Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Godhra train burning is no accident, court finds 31 guilty

Godhra train burning is no accident, court finds 31 guilty: "

This dastardly act happened when the then PM Vajpayee was out of the country. I suspect the arson was engineered with Antonia’s blessings. This angle also must be probed.

India Court Finds 31 Guilty of Godhra Train Burning

NEW DELHI–A special court in India’s western state of Gujarat Tuesday found 31 people guilty of setting fire to a passenger train in the town of Godhra, an incident that killed nearly 60 people and sparked widespread communal unrest in the state almost a decade ago.

The court, which began hearing the case in 2009, pronounced the judgment on the role of 94 people accused of burning a carriage of the Sabarmati Express train near Godhra in February 2002. Many of those killed in the fire were Hindu activists returning from a pilgrimage to the town of Ayodhya.

Agence France-Presse/Getty ImagesA policeman looked towards the burnt train coach and belongings of Hindu activists at Godhra Railway Station on early Feb. 28, 2002.



The fire set off days of rioting in Gujarat, when more than 1,000 people – the majority of them Muslim – were killed. The chief minister of the state, Narendra Modi, was accused of failing to protect Muslims from Hindu mobs, a charge he has continuously denied.

The court in Ahmedabad Tuesday convicted 31 people of criminal conspiracy in the train burning case, but acquitted 63 others. All had been imprisoned for the past nine years.

The convicted will be sentenced on Feb. 25, special public prosecutor, J.M. Panchal, told television news channels Tuesday.

There has been much debate in India over the past nine years about whether the incident that sparked the violence — the deaths of the Hindus in the train — was the result of a criminal conspiracy to murder them or an unfortunate accident. Tuesday’s conviction adds weight to the claim of those — including Mr. Modi’s Gujarat government and the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, of which he is a senior leader — that the passengers were deliberately killed by a Muslim mob.

Immediately after the attack on the train, state police arrested more than 100 people as suspects. But the trial was stalled for years as official inquiry commissions tried to decide whether a crime had occurred at all, and if so, whether it was an impulse attack or carefully planned.

The results of previous inquiries have been contradictory. A national inquiry ordered by former Minister of Railways Lalu Prasad Yadav ruled in 2006 that the train fire was an accident. But a state commission appointed by the Gujarat government and headed by retired judge G.T. Nanavati said in 2008 that the deaths on the train were the result of a premeditated conspiracy.

In Tuesday’s verdict, the court upheld the state commission’s finding that it was a planned attack.

“The motive of conspiracy was to set the train on fire. There can be no debate on [the] judicial verdict. The verdict is based on oral evidence and eyewitness accounts,” Mr. Panchal said outside the court in Ahmedabad.

He added, however, that one of the main accused, Maulana Umarji, was among the 63 acquitted due to lack of evidence.

Spokesmen for the government of Gujarat and the Bharatiya Janata Party said the court judgment vindicated their efforts to prove the passengers were murdered.

“The fact is, this has been accepted as a well-hatched conspiracy,” said Gujarat government spokesman Jaynarayan Vyas.

Ravi Shakar Prasad, senior leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party, called the verdict an, “assurance that law prevails over the intentions of those pseudo-secularists who disowned the tragic incident.”

Earlier this month, a Supreme Court panel criticized Mr. Modi for failing to stop the riots and for making wrong decisions. Mr. Modi, one of the political stars of the Bharatiya Janata Party, has defended himself against accusations that he didn’t do enough to protect the state’s Muslim population against the attacking mobs.