India's PM Modi cleared of complicity in deadly 2002 communal riots

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi arriving at a Bharatiya Janata Party parliamentary committee meeting at the Parliament House in New Delhi on Dec 11, 2019.
India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi arriving at a Bharatiya Janata Party parliamentary committee meeting at the Parliament House in New Delhi on Dec 11, 2019.PHOTO: AFP

AHMEDABAD, INDIA (AFP) - Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was not complicit in deadly religious riots that broke out in 2002 in one of the bloodiest episodes in independent India, according to a judge-led commission report released on Wednesday (Dec 11).

Mr Modi was the chief minister of the western state of Gujarat when nearly 1,000 people - the majority of them Muslims - were killed in riots triggered by a fire on a train which killed 59 Hindu activists.

The riots have long dogged Mr Modi, who was accused by human rights groups of turning a blind eye to the violence.

The Nanavati Commission found that the riots were spontaneous, sparked by the train burning deaths, rather than pre-planned attacks.

"There is no evidence to show that these attacks were either inspired or instigated or abated by any minister of the state," the Nanavati Commission said in its nine-volume report of more than 2,500 pages.

The release of the report came amid protests in north-eastern India over a citizenship Bill that proposes excluding Muslim refugees from neighbouring Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan.

Mr Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), re-elected in a landslide in May after coming to power in 2014, has long been accused of following a "Hindutva" agenda favouring officially secular India's majority Hindus.

In August, Mr Modi's administration rescinded the partial autonomy of Jammu and Kashmir, India's only Muslim-majority state, in what his government said was aimed at boosting the local economy and rooting out corruption.

The report - which included 44,445 affidavits from witnesses and 488 government officials - was tabled in the Gujarat state assembly on Wednesday, five years after it was submitted to the government following a 12-year probe.

 

While the commission's terms of reference did not require the government to make the findings public, it said in September the report would be released after a petition for its publication was filed in the High Court.

The commission also cleared the police force of negligence, finding that police were unable to control mobs as they had inadequate numbers or were not properly armed.

In 2008, it had concluded that the train incident was a pre-planned conspiracy, with 31 people later convicted of criminal conspiracy and murder by a special court.

More than 100 people have already been convicted over the riots.

Mr Modi - who set up the inquiry in 2002 - was cleared in 2012 by a Supreme Court-ordered investigation.