Religious Carnage: Indian Gov't Survives Censure Motion

By T.C. Malhotra | July 7, 2008 | 8:11 PM EDT

New Delhi ( - India's Hindu nationalist-led coalition government has survived a censure vote in parliament over its handling of recent Hindu-Muslim riots in Gujarat, which have killed some 900 people.

The censure motion, put to vote Wednesday after a 16-hour debate, was handily defeated by Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's 18-party coalition.

Three government allies accused the coalition government of failing to restore order in the western state and demanded that the state government be ousted. Gujarat is ruled by Vajpayee's Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Ahead of the vote, one of the three allies resigned from the coalition. The other two abstained from voting.

In an often acrimonious debate, opposition parties slammed the government for not ensuring Muslims were safe during the rioting, which was triggered by a Muslim attack on a train carrying Hindu pilgrims last February, in which 59 Hindus were killed.

The leader of the opposition in the lower house, Sonia Gandhi, accused the Gujarat government of "not just incompetence but deliberate connivance" in the violence against Muslims.

Vajpayee, who spoke before the voting took place, conceded that the government had failed to anticipate the widespread reprisals against Muslims following the train attack.

"Somehow we felt that the reaction to the [train] incident would not be so gruesome," he told lawmakers.

"If I committed a mistake, I accept the mistake. I should have tried harder."

Vajpayee also announced a $31.9 million assistance package for victims of the rioting, and said the government would help reconstruct destroyed homes.

He said accounts of the atrocities caused him concern for the future of India and its culture. A new poison was being propagated which had to be curbed, he added.

Although the parliamentary victory brought Vajpayee a reprieve at home, his government continues to draw flak from other countries and international organizations.

The latest attack came from the U.S. in a report by the New York-based Human Rights Watch blaming BJP members of orchestrating violence against Muslims in Gujarat.

In many instances, police officials had led murderous mobs, "aiming and firing at Muslims who got in the way," it alleged.

New Delhi reacted strongly to the claims and others made in recent days.

"It is an internal matter of India and they have no business to discuss it," a spokesperson for the External Affairs Ministry said.

India has warned several countries, including European Union members, to back off, saying the situation in Gujarat does not concern them.

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