acquitted in July for the torching of a Muslim-owned bakery during the riots that left 12 people dead.

    Most of the accused are now facing a retrial, after the state of Gujarat succumbed to pressure from the Supreme Court.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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