Secret UK report says Gujarat death toll 'much greater'

By Peter Popham in Delhi

16 April 2002

The pogroms that erupted in the state of Gujarat six weeks ago continue 

to haunt India.

Yesterday three more people died in violent clashes in the city of 

Ahmedabad and a curfew was clamped on affected areas. The Hindustan Times, 

a national newspaper, claimed that a secret internal report prepared by 

British diplomats here for the Foreign Office put the death toll in the 

state at about 2,000 * nearly 1,200 more than the official figure * and 

stated that the violence was not spontaneous but planned.

A spokesman for the British high commission in Delhi said: "We will 

neither confirm nor deny what was in the report because we do not comment 

on leaks." But the report conforms to what non-government organisations 

have been claiming about the true scale of the carnage, in which the 

overwhelming majority of the victims were Muslims.

Both houses of India's parliament were forced to adjourn in uproar 

yesterday as opposition MPs attacked the government for failing to control 

the violence. "Today Gujarat is burning, tomorrow the country will 

burn," said Satyavrat Chaturvedi of the Congress party.

The opposition is angry because the chief minister of Gujarat, Narendra 

Modi, who belongs to the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party 

(BJP), which controls the ruling coalition, has not only avoided the sack 

for allegedly conniving in the pogroms but is being encouraged by the BJP 

to stand in new elections. The party appears to believe that, in a 

violently polarised election, the party will gain the votes of the great 

majority of Hindus and secure a massive new mandate in the western state.

The opposition, in common with many disinterested observers, believes 

that the violence in Gujarat, which followed the massacre of 59 Hindu 

activists on a train in the town of Godhra on 28 February, was not a 

spontaneous eruption of Hindu emotion but meticulously planned by militant 

neo-fascist groups * the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council) 

and Bajrang Dal. They also believe that Mr Modi allowed it to happen. The 

state police, it is claimed, either did nothing or deliberately 

instigated violence and fired on the Muslim victims.

Atal Behari Vajpayee, the Prime Minister, has been under enormous 

pressure both from the Opposition and coalition partners to punish Mr Modi 

for turning a blind eye to the worst communal violence in India in 10 

years. But radical voices within the BJP, calling on the leadership to 

keep faith with the Hindu chauvinism that is the party's core ideology, 

now appear to have prevailed. After weeks of prevaricating, Mr Vajpayee 

has now made clear that Mr Modi's sacking is out of the question.

At a BJP conference in Goa on Friday he even jumped on to the 

Muslim-bashing bandwagon. He said in a speech: "Wherever there are Muslims, they 

do not want to live with others [of different faiths]. Instead of 

living peacefully, they want to preach and propagate their religion by 

creating terror in the minds of others."

This broadside delighted his audience of activists but it is an 

approach that puts the survival of the ruling coalition, which has two more 

years to run if it can sustain its majority, in doubt. For years Mr 

Vajpayee has specialised in putting a moderate, secular face on his party. 

His sudden return to ideological basics has helped to unite the 

opposition in hostility to the BJP, and has come close to bouncing his party's 

most important coalition partner, the Telugu Desam Party from Andhra 

Pradesh, into the opposition camp, too. If the opposition can force a 

vote on Gujarat in parliament, the government might not have enough votes 

to win it.

Indian politics has taken an ugly turn. After several electoral 

setbacks in recent months, the BJP has returned to the communal politics that 

once made it a parliamentary leper.

The long-term result is anybody's guess. If it succeeds in galvanising 

Hindu votes across India, more pogroms like those of Gujarat may be on 

the way. But if the party continues to lose ground, the murderous thugs 

who support it may prove even more unruly. 


Back To Islam Awareness Homepage

Latest News about Islam and Muslims

Contact for further information