Text size:

  • Small
  • Normal
  • Large
A fire burns in a warehouse in the village of Aslalinaka during Hindu Muslim riots in India in March, 2002. Mr Modiís alleged association with the riots may prove problematic in the 2014 general elections.
A fire burns in a warehouse in the village of Aslalinaka during Hindu Muslim riots in India in March, 2002. Mr Modiís alleged association with the riots may prove problematic in the 2014 general elections.
Narendra Modi, the chief minister of Gujarat.
Narendra Modi, the chief minister of Gujarat.

Modi's PM chances tarred by massacre

Opponents say Modi, the chief minister of Gujarat and India's most controversial politician, was complicit in riots 10 years ago.

NEW DELHI // A court verdict this week has brought into focus the puzzle of Narendra Modi, the chief minister of Gujarat and the most controversial politician in India.

Mr Modi is touted as the Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP's) leading prime ministerial candidate for the 2014 general elections.

Yet his prospects to be India's leader are dogged by the shadow of horrific communal riots in his state in 2002.

Mr Modi, the chief minister of Gujarat since October 2001, has been accused by his opponents of deliberate inaction and even complicity in the riots, in which rampaging mobs killed between 1,000 and 2,000 people, most of them Muslim.

On Wednesday, a special court set up to hear cases from the riots, convicted 32 people of organising the massacre in February 2002 of 97 people in the Naroda Patiya suburb of Ahmedabad.

The killings were one of the most brutal chapters of the riots.

Among those convicted was Maya Kodnani, a BJP member of the Gujarat state legislature and, between 2007 and 2009, Mr Modi's minister for women and child development.

Ms Kodnani was allowed to stand for re-election in December 2002 by the state's BJP unit, despite allegations that she had led an armed mob during the riots earlier that year.

Mr Modi's continued association with the riots may prove problematic in the 2014 general elections, said a senior member of a party allied to the BJP, who wished to remain anonymous.

"If he's the prime ministerial candidate, and if a coalition government has to be formed, he won't be able to get any other party on board," the politician said.

Babu Bajrangi, a member of the Bajrang Dal, a Hindu right-wing group loosely allied with the BJP, was also convicted by the Supreme Court, based partly on a video from a sting operation.

The video, shot by the magazine Tehelka, showed Mr Bajrangi boasting about handing out guns to rioters, and about "not sparing anyone - women, children, anybody. Hit them, cut them, burn them."

After the judgment on Wednesday, Digvijaya Singh, a senior leader of India's ruling Congress party, said it was clear Ms Kodnani and the others convicted had "acted at the behest" Mr Modi.

"No ministers would be involved in such a crime unless they had the consent of the chief minister," Mr Singh said in a statement.

However, a BJP spokesman, Yatin Oza, said "the entire Gujarat unit of the BJP" was being unfairly tarred by Ms Kodnani's conviction.

In a rare interview with the Wall Street Journal, published on Wednesday, Mr Modi was asked whether he would apologise for the 2002 riots.

"One only has to ask for forgiveness if one is guilty of a crime," he replied. "If you think it's such a big crime, why should the culprit be forgiven? Just because Modi is a chief minister, why should he be forgiven? I think Modi should get the biggest punishment possible if he is guilty."

Since 2002, Mr Modi has positioned himself as a pro-business politician, often claiming that Gujarat had achieved extraordinary rates of economic growth under his leadership.

It was for this reason, Mr Oza said, that the BJP would rely on Mr Modi's record of good governance and progress when Gujarat goes to the polls later this year.

Comparisons have shown, however, that Gujarat's rate of growth between 2001 and 2010 was roughly similar to that of other major Indian states.

Madhav Nalapat, a professor of geopolitics at Manipal University and a current affairs columnist, said he did not think that the legacy of the 2002 riots would affect Mr Modi's electoral career in the near future.

"Ten years is a long time," he said. "The issues have shifted now, from communal relations to governance. I don't think one court verdict is going to bring it back to communal relations."

Mr Modi himself has been careful to not declare his prime ministerial ambitions outright.

To the Wall Street Journal, he said: "I live in the present. My present is my Gujarat, the 60 million people of this state, the villages, the poor farmers, the children - to change their destiny. I can't think beyond that."


twitterFollow The National on @TheNationalUAE & Samanth Subramanian on @Samanth_S

Back to the top

More articles

Editor's Picks

 Iranian President Hassan Rouhani greeted by university students as he leaves Sistan University in Sistan and Baluchestan’s provincial capital of Zahedan on Tuesday, April 15, 2014. Maryam Rahmanian for The National

In Iran’s most troubled province, Rouhani hears pleas for change

Hassan Rounani aims to connect with residents of far-flung Sistan and Baluchestan province.

 Prince Bandar bin Sultan in Riyadh on March 3, 2007. Hassan Ammar / AFP Photo

Saudi Prince Bandar promised a victory he could not deliver

Saudi Arabia's controversial intelligence chief stepped down this week after rumours that his policies on Syria had fallen out of favour.

 Iranian President Hassan Rouhani greets supporters after his arrival in Zahedan, the regional capital of Sistan and Baluchestan province on Tuesday, April 15, 2014. During Mr Rouhani's two-day visit, he will tour several other cities and hold meetings with local scholars and entrepreneurs. Maryam Rahmanian for The National

On the road with Hassan Rouhani

Iran's president is touring some of Iran's most underdeveloped provinces. Foreign correspondent Yeganeh Salehi is traveling with him.

 Twitter photo of  Abdel Fattah El Sisi on the campaign trail on March 30. Photo courtesy-Twitter/@SisiCampaign

El Sisi rides a bicycle, kicks off social media storm

The photos and video created a huge buzz across social media networks, possibly a marker of a new era for Egypt.

 Friday is UN Mine Awareness Day and Omer Hassan, who does demining work in Iraqi Kurdistan, is doing all he can to teach people about the dangers posed by landmines. Louise Redvers for The National

A landmine nearly ended Omer’s life but he now works to end the threat of mines in Iraq

Omer Hassan does demining work in Iraqi Kurdistan and only has to show people his mangled leg to underscore the danger of mines. With the world marking UN Mine Awareness Day on Friday, his work is as important as ever as Iraq is one of the most mine-affected countries in the world.

 Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Turkish spiritual leader Fethullah Gulen. AFP Photo

The inner workings of Gulen’s ‘parallel state’

Fethullah Gulen's followers are accused of trying to push Turkey's prime minister from power.


To add your event to The National listings, click here

Get the most from The National