- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 8, 2006

NEW DELHI — An inquiry report has cleared Muslims of causing a deadly train fire four years ago that sparked savage communal riots in western India.

The fire in the western state of Gujarat in February 2002 claimed the lives of 59 Hindus and sparked religious riots in which at least 2,000 persons, mostly Muslims, were killed.

A Railway Ministry-appointed inquiry commission concluded last week that the fire was caused by an accident and not by any deliberate attack by Muslims.

The main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its Hindu allies, who maintain that the fire was caused by Muslim arson, plan to protest the inquiry finding when Railway Minister Laloo Prasad Yadav presents the report in Parliament later this week.

The ruling Congress party and its leftist allies say the report backs their long-held charge that the BJP-led government in Gujarat state exploited the accident to target Muslims.

“This report is totally unacceptable,” an angry Hindu leader said.

BJP President Rajnath Singh saw political motivations behind the report, which will be released ahead of assembly elections in five states.

“Simply to win minority [Muslim] votes, Laloo Yadav and his friends have tailored this report in an immoral way,” Mr. Singh said.

Hindu activists were returning to Gujarat after a visit to the disputed site of a demolished 16th-century mosque in the north Indian temple town of Ayodhya when the train caught fire.

Hindu parties said a group of Muslims in the Gujarat town of Godhra attacked the activists and burned their train car.

The investigation committee has apportioned no blame for the disaster.

“[The fire] was not the result of a deliberate attack by anybody, and there is no evidence of any conspiracy whatsoever,” committee head Umesh Chandra Banerjee, a retired Supreme Court judge, said in his report.

Gujarat police and the state’s BJP government had said a mob of Muslims threw gasoline inside the coach, set it on fire and locked the doors from outside, preventing the mostly Hindu passengers from escaping.

But Mr. Banerjee said the blaze in the carriage could be “ascribed to an accidental fire.”

The Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), an ally in the federal coalition led by the Congress Party, demanded the resignation of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi after the Banerjee report.

“This report has exposed Modi and his party. Now it is clear that they carried out an anti-Muslim pogrom against an innocent community,” said Rupchand Pal, a CPI-M member of the Parliament.

Congress spokesman Abhishek Singhvi said: “The findings clearly prove that the entire campaign of disinformation and insinuations launched by Modi immediately after the fire was simply for petty political gains.”

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