Accused leaders named to contest Indian state poll

PUBLISHED : Monday, 25 November, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 25 November, 2002, 12:00am

Several leaders accused by an independent panel of leading Hindu mobs in violence against Muslims in Gujarat this year have been nominated by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for next month's crucial elections for the state assembly.

The panel - comprising retired supreme court judges, prominent criminal lawyers and former police officers - said last week that the riots were engineered and executed by BJP leaders, including Chief Minister Narendra Modi. It demanded their arrest and prosecution.

Brushing aside the criticism, the BJP on Saturday fielded Kalubhai Maliwad - the prime accused in the killing of 15 Muslims on March 2 - for the town of Lunawada.

Maliwad was arrested but was later released on bail, reportedly under pressure from Mr Modi.

Another one of those accused of planning the riots, Jitu Vaghela, has been nominated to contest the town of Sherkotda.

The BJP has also renominated Maya Khodnani, a sitting party legislator accused by dozens of survivors of masterminding the carnage of Muslims at Naroda Patiya.

Criminal charges are still pending against all the three candidates.

About 2,000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed in sectarian violence in Gujarat from February to April.

The riots began after a Muslim mob torched a train at Godhra, killing 57 Hindu activists.

The BJP state government, including ministers and the police force, have been accused of aiding and abetting extremist Hindu groups such as the World Hindu Council (VHP). The council has been linked to the killing of Muslims, rape of hundreds of women and destruction of homes and businesses.

The independent panel headed by Krishna Iyer, a retired supreme court judge, called the post-Godhra carnage an 'organised crime perpetrated by the Chief Minister, Narendra Modi, and his government'.

But he added that the killing of Hindus in Godhra may have been 'accidental'.

The panel recorded the testimonies of over 1,500 people in hearings across Gujarat since May.

It concluded that many members of Mr Modi's cabinet played a direct role in the genocide but the police refused to file cases against them.

According to the panel, there was sufficient evidence for the Central Bureau of Investigation to prosecute Mr Modi, Home Minister Gordhan Jhadafiya, Health Minister Ashok Bhatt, Revenue Minister Haren Pandeya, Urban Development Minister I. K. Jadeja and Food Minister Bharat Barot for their complicity.

Mr Modi's party insists the panel's report lacks 'objectivity' and is 'motivated'.

BJP member of parliament Balbir Punj said: 'Going by the panel's findings, only 40 to 50 Hindus died in the post-Godhra violence. But the fact is that Hindus account for at least 300 of the 1000 people killed in the riots.

He said: 'Demands to arrest and try Mr Modi and his cabinet colleagues are ridiculous.'