NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Hardline Hindu activists blamed for one of India’s worst religious riots have accused Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi of failing to stop the killing of hundreds of Muslims, a magazine report said on Thursday.
Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) rejected the report, saying the activists wanted to switch political loyalties before state elections set for December.
Modi’s office said he was not interested in commenting on the report.
About 2,500 people, mostly Muslims, are estimated to have been beaten, stabbed or burned to death in the state in 2002 after suspected Muslims set fire to a train carrying Hindu pilgrims, killing 59 people.
The activists said Modi, who is seeking re-election, gave Hindu mobs a free run for three days after the train fire, encouraged them to riot and prevented police from stopping the violence.
India’s Supreme Court has judged that Modi’s government had looked the other way while innocent people were burning and was probably deliberating how to protect the killers. It compared Modi to the Roman Emperor Nero, who in popular legend played his lyre while Rome burned.
Modi and the BJP have in the past rejected similar charges from Muslim victims, human rights groups and political opponents. They have said they did all they could to control the reprisal attacks.
However, the expose in Tehelka magazine, based on hidden video camera interviews, is the first in which Hindu leaders and their supporters suspected of involvement in the riots have pointed a finger at Modi.
Arvind Pandya, a Gujarat government counsel at a riot inquiry panel, said Modi’s “blood was boiling” when he first heard of the train fire.
“His reaction was like this, ‘if he were not a minister he would have burst bombs ... detonated a few bombs in Juhapura’,” Pandya said, referring to a Muslim suburb in Gujarat’s main city Ahmedabad.
Haresh Bhatt, a leader of Bajrang Dal, a hardline Hindu group affiliated to the BJP, said he was at a meeting addressed by Modi after the train fire.
“He had given us three days to do whatever we could. He said he would not give us time after that, he said this openly,” Bhatt said.
Tehelka said the report was the result of a six-month investigation by one of its reporters who posed as a research scholar and spoke to the activists.
The BJP said the activists quoted by Tehelka had colluded with Congress party, which is in the opposition in Gujarat, to discredit Modi ahead of the election.
“It was expected from the Congress and some dissidents,” said BJP spokesman Prakash Javdekar. “This is a collusive sting based on rumours and hearsay.”
Additional reporting by Rupam Jain Nair in Ahmedabad and Onkar Pandey in New Delhi