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India Lurches Further to the Fundamentalist Religious Right As the Hindu Nationalist Party Wins in a Landslide in Gujarat

StoryDecember 16, 2002
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The ruling Hindu nationalist party in India won a landslide victory in the western state of Gujarat, after what the London Guardian calls the most contentious election campaign in modern Indian history. The ruling Bharatiya Janata party, or BJP, now has a two-thirds majority in the new state assembly.

The sweep is a huge victory for Gujarat’s controversial leader, BJP member Narendra Modi. Earlier this year, Modi presided over the worst riots in India for a decade.

Nearly sixty Hindus were killed on a train in Gujarat last February. Reprisal killings of Muslims convulsed the state for weeks. In the bloody month of March, armed Hindu mobs targeted Muslim- owned homes and businesses across Gujarat, raped and killed hundreds of women, and burned Muslim men alive. Police and state officials stood by and watched. By the time the state finally took control of the mobs, over 150,000 people had lost their homes, and at least 2,000 people were dead.

Dozens of human rights reports have indicted Gujarat Chief Minister Modi and his government for complicity in the reprisal killings of Muslims. Last month a citizens’ tribunal led by former Indian high court judges concluded that last spring’s attacks were "an organized crime perpetuated by the state’s chief minister and his government".

Leading up to this weekend’s elections, Modi campaigned repeatedly invoked the deaths of Hindus in the riots. Campaign posters plastered across the state depict Modi beside a burning railway car. At one campaign stop, he roared: "Merchants of death, you are killing people, you are attacking our country, we will not leave you, we will not give you any space in Gujarat."

The firebrand international general secretary of the World Hindu Council Pravin Togadia declared Sunday: "Gujarat is the graveyard of secular politics." He said in two years India will be a pure Hindu nation.

Guests:

  • Miranda Kennedy, reporter with Free Speech Radio News and former Democracy Now! producer, who is on the ground in Gujarat.
  • Amit Sengupta, senior editor at the Hindustan Times based in Delhi.
  • Sheba George, director, Sahrwaru, a women’s action organization based in Ahmedebad, the largest city in Gujarat.

Tape:

  • Ela Gandhi, granddaughter of Mahatma Gandhi, who is from Gujarat. Ela Gandhi is a Member of Parliament in South Africa with the African National Congress party. She lives in Durban. Last week she came to back to Gujarat, the state where her grandfather was born, to raise her voice against the religious violence that swept the state 9 months ago. She is interviewed by Miranda Kennedy.

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