Ex-PM faces more heat over riots

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 03 March, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 03 March, 2005, 12:00am

The opposition Bharatiya Janata Party has defended its former prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee after a bombshell interview by the former president implicated him in the Gujarat anti-Muslim riots in which more than 1,000 people died.

K.R. Narayanan, who was president at the time of the 2002 riots, said the carnage was the result of a 'conspiracy' between Mr Vajpayee's government in New Delhi and the BJP state government in Gujarat.

'There was government participation in the Gujarat riots. I sent several letters to Vajpayee and talked to him. But he did not do anything effective,' Mr Narayanan told Manav Samskriti magazine.

'I asked the army to be deployed to suppress the violence ... the army was sent but there was no shooting against those who engineered the violence.

'Had it been done, a lot of gruesome incidents could have been prevented.'

Mr Narayanan's comments add weight to the widespread criticism at the time that the Gujarat authorities were passive bystanders while people were being butchered.

BJP spokesman Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi dismissed the charge as having no 'credibility'.

'Everyone in the country knows Mr Vajpayee's reputation,' he said. 'He visited the state twice after the riots, met the victims and announced compensation. His reputation can't be damaged with attacks of this kind.'

Mr Narayanan's charges came when he was asked why he had appeared disturbed in the last days of his presidency.

'There were several occasions during my presidency when I felt hopeless and sad,' he said.

'There were instances when I was helpless, not able to come to the aid of individuals and the nation.'

Mr Vajpayee's critics often said his moderate image was a fiction, concealing the fact he shared the hardline views of extremists in his Hindu nationalist party.